By Elliot Worsell
ANTHONY JOSHUA’S next fight was announced on Friday night (January 5), just before midnight UK time, by a renowned mixed martial arts journalist (Ariel Helwani) addressing his millions of followers through the power of webcam and social media. Fitting, perhaps, and in so many ways, Joshua’s fight against Francis Ngannou, 0-1 (0) as a boxer, was then confirmed shortly after Helwani’s public address by not one but two UK promoters, neither of whom had shown any interest in working together until, thanks to some big players in Saudi Arabia, they were shown the immense value of doing so. Now, having kissed and made up, Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, as one, had no issue taking to social media yesterday to declare their pride and delight, throwing arounds phrases like “huge night” and “historic night” as freely as Ngannou right hands. As well as this, both did a wonderful job, too, of making it sound as if their influence was in any way vital to this heavyweight fight getting made.
As for the finer details, there is press conference planned for January 15, which is when the date of the fight will be unveiled, with early rumours suggesting March 8 (a Friday) is most likely, this on account of the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix taking place in Jeddah on March 9. Again, if true, it would be almost fitting that Joshua vs. Ngannou, strange in every sense, should take place on a Friday night, less than 24 hours before cars whizz around a track somewhere else in the desert.
There is, frankly, no escaping the absurdity of it all, regardless of the interest the fight itself will generate. Indeed, let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago Eddie Hearn, one of the promoters involved, claimed Francis Ngannou would be stopped inside a round by Johnny Fisher, a 10-0 novice from Romford.
That Ngannou ultimately went on to produce a shock performance against Tyson Fury in October, changing opinions on him overnight, surely shouldn’t be enough to make the idea of him suddenly fighting Anthony Joshua, a former two-time world champion, a sensible one. Or, then again, should it?
That, in the end, is the real bone of contention here. Some will say Ngannou’s gutsy showing against Fury in October suggests that he is not only one of the better heavyweights in the world (despite having not won a boxing match to date), but that he has every chance of troubling Joshua in the same way he troubled Fury. Meanwhile, there are others who will argue that Ngannou’s surprising boxing prowess should be irrelevant when it comes to both the running of the heavyweight division and the illusion of boxing being a proper sport with competition as its foundation.
After all, fights like this, and stories like Ngannou’s, can on the one hand be viewed as inspirational, but, on the other, concerning; a sign of worrying times. A fight nobody really needs to see, and a fight nobody appears to have been calling for, the forcing of Joshua vs. Ngannou speaks to the desperation of boxing, and those within it, and simultaneously reminds us of the power of the Middle East. Strong enough, it seems, to have Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren now cosplaying as Ant and Dec, there is apparently no limit to what Saudi Arabia can achieve in the sport.