By Declan Taylor

NO SOONER had Anthony Joshua taken care of Otto Wallin on December 23 than Francis Ngannou set the ball rolling for his own fight with the English heavyweight icon.

Of course, that Day of Reckoning card had been set up almost entirely as a prelude for Joshua’s long-awaited fight with Deontay Wilder, which the Saudis had set their sights on for March.

But when a toothless Wilder was completely outboxed by Joseph Parker, that plan was torpedoed, leaving a huge gap in the Riyadh Season schedule. Ngannou, ever the opportunist, sensed an opportunity.

“I started the talks for that fight on December 23,” he said. “It was that quickly.

“I was in Cameroon and stayed up to watch the fights that night. I know they were talking about Wilder and AJ and I know that they must be cooking something behind the scenes but the plan didn’t work as planned.

“I sent out a Tweet. It was about 1am in Cameroon and I went to sleep. I always put my phone on silent and when I woke up my phone up was blown away. A lot of missed calls. I had to call some people back, they say ‘you want this fight’ and I say ‘I want that fight’.

“That was it, done. I said I wanted the fight and we had a call.”

It is no surprise that the former UFC champion wasted no time to accept another lucrative night in the Saudi capital, five months on from his last, when he dropped Tyson Fury and was desperately unlucky not to cap probably the greatest debut ever with a victory over the world heavyweight champion.

He dropped a split that night, overall a real turning point in the Saudi Arabian boxing era, but there were few complaints from Ngannou about the judges’ decision.

“I come from Africa,” he said. “I come from a continent with 1.3bn people. 60 per cent of them are just youths, I think under 20 years old and not many of them have the opportunity to accomplish their dream. But I was living the dream.

“From where I started, from where I was born, to get there that night and accomplish that dream I’ve been carrying for 25 years, do you think I would let some fucking judges take that pleasure away from me?

“No. I can only control what I can control. I was happy with my achievement, I was happy with standing up to my dream after all those years, all the obstacles I had, all the horrors on the way, and I find myself there on the night.

“The fight itself was just – how can I say? – it was a bonus. It was a win for me. How many boxers do you know that have their first boxing was against a champion? None. I was there. I was there. I’m living the dream. I can spend all day finding positive things so I will not let any little thing take over my control, my pleasure.”

What his performance ensured, however, was that Ngannou would be back in a fight of similar magnitude. That it has come around this so quickly, on March 8, is down mainly to Wilder but now Ngannou gets another the chance to stun the boxing public against Britain’s other heavyweight name.

“The reason why I get here is also because I am never satisfied,” he adds. “That night was great but I didn’t walk away and say ‘I’m done’. I walk away and say, ‘what is next?’ What should I do next?’

“This is not my terminus, this is not my arrival fight. This one fight. I want to win, if I win it is great but it is not the end. How far can I go? A lot of people will say you want a title. Possible if it happens but I’m not putting myself in that ‘I want a title’ because then you get into the politics. I just want to see how far I can go and what I can possibly do. I want to discover what I can do.

“If I catch him then he’s going to sleep. Remember this is the heavyweight division and everyone is quite strong. You should keep your chin away. Don’t go there and sleep and say ‘oh he’s not the hardest puncher’. If you put your chin in the right position and get hit ,even by the lightest fighters then you might wake up in the white room.”

It has been suggested that Joshua represents a more straightforward night’s work for Ngannou than the unorthodox, switch-hitting style of Fury. But having essentially nullified the Gypsy King for those 10 rounds in October, Ngannou believes Joshua is a harder fight for him.

“If you had asked me before the fight, I would have said Fury is the most complex fighter,” he says. “But I get in the ring with him and I managed to find something that was working so I thought ‘I have to keep doing this’.

“I haven’t found that on Joshua yet so for now Joshua is the most complex. Styles make fights. I might have to find my style, I might have found it with Fury but I have to with Joshua.”

This showdown also represents a Cameroon vs Nigeria encounter, given both boxers’ heritage. Ngannou was born in Batie, Cameroon while, although Joshua was born in London, he is a proud Nigerian, has the map of the country tattooed on his bicep and spent time in school there as a kid.

The two west African countries share a border and it has been suggested that they could even arrange a rematch somewhere on the continent. Ngannou added: “There is a sporting rivalry in Africa. It is a healthy rivalry. Right now the Africa Cup of Nations is going on who play against each other and try to win. Not because we don’t like them but because it is competitive and that’s the spirit. We are both African descendants, we are both looking back and thinking of our culture and community, what we are doing, how we can improve and what it could be and that’s why we talk about a potential rematch in Africa.

“But, at the end of the day, we both win. At the end of the day, we are both bringing something to our community, we are contributing to the new generation. We are bringing something. We both win. I call this black excellency. No offence to you white guys.”