By Elliot Worsell


WHILE it is quite conceivable that the little Francis Ngannou has learned about boxing was knocked out of him by the final right hand he received from Anthony Joshua on Friday (March 8), there will still no doubt be a push for him to continue in the sport and indeed a desire on his part not to have the story end on such a bum note.

Ngannou, after all, was six months ago fighting tooth and nail with Tyson Fury, the supposed best heavyweight in the world. He was also announced before boxing Joshua in Riyadh as “the most dangerous puncher in the heavyweight division” by the night’s MC, Michael Buffer. More than that, he is now boxing-famous; a face; a money-maker; someone with whom the sheikhs in the Middle East have fallen head over heels in love.

It may be hard, in other words, for Ngannou to accept a second-round knockout loss to Anthony Joshua and view it the way it was intended: as a lesson; a reality check. With money still on the table for future fights, and so many other heavyweights eager to do to Ngannou what Joshua managed, there will be no shortage of tempting opportunities for the former UFC champion should he wish to continue.

Even Joshua, the man who had just served Ngannou his much-needed dose of reality, appeared keen to see the Cameroonian continue in the sport following their fight. He did in fact tell Ngannou to carry on while still in the ring. He also said he would be more than willing to help him out with whatever he needed to ensure this happened; a gesture as cruel as it was kind.

I say that because to continue in boxing is not the answer for Francis Ngannou, that much we know. Or at least to continue boxing at this level – against men like Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury – is not the answer for Francis Ngannou. Not when you are about to turn 38 in September and already have years of wear and tear on your body and brain as a consequence of a career in mixed martial arts. Not when you have just been knocked out cold by a right hand many at ringside said was the scariest punch they had ever witnessed live.

Anthony Joshua lands a huge right hand on Francis Ngannou at the Kingdom Arena on March 8, 2024 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (Richard Pelham/Getty Images)

No, given all that, the last thing Francis Ngannou needs to be doing is returning to a boxing gym and a boxing ring anytime soon. He shaped up rather well on Friday night, that much is true, but an awkward stance and balls the size of watermelons does not guarantee success in the boxing ring. That’s not to say Ngannou can’t win fights as a boxer, yet the reality is, the only fights in which people will want to see him involved, and the only fights his backers in the Middle East will presumably order, will be main events against recognisable names with the power to emulate Joshua and reduce him to a stark image or viral video clip.

That’s not good news for Ngannou, of course. Nor is it healthy. But it could be the truth of the matter. After all, how appealing are other fights involving Ngannou and heavyweights a level or two beneath the likes of Fury and Joshua? Would you, for example, get much out of seeing Ngannou, now 0-2 (0), fight someone like Zhilei Zhang, who lost against Joseph Parker on Friday, or Dillian Whyte, who returns to the ring this month after his latest performance-enhancing drug issue? Probably not. Yet those two, like Fury and Joshua before them, would still start as big favourites against Ngannou, particularly in light of his recent loss, and the fights – both for them and for us – would mean even less than the ones between Ngannou and Fury and Ngannou and Joshua.

Indeed, as harsh as it sounds, Ngannou’s mystique has now shattered. This was something that had been building and gathering pace during the 10 rounds he shared with Fury in October, yet in one fell swoop it was taken away by three Joshua right hands – one in the first round and two in the next. Now, as a result, we not only laugh at the idea of Ngannou, according to Michael Buffer, being the “most dangerous puncher in the heavyweight division”, but also, rightly or wrongly, question his durability, something he proved emphatically against Fury last year. Now, having been wiped out by Joshua, we have seen the light, you could say; seen it at the exact point at which Ngannou’s own light went off.

Ngannou is left unconscious following a Joshua right hand (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)


DANGER ZONES

Zone A: Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua

Appeal: The appeal was and always will be financial for Ngannou, but venturing into this zone also felt shrewd when he was pushing Fury so close in October. According to Fury, Ngannou banked upwards of seven million pounds for that fight and, what is more, rather than appear like a sacrificial lamb, or someone content to sell their body for cash, Ngannou actually came away from the Fury fight with his reputation enhanced. Then, however, he met Anthony Joshua and his right hand. Now the appeal of fighting men in this class, among whom you find Oleksandr Usyk as well, is considerably reduced as far as Ngannou is concerned.

Danger: Whereas Fury was content to outbox Ngannou – just – on his worst night, there was no such compassion shown by Joshua, who demolished Ngannou inside two rounds. As for Usyk, a fight between the Ukrainian and Ngannou would probably fall somewhere between the two: perhaps not as explosive as the finish Joshua managed to execute, but no less empathic and humiliating for Ngannou.

Oleksandr Usyk in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Zone B: Joseph Parker, Filip Hrgovic, Zhilei Zhang, Deontay Wilder, Andy Ruiz

Appeal: These names are still big enough for an Ngannou fight to appeal to someone, somewhere, but they would likely end up on a show in Saudi Arabia as the chief support contest rather than the main event. As such, Ngannou would not expect to receive anything like the paydays he received against Fury and Joshua. He would, however, have a slightly better chance of winning, even if on paper – and likely in reality, too – he would be deemed second best in every possible department.

Danger: As with anything, the danger will differ depending on the opponent. With Wilder, for instance, there is every chance Ngannou would end the night in the same position in which he ended Friday night in Riyadh. Defeats against the others, meanwhile, might not be quite so violent, but would still be expected given the calibre of opponent Ngannou would be up against.

Joseph Parker (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

Zone C: Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois, Otto Wallin, Luis Ortiz

Appeal: These fights certainly won’t do much as far as moving the needle goes, but they could represent a good barometer for Ngannou, the aspiring pro boxer. For while he would be viewed as an underdog against each of the heavyweights mentioned, he doesn’t really have the time, at 37, to build his way up or look too far beneath them, particularly if he wants to keep making big bucks in the Middle East.

Danger: Anyone in Zone C would be a danger to a novice like Ngannou, but at least at this level of the game he will find heavyweights who have either recently lost, are on a downward spiral, or are even older than him. To finally claim a win as a professional boxer, this kind of selective attitude must be favoured over the one previously used by Ngannou; that is, just fight the biggest name possible for the largest amount of money. Otherwise, that zero will surely never change.

Joe Joyce prior to facing Zhilei Zhang in April 2023 (James Chance/Getty Images)