Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Anthony Joshua Makes A Statement In Knocking Out Ngannou

The Heavyweight fight between two-time World Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and former UFC Heavyweight world champion Francis Ngannou was a spectacle that was right in line with several of what this observer refers to as “Novelty" fights featuring either the top stars of the sports of Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) or celebrities from other realms that for one reason or another decide to enter Combat Sports. What made this particular encounter different was the fact that Francis Ngannou had proven in his previous foray into Boxing that he had the potential to transition to a career as a professional boxer in October of last year in putting forth an impressive showing against undefeated current WBC Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury.

Not only did Ngannou score a shocking knockdown of Fury, a two-time world champion, who was expected to outclass Ngannou primarily based on the significant experience gap between the two, but by the time the fight was over, Ngannou had succeeded in turning many skeptics into believers in dropping what was seen as a controversial ten round split decision that many, this observer included, felt he deserved the victory. It was off of that performance that the term “Novelty" was removed regarding Ngannou and the question of how he would do in his next fight in the Boxing ring began to stir and over the ensuing months gained more and more buzz.

Although he would have been justified to seek what some might call lesser opposition, if nothing else, as a means of gaining more experience in what was and is a new sport for him, Ngannou chose to face another proven commodity in the form of former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua on March 8th in the same location as his bout with Fury, The Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Even though there was no world title at stake in this fight, the atmosphere was one that some Boxing fans might associate with some of the major Boxing events that have taken place in Las Vegas.

Despite his impressive showing against an under-prepared champion, who underestimated him, Ngannou faced a similar challenge in this fight in going against a two-time world champion, who is still a top contender and one might even say had a higher overall pedigree than Fury. It was also worth noting, despite suffering some setbacks in his career, Anthony Joshua has always been a well-conditioned fighter who was not likely to make a similar error in treating his bout with Ngannou with a seemingly “Kid Gloves" approach as Furry did.

Joshua made it a definite that this would be a different flight and it took only a short time for him to show that he did take Ngannou seriously and prepared accordingly. The approach Joshua implemented in this fight was one of fundamentals and patience. Upon the opening bell, the former two-time Heavyweight world champion established that he would vary his approach of Ngannou by looking to land jabs to the body as well as changing levels and looking to maintain distance between himself and the former UFC Heavyweight world champion.

As he had done last October in his fight against Tyson Fury, Francis Ngannou attempted to land hooks and tried to set up opportunities for himself to counter Joshua. The primary difference between Joshua and Fury however, was one fighter had a lackadaisical approach, was not disciplined, and left opens that frankly made him look amateurish that Ngannou was able to exploit to a certain degree. Joshua's approach meanwhile had discipline at its core, and Ngannou was not able to take advantage of openings because there were not as many opportunities as there were when he fought Fury. Joshua was also defensively responsible in doing what he could to try and avoid the majority of wide hooks thrown by Ngannou, which were mostly blocked or deflected by Joshua's gloves and defensive guard.

The patience Joshua showed in simply biding his time and waiting for an opening came late in the first round when he dropped Ngannou hard with a perfectly timed and beautifully thrown straight right hand down the middle, which hit Ngannou flush on the chin and sent him down to the canvas. Despite being dropped, to his credit, Ngannou was able to get up from the knockdown and did connect with a hook to the head of Joshua before the round was over.

Nevertheless, a point had been proven in the opening round that unlike Fury, the still unbeaten holder of the WBC world championship in the Heavyweight division, Anthony Joshua took his assignment more seriously against Ngannou and was intent on making a statement in this fight. It would not be long before Joshua would accomplish what seemed to be a clear mission to send a message to not only Fury, not only Oleksandr Usuk, who ended his second reign as a world champion and retained his portion of the World Heavyweight championship over Joshua in a hotly contested rematch, but to the whole Heavyweight division.

As he had done in the first round, Joshua maintained his patience at the start of round two and did not recklessly approach Ngannou in trying to force a finish to the fight. A change for Joshua who has been susceptible to being caught when he has gotten overly aggressive in the past. This time, he simply waited for his opportunity. When the opportunity arose, Joshua dropped Ngannou for the second time with a right hook to the jaw. Although he was clearly stunned and had a look on his face that indicated that he did not know what hit him, Ngannou showed his heart by once again getting up from the knockdown. Joshua, one of the most devastating finishers in the sport, quickly walked across the ring and ended matters by decking Ngannou with a brutal straight right hand that momentarily knocked Ngannou out cold. The fight was over.

As brutal and infatic as Joshua's knockout of Francis Ngannou was in only taking a round and a half to end the night for a fighter who may still go on to be a player in the division if he chooses to remain in Boxing, the reality is, this is what Anthony Joshua as a world-class boxer, who is a two-time world champion should have been expected to do against a fighter in Ngannou, who only had one professional fight as a boxer. If one is being honest, they would also say that the same was expected of Tyson Fury, a man who is still atop the division, despite turning in what frankly should be viewed as an embarrassing performance as well as questionable scoring, which allowed him to remain unbeaten when he fought Ngannou.

While this does not take anything away from Francis Ngannou, ultimately, another point was proven in this fight that has been proven several times when Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters step into a Boxing ring against boxers who are primarily trained for Boxing, and when boxers choose to venture into an MMA ring or cage. Not only are Boxing and MMA two different sports and should be viewed as such, despite Boxing being a martial art/discipline, but also regardless of whether it is a Boxing ring or under an MMA format, a fighter venturing into a sport that is not their primary discipline in which they compete. will be at a competitive disadvantage both in terms of experience as well as overall skill compared to an opponent that primarily competes in that sport most of the time.

Francis Ngannou deserves all the credit in the world for rolling the dice and venturing into a different sport in the middle of his competitive prime. It is something that takes guts and one should also not underestimate the learning curve that is involved for a fighter switching sports at an advanced age. While we live in a time where anyone, regardless of background or credibility can share their point of view and are likely voicing opinions that may mock him based on the end result of this fight, the fact is Francis Ngannou has stepped in the ring with two of the best Heavyweight boxers in the world in his two fights as a professional boxer. Although he has yet to score an official victory, credit should be given where it is due. 

While there will also likely be calls for him to return to MMA, Ngannou still has value in Boxing and will likely still be able to secure significant paydays off of his name value. What this knockout loss should show him however, is he needs time to polish and refine his Boxing skills. No different than any other fighter just starting in the sport. If he remains committed to Boxing, gives himself adequate time to learn and is able to face opponents that one would expect to face as they develop, who range from just starting their careers to those fighters with some experience that can serve as helping a fighter in their development/learning process, and if he is able to develop under the guidance of experienced Boxing trainers, Francis Ngannou could still end up being a player in the Heavyweight division.

As is being learned by the various YouTubers/Influencers and others that venture into Boxing from other realms, very seldom is one able to start their career at the very top and succeed. Some may choose to try and take shortcuts, but ultimately the process of learning the fundamentals of the sport, polishing and refining one’s skills, which will always be a work in progress even for those at the very top of the sport, as well as a fundamental understanding of how the sport is structured, needs to be respected. Francis Ngannou has nothing to be ashamed of. If he is truly committed to Boxing and is willing to take the time required to go through the aforementioned learning process that the sport demands, his knockout at the hands of Anthony Joshua will be a chapter of his career as a boxer, not the end of the story.

“And That's The Boxing Truth.”

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