Anthony Joshua is treating his next fight as a world title opportunity.
Though no belts will officially be on the line when Joshua steps into the ring with Francis Ngannou this March, Joshua views the former UFC heavyweight champion as a chance to prove he’s still the best boxer in his division. Joshua has held multiple world titles in boxing, but he has been without gold around his waist since a pair of losses to Oleksandr Usyk.
Should Joshua defeat Ngannou, it could set him up to challenge for boxing titles again, but for now, he’s preparing for Ngannou like he’s the man to knock off the top of the mountain.
“Let me say this again, I’m not focusing on that,” Joshua said on The MMA Hour when asked if he expects a title shot with a win over the PFL’s Ngannou. “I’m going to take my mind, I have to draw it back that Ngannou is my undisputed title fight. That’s the mentality I have to have.
“Ngannou is my undisputed fight. Because you’re only as good as your last fight, and I respect him a lot. He ain’t easy money. He’s a hard night’s work. And you know what’s crazy? So am I. I’m a hard night’s work for anyone. So let’s go, it’s going to be fireworks.”
There is a vast gap between Joshua and Ngannou when it comes to boxing experience. Though Ngannou was a dominant force inside the octagon, in the ring it’s Joshua that has been one of the best in his sport for years. The Englishman is 27-3 in his career, with his only losses to Usyk and Andy Ruiz Jr., the latter of which Joshua avenged in an immediate rematch.
Ahead of a fight with Otto Wallin this past December that Joshua dominated, it was expected the ex-champ would face Deontay Wilder sometime in 2024. The only problem was that Wilder lost to Joseph Parker in the co-main event of the Joshua-Wallin card, which put that matchup on the shelf for the mean time.
Joshua and his team were left to weigh their remaining options, and Ngannou won out.
“I thought it might be Wilder still, because the contracts were signed, and it’s still a big fight,” Joshua said. “It’s still an amazing fight, it’s a crossover between U.K. and U.S.A., all that good stuff promotional-wise, it’s still a good fight.
“So no, I kind of let that one slide for, and then it was the [Flip] Hrgovic situation, the Ruiz situation, and then they put Francis there, and my team were like, ‘This is a good opportunity on this day in Saudi Arabia against this opponent. What are you saying?’
“I said, ‘Let’s roll. Let’s go.’”
Joshua repeatedly expressed that he has respect for Ngannou’s boxing skills. Ngannou impressed in his pro boxing debut this past October, going 10 rounds with heavyweight star Tyson Fury and scoring the lone knockdown of the fight in Round 3. However, when the judges’ decision was read, it was Fury who saw his hand raised via split call.
Does Joshua feel like he needs to beat Ngannou more definitively to make a statement?
“Me and Fury are completely different,” Joshua said. “I’m just going to do exactly what I need to do, and I’m just going to focus on myself. The minute I start focusing on what Fury does, I’ve already lost the fight. I’ve already put myself at a disadvantage. If I just focus on what I’m good at and do what I do, I’m putting myself at an advantage. So I’m avoiding any Fury relations or what he’s done and so on and so forth.
“But let me tell you this: Every opponent that me and Fury have in common, I’ve either stopped or knocked out.”
Joshua vs. Ngannou takes place March 8 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.