Anthony Joshua coach: Francis Ngannou’s stance switch was a mistake

Shortly before a series of brain-rattling punches removed him from consciousness, Francis Ngannou switched from traditional to orthodox stance in his boxing match against Anthony Joshua.

Joshua’s coach, Ben Davison, said the former boxing champion was ready for this move. It had already been scouted from watching Ngannou in MMA, where stance switches are far more common than high-level boxing.

“We knew he would struggle to defend if AJ did a couple of things beforehand to set a certain scenario up, he’s struggle to defend the right hand from southpaw stance, and that’s what happened,” Davison said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I just think it was a mistake on his behalf, but I understand … he’s done that throughout his career as well.”

Davison already had footage to review from Ngannou’s stunning near-upset of Tyson Fury this past October. But he didn’t shy away from taking cues from the ex-UFC champ’s octagon days. Everything was fair game for setting up the right hands that rocketed through Ngannou’s guard.

Joshua and his team said they took Ngannou very seriously, and in doing so they were able to leverage the ex-UFC champ’s lack of experience against him.

“I just felt like that was the key, creating situations where he wouldn’t see the punches, taking his mind elsewhere before hitting him with something else,” Davison said. “That was the key, making sure he was reacting to something while being made to pay for something else. I feel like AJ did a good job with that.”

Ngannou had never before been knocked out, much less hurt badly, in the octagon or squared circle. Naturally, skeptics questioned afterward whether Ngannou’s toughness was really a facade. But Davison said the knockout was the result of an unsurvivable event.

“I don’t think Francis doesn’t have a chin, but I don’t think it had ever been tested properly to the extent that people were claiming it to be,” he said. “I think he is very tough, he’s known for the MMA world, and he showed that in the Tyson Fury fight, as well. I just think no matter how good your chin is, when you’re getting hit with punches that you can’t see by somebody like Anthony Joshua, no chin’s going to hold up against that.”

The natural question for many combat sports observers now is whether Ngannou’s boxing experiment is over. Though the ex-UFC champ went the distance with boxing champ Tyson Fury, he is now 0-2 with a brutal knockout loss in his most recent outing. Matchups against fighters such as Deontay Wilder, which seemed within reach before the knockout, could well be off the table.

Davison believes it’s a bit unfair to write off Ngannou. Even with the result, he saw vast improvements in the ex-champ’s stance and footwork. While it’s clear Ngannou bit off more than he could chew in his second fight, the coach sees more manageable challenges in the future.

“You’ve got to think about who he went up against in his first couple of fights,” Davison said. “I think if he was to drop it down a level, I think even at the level he’s at … I think he’d be a handfull for anybody. And if I’m honest, when he came out in Round 1, I could see, and I haven’t spoken to his team, but I’m sure they’d say he made tremendous improvements from the first boxing match to the second. I know it doesn’t look that way because of the result, but I can assure you that’s what they’d say, because I could see it.”

And Davison agrees with Ngannou that if the fight was in the cage, it would be a different story. He can understand why critics would chafe a little bit more for the fighter risking everything in a different sport.

“If any of these guys step into the cage with [Ngannou], it’s game over,” Davison said. “They have one chance and one shot to land a clean shot, and if they don’t and he gets ahold of him, it’s over.

“I understand a big part of Francis’ game is his standup game, so therefore it makes a little bit more sense for him crossing over to boxing. … But I understand there must be a certain element of frustration knowing that if these guys were to go into the cage, he would be the one with the advantages.”

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