Eddie Hearn expects Anthony Joshua to pick Francis Ngannou apart ‘and knock him out’

Anthony Joshua and Matchroom Sport’s Eddie Hearn had to call an audible after Deontay Wilder’s upset loss to Joseph Parker dashed plans of a long-awaited Joshua vs. Wilder showdown. But as far as back-up plans go, they certainly could’ve done worse.

Joshua is slated to face MMA’s lineal heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in a blockbuster 10-round boxing match in March in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

“Obviously delighted, just a great fight,” Hearn said Monday on The MMA Hour.

“Everyone’s going to play my previous clips [of me saying] that Francis Ngannou couldn’t win an English title before he fought Tyson Fury. I feel like he’s earned that shot — or certainly to continue at that level. And I fancy the fight. You’ve heard me say before, I really believe AJ knocks him out. But he’s a dangerous fight. I know that this guy’s a big, big lump that can really punch, and I think he has no fear, which makes him dangerous. But I just feel like AJ’s in a great place, and I expect him to pick him apart and knock him out.”

An Olympic champion and longtime player in boxing’s heavyweight title scene, Joshua, 34, was expected to face Wilder on March 9 if both he and the American won their respective bouts at the Day of Reckoning event on Dec. 23. Joshua ultimately did his part, cruising past Otto Wallin with a sensational showing, however Wilder failed to live up to his end of the bargain, losing a listless decision to Parker. That left Joshua without a worthy dance partner for his next bout — and so Wilder’s loss quickly became Ngannou’s gain.

“The Predator” is 0-1 as a professional boxer but stunned the combat sports world by giving Tyson Fury one of the toughest tests of his career in their Oct. 28 bout. The former UFC heavyweight champion knocked down Fury in the third round and came within a single round on a single scorecard of scoring one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.

“You can’t really say that he’s not a credible opponent,” Hearn said of Ngannou. “I’ve heard Carl Froch and others say, ‘Oh, this is just a cash grab.’ No, this is a dangerous fight. Like, AJ actually has a lot to lose here. Coming off the Wallin fight, he’s in a wonderful position to go and fight for the IBF world title, which we hope will happen after the Francis Ngannou fight. But it’s kind of like, there’s a lot of jeopardy in this fight. A lot of jeopardy. If you lose to Francis Ngannou — Francis Ngannou is 0-1, right? So it’s not a great look, losing to Francis Ngannou. So he’s going to do everything he can to avoid that.

“They’re taking this very seriously,” Hearn added. “In their mind, this is the toughest fight of their career. Francis Ngannou is a very dangerous man, and they’ll be training, absolutely, with every ounce in their soul to be victorious.”

The timing of the bout appears to be a win-win for both men. Ngannou’s stock in combat sports is higher than ever before, while Joshua is once again in the championship mix after responding from back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk with three straight wins in 2023.

Hearn said Joshua has yet to finalize the specifics of his camp but will decide soon whether Ben Davison will remain his head trainer for Ngannou after the partnership bared fruit with an impressive showing over Wallin. That decision, he said, will likely be made “this week.”

Hearn reiterated that more details regarding the bout will be announced at a kickoff press conference in London on Jan. 15, including an official date, but for now he’s pleased with where things ended up. And while he’s confident in Joshua’s abilities, he’s also fully aware that Ngannou has made a habit of defying the odds in his combat sports career.

“I still believe that AJ will show you the levels of boxing in this fight,” Hearn said. “But listen, I’ve been wrong before. I’m an AJ fanboy. And the reason that people aren’t pooh-poohing this fight is because they realize it’s a dangerous fight now. They realize AJ should win, but this guy [Ngannou] is for real — and what I said earlier is key. He has no fear.

“Normally a guy without a boxing background should be going in fighting Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, but half petrified, really, of really not knowing what to do. I saw an Instagram post earlier of [Ngannou] with Guido Vianello, who’s a heavyweight. He’s back sparring already. I mean, I’ll be honest with you, it made me — I won’t say, I had a change of underwear. It was like, he’s dangerous. He’s dangerous because he just doesn’t really know, he hasn’t been there. [But] he’s been there now, so he’s going to be more dangerous.

“It’s a fight that you have to watch through your fingers, because both guys have extreme power, the kind of power that could switch your lights off like that. And it’s going to be electric.”

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