Rejuvenated Joshua still has something to fight before Fury: time



Rejuvenated Joshua still has something to fight before Fury: time Anthony Joshua knocked down Francis Ngannou three times on his way to a second-round KO victory Friday night in Saudi Arabia. Richard Pelham/Getty Images

Following Anthony Joshua's pulverizing second-round KO victory on Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a picture-perfect right hand that flattened Francis Ngannou out cold on the canvas, promoter Eddie Hearn quickly deemed Joshua the world's best heavyweight.

Yes, Joshua looks rejuvenated under the guidance of trainer Ben Davison, and compared with Tyson Fury's lackluster performance against Ngannou in October, the KO was even more impressive.

While it was one of the best highlight-reel knockouts you'll ever see -- Ngannou even needed oxygen administered after he regained his senses -- there's simply no basis to Hearn's claim.

The sport's best heavyweight will be decided May 18 in Riyadh, where Fury meets Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed championship. Fury is No. 1 in ESPN's heavyweight rankings and Usyk is No. 2. More importantly, Fury is the lineal champion and remains undefeated while Usyk already owns two clear decision wins over Joshua.

There's no shame in third place, of course, especially when the two others are all-time greats and both reside in ESPN's pound-for-pound top 10.

Regardless of who wins, Fury and Usyk are set for a rematch later this year, which means Joshua must wait for his shot to truly establish himself as the best heavyweight in the world.

"For some reason over the last five years there's always been some s--- that gets in the way of [me fighting Joshua]," Fury said. "And this time the s--- is the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. So that's on the backburner for now. Great performance from AJ. Fantastic.

"But unfortunately, I've got bigger fish to fry in Usyk on May 18. And we have a rematch in October. So, after that, if he's still available and I'm still available, let's get it on."

No matter what happens in the meantime, Joshua's performance Friday night couldn't have played out any better.

In the lead-up, there were many observers who backed Ngannou to knock off Joshua after the way he performed against Fury. Joshua showed a shaky chin and confidence to boot following his shocking defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019 and a pair of setbacks to Usyk.

So it was far from a foregone conclusion that Joshua would drill Ngannou in such explosive fashion. That he did builds hype for a matchup with Fury that appeared to simmer over the past few years.

But now, Joshua must wait and hope Fury comes out on top from his series of bouts with Usyk. If Fury does, a matchup with Joshua next year stands as the biggest boxing event in U.K. history and of the division's top fights, period.

"I had a s--- performance against Ngannou," Fury said. "It was no secret. I've never said any different. However, styles make fights, and I almost got it right. I predicted one round [for Joshua]. ... He lit him up with the right hand, which was perfect and knocked him out.

"That's what a boxer should have done to him. ... But if he fights me in the future after I've dealt with Usyk twice next year, then it'd be a different game."

Let's hope we find out. -- Mike Coppinger

Where does Ngannou go from here?

Anthony Joshua knocks out Francis Ngannou in Round 2 and turns to celebrate during their heavyweight bout on Friday. Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing via Getty Images

There's certainly no shame in losing, even if Ngannou was separated from his senses in under two rounds. After all, this was just his second boxing match. Really, this was unprecedented: two fights against Hall of Fame boxers to kick off a pugilistic career.

Ngannou can and likely will return to MMA, where he's among the best heavyweights in the sport. He's signed to fight with the PFL, where he's yet to debut as they've let him box, and he told ESPN on Sunday that it's possible he'll compete in MMA later this year.

It's likely that despite the loss, Ngannou will still be able to earn far more money in boxing. He's one of the most recognizable names in the fight game and the memory of Ngannou flooring Fury can't be erased. But after fighting the best the division has to offer, where would Ngannou truly go from here in a boxing ring? Perhaps a fight with Deontay Wilder would be compelling.

Still, there's virtually no point in the 37-year-old dropping his opposition several levels to prove himself in boxing. He has nothing to prove.

Ngannou already upset the odds 10 times over and earned the sort of money he only dreamed of while starring in the UFC. Whatever Ngannou does next, his legacy is secured -- both in the Octagon and the ring. -- Mike Coppinger

Does this version of Anthony Joshua beat Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk?

Anthony Joshua celebrates his victory over Francis Ngannou. It was Joshua fourth fight in 11 months. Richard Pelham/Getty Images
Anthony Joshua celebrates his victory over Francis Ngannou. It was Joshua fourth fight in 11 months. Richard Pelham/Getty Images

The two-time world heavyweight champion is in dangerous form and his confidence is fully restored after this brutal finish. But let's not get overly excited by this win over Ngannou.

Since back-to-back points losses to WBA/IBF/WBO world champion Usyk in 2021 and 2022, Joshua steadily improved in stoppage wins over Robert Helenius and Otto Wallin. Joshua's fifth-round demolition of Wallin on Dec. 23 was his best performance for at least five years, but his annihilation of Ngannou is one of the best finishes in his professional career which started following his 2012 Olympic gold medal triumph. Remember, Ngannou floored Fury before Fury won a points decision in a nontitle bout in October.

It will be fascinating to see this dangerous version of Joshua versus Usyk or his English rival Fury, the WBC champion. The winner of Fury-Usyk, who meet on May 18, is the only fight for Joshua, but he will have to wait until next year for it. Fury and Usyk have a rematch clause, meaning Joshua will have to have an interim fight. That leaves plenty of time for debate as to who is the best heavyweight.

Usyk and Fury are skilled operators, and as good as Joshua's right hands were against Ngannou, it will come down to whether Joshua has the ring IQ to close the space and land his power punches. It is too early to say if Joshua will beat either of the champions, especially considering Usyk convincingly beat him twice. But Joshua just made the debate as to who is the best a lot more intense. -- Nick Parkinson

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