The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Joshua, Ngannou and the IBF controversy
Promoter Eddie Hearn has already confirmed he is targeting an IBF World title fight with Filip Hrgovic for AJ next
Two-time world champion Anthony Joshua (27-3, 24KO) looks to make a statement in March and revitalise a shot at the heavyweight belts as he faces off against ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ Francis Ngannou (0-1).
The lucrative heavyweight clash between Joshua and Ngannou is set to take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with a reported date of March 8th.
‘AJ’ is coming off three fantastic wins during 2023 as he looks to be rising back to his best. Ngannou, on the other hand, suffered a loss on his professional debut, but that was inside a boxing ring for the first time ever against ‘The Gypsy King’ Tyson Fury. However, the result is nothing to be ashamed of; quite the opposite, in fact.
Prior to the fight, if you asked 100 boxing fans who they thought would win in October, over 90 would have put their safe money on Fury. However, what actually transpired was novice Ngannou coming out on the frontfoot to put the WBC champ down in the third round. After a surprisingly close 10-rounds, spectators were, and still are, divided on who deserved to win, with the split decision verdict from the judges just swinging Tyson’s way.
Inspirational Ngannou won the hearts of fight fans all across the world after putting up such a valiant effort against the current WBC champion, even cutting the 6”9’ giant with a punch in the second stanza, and leaving ‘The Gypsy King’ looking lost and bewildered multiple times throughout the bizarre bout. Fans are invested and intrigued to see if the Cameroonian revelation really does have what it takes to tango with the best in the business, and a matchup against Joshua allows the crossover combatant to do just that.
The former UFC heavyweight champion is known as one of the hardest hitters in all of combat sports, notorious in the MMA world for his one-punch knockout power (supposedly generating as much power as a full-speed Ford Escort). Whether the 37-year-old can carry his notoriety across to the boxing world remains to be seen. The Nevada-based fighter is still somewhat of an unknown quantity and unproven in the boxing world. It was clear that complacent Tyson underestimated the pro boxing debutant and lost credit in doing so. Sparring partner during that camp, Martin Bakole, was quoted this week saying that Fury wasn't fully focused like he usually is in previous camps. But now, Ngannou has lost the art of surprise
A rejuvenated ‘AJ’ fought just a few weeks ago, co-headlining the Day of Reckoning card in Riyadh to cap off three fights in 2016, the first time he has fought three times in the same year since 2016, when he first became an IBF World heavyweight champion.
He faced off against ranked contender Otto Wallin. It was expected to be the Briton’s toughest fight since his second loss to Usyk, with the Swedish southpaw well respected for being a tricky fighter.
Despite the expected difficulty, Joshua boxed impeccably in a one-sided showing. It was the best we have seen from the Watford warrior over the last couple of years. The former champiom looked dangerous again, constantly walking the Swede down and picking him apart with a mixture of high and low pocket shots, and combinations, all thrown with the venom that is associated with a younger ‘AJ’.
Wallin looked lost after just a couple of rounds and bereft of ideas, having next to zero success against his old sparring partner, who he should have had some experience to draw from, but was eventually forced to retire from after the just the fifth round.
If Joshua can carry his recent form and confidence into the prospective bout in March, I believe he will have little trouble dealing with the hard-hitting 37-year-old mixed martial artist-turned-boxer.
By no means will Ngannou be a pushover, but he is not an elite boxer from a technical standpoint. He appears to stick to very basic two and three-piece combinations working off of straight tramlines, something that will suit a venomous counterpuncher in Joshua.
Part of Ngannou’s success against Fury has to be put down to his unknown ability within a boxing ring. Now that we have seen what he is capable of, it will be a far easier task to come up with a game plan to neutralise any threat that he brings to the table.
I predict that ‘AJ’ will aim to slowly pick his opponent apart much like he did to Wallin, and eventually will secure a late stoppage over the MMA convert.
In recent years the IBF governing body has become notorious for not working alongside the other major boxing organisations, and seemingly being extremely opposed to the idea of having undisputed boxing champions.
The four main sanctioning bodies (WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF), govern the fights across all 17 weight classes in men's professional boxing. When a boxer holds more than one of the belts they are considered the unified champion of that division, while holding all four of the major titles will crown them as the undisputed champion. If a boxer holds the world titles of more than one sanctioning body a rotation system is put in place to decide which mandatory defence is put next.
The sanctioning bodies will tend to allow for optional defences and completely forgo the mandatory challengers on special occasions, such as for unification fights and rematch clauses. However, the IBF does not appear to have any interest in following the same unwritten rules that the other three bodies all abide by. They have developed a sort of infamy within the boxing world, continuously tearing apart the belts and creating disunion.
Fury was once stripped by the IBF after his victory over Wladimir Klitschko. An inevitable rematch clause held the new champion to a return bout with the dethroned Klitschko, but the Federation would only allow a match against their mandatory challenger at the time,Vyacheslav Glazkov. Ultimately a rematch never came to fruition and Fury went into a three-year retirement, but the IBF showed they had no intention of working alongside the other organisations and uniting the silverware.
This isn’t the only time in recent history that the IBF has refused to play ball with contractual agreements, after Terrence Crawford dismantled Errol Spence Jr. last summer, the IBF swiftly stripped the title from him, again this was down to an unavoidable contractual agreement that had been made before Crawford was ever getting his hands on the IBF title.
It’s divisive decisions like these that drive viewers away from boxing despite it being such a pure, historic and artistic sport. Again, it looks like history is going to rewrite itself as Fury and Usyk – the two titans of the heavyweight division – step into the ring in February. As would be expected in a fight of this scale, both men have rematch clauses written into their two-fight contract. In the modern era of boxing, this is unavoidable as neither man would want to risk their belts and not have the chance to win them back, and rightfully so. Though, according to the IBF, this is a no-go, and likely, the winner of the matchup will have the IBF belt – and their undisputed label – quickly swiped from their grasp.
Anthony Joshua vs Filip Hrgović next?
So, if Anthony Joshua can continue his momentum to pull through in his fight against the former UFC champion, will he have a clear-cut path to becoming a three-time world champion?
Currently, the IBF’s number one contender comes in the form of Croatian boxer Filip Hrgović. If the IBF decide to strip the winner of Usyk vs Fury (more likely than not), the top two contenders will be ordered to fight for the available title.
At present, Otto Wallin is the IBF’s number two heavyweight, but Joshua has already demoted his victom to be awarded with his spot in the next month’s rankings. So, one more win could see AJ get his desired world title shot against Filip Hrgović in the summer.
As long as Joshua can find a way to neutralise Ngannou’s devastating power, he will almost certainly be withing touching distance of holding the IBF belt for the third time, and we will likely see him in the ring competing for the title this year or early 2025.