Is Ngannou Overrated as a Boxer? Could He Beat Prime Haye?

January 25, 2024
3 months

All aboard the Francis Ngannou hype train: The former UFC heavyweight champion has transitioned to boxing and is set for his second pro fight in the discipline in March 2024 against Anthony Joshua. Is the Cameroonian fighter a proper threat to the boxing ranks? Could he defeat legacy British champ David Haye?

Ngannou Was Unknown Quantity Against Fury

When Francis Ngannou made his professional boxing debut against Tyson Fury in October 2023, nobody knew what to expect. This was a very high-profile MMA champion leaving the UFC at the top of his career to fight the world champion of a different sport (in a non-title match), albeit with similar skill sets. As this was his debut, there was no barometer to assess or forecast how he would adapt.

In his second fight against Anthony Joshua, he doesn’t have that luxury. The tape of his performance against Tyson Fury will have been studied to the Nth degree by Joshua’s team to give the British fighter an edge going into the match. Boxing news sites have covered and reported all about Ngannou, meaning there are no secrets anymore.

Cynical boxing purists will attribute that Ngannou only performed so well against Fury in Saudi Arabia because of the unknown quantities. Fury has been knocked down in multiple fights in which he’s won, so it’s not necessarily the biggest achievement. Fury still left the winner of this match, and some will expect Joshua to do the same, potentially in more convincing fashion.

Is Ngannou Getting an Easy Ride for Prior Fame?

Francis Ngannou hasn’t had half the journey that boxing upstarts have to endure to get big fights. He’s not gone through the doldrums of fighting in community halls at charity boxing events, fighting on the undercards, etc. He’s relying on his fame and prior accomplishments in MMA. While some pundits and boxing fans will admit that he has the right to do so because of his achievements in the cage, others believe he shouldn’t be getting a fast track to the main event spot – and should put in the hard yards in the boxing world. 

This begs the question: If he did have to fight the lower ebbs of the heavyweight roster, would he have the same success? It’s easy to motivate oneself for big matches with the world’s spotlight on – but could he do it against a chiseled local fighter on a cold rainy night with a biased crowd and ref? Or against someone like David Haye?

Haye Had Power Too

Contemporary online boxing news outlets are only too quick to remind you of the power that competitors like Francis Ngannou and Deontay Wilder possess in their punches. Both made a habit out of ending fights. Yet, it wasn’t that long ago when David Haye was making the same trending boxing news with his signature Hayemaker punch. He famously won 28 fights in his career, 26 by way of knockout – usually from his right fist.

Haye typified the era of British heavyweight boxing before the heroic performances of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury. Haye won multiple championships at cruiserweight before moving up to heavyweight and capturing the WBA strap. That was until his only decision loss to Wladimir Klitschko, where he lost the belt. His career then petered out with various returns, which never amounted to anything terribly successful. Yet during his prime run, if he hadn’t been in the same era as the Klitschko brothers, he could have had a lot more success in the heavyweight division.

How Would the Fight Play Out?

This hypothetical fight between two power punches is a hard one to predict. If David Haye was able to consume a magical elixir to give him his prime shape and form, then at least it would be a level playing field. However, both fighters would similarly approach this. Both would rely on their power-punch strategy to try to land a knockout blow.

David Haye did this countless times successfully throughout his career, which illuminated boxing rings throughout his tenure. Francis Ngannou, as a boxing convert, also approaches fights with the desire to stop them. Training to win on points will be a hard task as it’s gauged completely differently from MMA. Stopping the opponent is a much more familiar objective. As such, Ngannou tried to stop Fury, but in the end, he was outboxed and adjudged to have lost.

The result would most likely depend on how much of the Hayemaker’s damage would be absorbed by Ngannou’s chin or if the Cameroonian could just take the punches. If so, he would be in with a shot of landing his own venomous strike in order to stop the match.

Could This Fight Have Ever Taken Place?

So, was there ever any chance for this fight to take place? Well, maybe, but there are a lot of variables at play. David Haye was active from 2002 to 2018, with a few retirement spells in there. Francis Ngannou made his MMA debut in 2013, meaning that there was a good five-year duration in which both fighters were active, in different sports.

David Haye has been known to like MMA, unlike a lot of boxing fans who have little time for anything other than the sweet science. Haye promotes Michael Page, a popular British MMA fighter and British boxer known to be a good friend of Conor McGregor. While Haye never fought in MMA, there were once rumors that he would participate on a Bellator card against reality-star-turned-fighter Aaron Chalmers.

Haye hasn’t fought since 2018 and is probably done with in-ring action now. He is often seen and heard as a boxing commentator and pundit. He will no doubt have something to say about Ngannou’s upcoming fight with Anthony Joshua.

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By Dean McHugh.