Well-Rounded Francis Ngannou Would Beat Anthony Joshua in Octagon

March 13, 2024
2 months

Many combat sports observers went a bit overboard reading what Francis Ngannou’s split-decision loss to Tyson Fury late last year meant. Some otherwise reasonable people went off their rockers, suggesting that Ngannou should be ranked in the top 10 for heavyweight boxing. But former boxing world champion Anthony Joshua snuffed out the boxing hype.

Joshua sat Ngannou down in the second round with a vicious knockout that made Ngannou look like an amateur. With two amateur boxing fights on his resume, that’s essentially what Ngannou is in the ring, according to online boxing news. But now the equally silly idea is that Joshua could beat Ngannou in an MMA fight.

This is also an observation made by prisoners of the current moment. Joshua is an excellent boxer. However, being successful in MMA is more than just having one strong skill. Modern MMA has evolved to the point where one-trick ponies seldom make it to the top anymore.

While heavyweight is a division where someone with a lot of power can go a long way, to become a champion in the UFC at heavyweight takes having multiple skills you can lean on. Finding a way to flush out what skills Joshua has would take time. There’s no guarantee he has all the tools to find success.

Ngannou Isn’t Just a Striker

Ngannou built his reputation in the octagon by relying on his terrifying power. That reputation is well earned. Ngannou has recorded 12 of his 17 career victories by knockout. But Ngannou’s last performance in the UFC showed that he can innovate if he has to.

At UFC 270 in December 2022, which is Ngannou’s last MMA fight to date, he was forced to fight with a few torn ligaments in his knee. Instead of fighting interim champion Cyril Gane in a striking battle while compromised, Ngannou wrestled the French star.

To the surprise of many, Ngannou was able to make that game plan work. He finished four of his five takedowns and ended up finishing with 8 minutes and 29 seconds of control time. Ngannou won by decision for the first time in his career.

He also has four submission wins to his credit.

Ngannou Walked Away to Fight for Pay

Building a reputation in boxing and MMA are significantly different. If you take a loss or two early in your career, it’s not a big deal. For boxers, they have to protect their undefeated records with their lives to try and earn bigger paydays with other top opponents.

Ngannou didn’t become UFC champion until his 19th professional fight. He earned his first shot at it in January 2018 at UFC 220 against Stipe Miocic. Ngannou was outclassed by the American in a five-round decision. Ngannou followed that performance up with another loss, this time in a widely criticized fight where he and challenger Derrick Lewis hardly went through any punches.

But Ngannou eventually found his courage again. He rebounded from the disappointing Lewis fight with four straight wins to earn another chance to fight Miocic. The second time around, Ngannou knocked out Miocic to win the crown at UFC 260. Ngannou only defended his championship once, against Gane, before leaving the promotion following a contract dispute.

Joshua Builds His Career in Classic Fashion

While winning a gold medal in boxing is difficult, many great heavyweights have built their careers with strong performances at the Olympics. George Foreman and Muhammad Ali were both gold medalists who went on to become world champions. 

Joshua followed in that mold. During the 2012 London Olympics, Joshua won the gold medal at super heavyweight in front of his home nation. Joshua turned professional in October 2013 and immediately started building his reputation. 

Latest boxing news shows that Joshua won his first 20 fights as a professional by knockout. He won his first world championship in April 2016 when he knocked out Charles Martin to win the IBF title. He added the WBA and IBO titles when he knocked out one of the all-time greats, Wladimir Klitschko, in the 11th round of an April 2017 bout.

Joshua Takes Stunning Loss

Following the win over Klitschko, Joshua had grand ambitions of being the first boxer since fellow Brit Lennox Lewis unified the belts back in the late 1990s. However, Joshua had a hard time getting Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury in the ring. While negotiations were ongoing for one of those opponents, Joshua accepted a fight with Andy Ruiz Jr. for his debut fight in the United States.

It was a disaster for Joshua. Trending boxing news shows that Ruiz took a little of the shine off the Joshua mystique. Ruiz finished Joshua with a seventh-round TKO to win the title. While Joshua would beat Ruiz in the rematch six months later, the loss hurt his perception.

Joshua took two more losses when he fought Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 and 2022. Both fights were close, but Usyk brought home the decision in each case.

How Would Joshua Handle Wrestling?

Evaluating a potential fight between a boxer and an MMA fighter is always difficult. Defending strikes in MMA is different from boxing because there is no threat of a takedown in boxing. The question is, how willing or able would Joshua be to learn grappling?

Joshua is obviously a tremendous boxer with fine skills. However, Ngannou would be unlikely to just keep things on their feet to show off who is more powerful. There is also a question of how Joshua would adjust to the other rules of MMA.

MMA has only three five-minute rounds, and boxing has only three three-minute rounds. In this case, there is always a puncher’s chance that Joshua could catch Ngannou and put him out. But fighting with lighter gloves and adjusting to a new ruleset would make Joshua a fish out of water. Ngannou would get his revenge in the octagon.

Find all the latest boxing news and MMA breaking updates on boxingnews.com.

By Dean McHugh.