Francis Ngannou’s next opponent revealed, but Joshua comes first

 | February 26 | 

5 mins read

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Francis Ngannou is set to be a busy man this year. In just under two weeks, the former UFC heavyweight champion takes on Anthony Joshua in the second professional boxing match of his career. ‘The Predator’ also has the next chapter of his day job mapped, with an MMA clash against PFL heavyweight boss Renan Ferreira on the cards.

Joshua vs Ngannou Odds

  • Joshua to win @ 1/4
  • Ngannou to win @ 11/4
  • Draw @ 20/1

The bout was confirmed on Saturday when Ngannou travelled to Saudi Arabia, the emerging, unofficial fight capital, to watch what amounted to an eliminator. The cross-promotional PFL vs Bellator event was headlined by a meeting of the two company’s heavyweight champions, Fereira and ex-UFC star Ryan Bader. As well as securing a specially-made championship belt, a gaudy must-have in modern fight sports, the winner would also receive a money-spinning go-round with Ngannou.

Francis was not left with a long wait to find out his next MMA foe. Ferreira closed the show in 21 brutal seconds, annihilating Bader and securing a big-money bout with Ngannou. But despite the PFL being clear on the fact this fight is next for both, the road to it actually taking place is complicated.

Ngannou has been out of the cage since January 2022, when he scored the first decision win of his career against Ciryl Gane. Instead, the Cameroon-born combatant has turned his mighty fists to the sport of boxing. 

Few took Ngannou seriously when he agreed to fight WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in a non-title 10-rounder on his boxing debut. What followed in Saudi Arabia last October was perhaps the greatest losing debut in boxing history. Ngannou knocked Fury down in the third round and utterly rattled the champion on the way to losing a split decision. Ridiculously, the performance landed Ngannou the number 10 spot in the WBC rankings. While that was farcical, Ngannou’s performance was anything but. 

The Fury siege earned Ngannou another lucrative ring outing. He faces Anthony Joshua a week on Saturday. On the one hand, you can argue there are any number of heavyweight contenders more deserving of a fight with ‘AJ’. But on the other hand, it is hard to see any of the available boxers matching Ngannou for commercial viability. The ex-UFC star established himself as a genuine force over the course of half an hour in the ring with Fury and the public want to see more.

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While his performance against ‘The Gypsy King’ encouraged confidence, it still seems like a potential liberty to be entertaining another MMA bout before the Joshua fight is done. ‘The Predator’ will feel good about his chances against the Olympic gold medalist, but he must be realistic. Fury turned up out of shape and clearly expected a glorified spar to be the extent of the festivities. 

Joshua is not prone to negligence in the same way. While he has lost to Andy Ruiz Jr and Oleksandr Usyk in the past, the Watford man has always turned up in fine condition. Joshua is also a more pragmatic fighter than Fury these days and he will approach the task with caution. That’s not to say Ngannou can’t clip him, but it’s less likely than the Hail Mary he landed on Fury in that fateful third round.

So what if the worst happens for Ngannou? What if he’s well-beaten, perhaps even stopped? How long must Ferreira wait around? Will that fight still be viable? Depending on how injurious an ‘AJ’ defeat ends up being, Ngannou might not compete for months. When he does return, assuming he goes straight into the PFL cage, what frame of mind will he be in? Right now, Ngannou is a star in boxing, despite his single fight of experience. 

The 37-year-old is favoured to beat ‘AJ’ by some and is constantly cast in fantasy showdowns with other top heavyweights. But a defeat to the Brit will effectively pull the rug out from under his boxing career. At his age, there is unlikely to be a rebuild for Ngannou the boxer. Perhaps that’s okay. After all, he’ll have had two bumper paydays against the biggest heavyweight stars on the planet. Ngannou can return to his sport with his head held high, having secured his future. 

Perhaps the most dangerous thing that can happen to the PFL and Ngannou’s future fight with Ferreira is actually if he beats Joshua. That world ranking will only improve. That win, coupled with his near-miss against Fury, will build a case that he should meet the undisputed heavyweight champion. Whether that is a rematch with ‘The Gypsy King’ or a bout with Oleksandr Usyk, the current WBA, WBO and IBF holder, Ngannou will have a strong claim for contendership.

If that unlikely scenario does happen, it is hard to foresee Ngannou delaying gratification to accommodate Ferreira. The Brazilian is an impressive fighter and consummate knockout artist. But he is also something of an unknown quantity to those with just a base knowledge of MMA. To the mainstream, MMA is UFC and vice versa. Ferreira’s name doesn’t sell in the same way as the top boxing heavyweights. If Ngannou manoeuvres himself to the brink of boxing title contention, he won’t turn his back on it to fight Ferreira. 

Ngannou is trying to juggle two combat sports at once. He’s not the first. On Saturday’s PFL vs Bellator card, Claressa Shields scored a split decision win over Kelsey DeSantis to go 2-1 in MMA. You might know ‘The GWOAT’ better as the undisputed middleweight boxing champion. It can be done. ‘The Predator’ should take notes as he pursues a banner year in both the ring and the cage.

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