Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: Explosive Joshua Can Seal Dream Showdown With Fury

Producing an explosive performance to beat Francis Ngannou is the most effective way Anthony Joshua can force a future fight with Tyson Fury.

Ngannou doing well against Fury in October created an increased demand for him to fight the world’s other leading heavyweights, and with Joshua as marketable as he already is – especially given how good he looked against Otto Wallin in December, and Fury being seen to have struggled against Ngannou – victory can speed up the process of what for years has been the biggest fight Joshua is capable of having.

That it’s Joshua fighting Ngannou on Friday evening in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and not Zhilei Zhang – Zhang represents a tougher fight – suggests that Queensberry Promotions and Matchroom view the heavyweight landscape similarly.

Ngannou, 37, is a dangerous puncher, and he showed some boxing abilities against Fury, but if somebody takes him seriously – somebody like Joshua, who has power and even more boxing ability – it’s difficult to see anything other than a destructive win once Ngannou starts getting backed up.

Joshua has a sharp, deceptive jab, which his new trainer Ben Davison has helped to polish. He can use it to force Ngannou backwards, and then throw combinations once he’s doing so; a puncher who’s being backed up is much less effective.

Ngannou was impressive in a lot of ways when he fought Fury, and even though Fury was underprepared, Ngannou hadn’t only prepared properly, he proved himself to have prepared more effectively than any other MMA fighter has for a boxing match. His footwork, balance and understanding of how to manoeuvre around the boxing ring as a boxer and adjust his footwork is something we haven’t seen from others in his position, and it showed throughout those other fighters’ performances. Fury’s punches were sloppy; wide – all over the place – but Ngannou had made some adjustments.

It wasn’t that Joshua beat Wallin – another opponent Fury struggled against – that impressed, it was the way he beat him. The command he took of the ring and how commanding he was with his lead hand and his positioning inside the ring showed what a terrific trainer Davison is and how effective a combination they are together. So much so I’m curious to see what they’ve come up with for Ngannou – if Joshua looks destructive and powerful, he’ll be as in demand as he was before he lost successive fights to Oleksandr Usyk. 

Davison’s a good technical trainer who gets the most out of technically gifted, athletic fighters. Joshua, 34, was so much more confident against Wallin because Davison brought the best out of him. Fury wasn’t aggressive during the first fight with Deontay Wilder but under Davison he boxed very well; Davison’s also worked with Devin Haney, another terrific boxer. Joshua again combined boxing with power against Wallin and he did it with confidence. It’s possible Joshua recruited Davison because he hoped for a future fight with Fury, but if he’s as impressive against Ngannou, Davison will have proven himself the right trainer for him regardless.

Going into the fight against Wallin, given how long it had been since Joshua had impressed, Wallin looked a more dangerous opponent than Ngannou does in the aftermath of Joshua’s performance that night. Wallin appeared a risky fight to take; ahead of Ngannou, he has the confidence he needs – it’s if he doesn’t have that confidence that Ngannou becomes dangerous for him. 

The same deceptive jab – with snap, and power – and the angles that his left hand can bring can confuse and hurt Ngannou. The jab alone is enough to send Ngannou backwards, and make him apprehensive; once Ngannou’s power is then taken away, Joshua’s power punching and combinations can make a stoppage inevitable.

All of which means Ngannou has no choice but to try to be on the front foot and come forward. His footwork should be even more adjusted for boxing than it was when he fought Fury; if he’s not able to come forward it’s going to be so difficult for him to adjust, given he doesn’t have a boxing background, that it’ll completely nullify his punching. He has to try to match Joshua’s jab and instead be the one doing the backing up – if he succeeds, his power becomes more dangerous. 

There are those who are long-term professional boxers who struggle once they’re being backed up – Deontay Wilder is one; Mike Tyson was another – and because I expect Joshua to succeed at Ngannou’s expense, I see Joshua winning within five or six rounds.

By then we’ll have seen Joseph Parker fight Zhang, which is a good fight. Parker represents a risk for Zhang, because most seem to expect Zhang to win. Parker’s more athletic than Zhang, and can take advantage of Zhang’s slower feet and keep turning him – a similar game plan to the one he used against Wilder, who has bad feet, can work against someone with slow feet like Zhang. Wide shots over the top – right hands especially, given Zhang’s a southpaw. Parker is mobile enough and has enough boxing ability that he can earn Zhang’s respect, and win.