Given his showing against Tyson Fury this past weekend in Saudi Arabia, most boxing fans would be honoured if Francis Ngannou decides to stick around.
The MMA star flipped the script in Riyadh, dropping Fury on the way to a close split decision loss. He was, by all accounts, the moral victor on the night.
Post-fight, he said he will fulfil a commitment to the Professional Fighters League before looking to return to boxing – but against who?
Wilder’s trainer, Malik Scott, has already started talks with Ngannou’s people following on from previous discussions about a two-fight deal culminating in Africa. Whilst the Fury fight was dubbed ‘the battle of the baddest’, there’s no doubt that more intrigue can be drummed up by pitting the most powerful men from their respective disciplines against one another.
Fury’s power – even a misplaced elbow – couldn’t knock Francis off his rhythm, but can ‘The Bronze Bomber’s? 42 knockouts from 43 wins will have many betting that it can. But what of Ngannou’s skill-level? He showed some impressive technique out of both the southpaw and orthodox stances. Will another training camp put him above Wilder in that category? Perhaps the most intriguing match-up for the man some believe should be the lineal heavyweight champion.
Similarly to Scott, ‘AJ’s team see pound signs with Ngannou. Eddie Hearn was coy when asked by Boxing Social if he had reached out to Saudi Arabia about making the fight, but loudly confident in his prediction – Joshua stops Ngannou in three.
With the undisputed bout between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk contracted, and talks with Wilder in a frustrating stand-off, Joshua’s best option may be attempting to do what his domestic rival couldn’t. There would perhaps be no better way to draw Fury into a fight down the line.
Despite having lost his unified titles, he’s still one of the biggest names in the sport of boxing, and those are the match-ups that Ngannou was not only built for, but deserves.
Zhang’s name may not bring the same clout as the others on this list, but what he offers in terms of a stage may do. He’s made no secret about looking to fight in China on a massive scale before hanging up the gloves, and his fans wouldn’t argue with Ngannou filling the opposite corner.
The Bird’s Nest in Beijing could play host to a true battle of the big men, welcoming the former UFC Champion to the back yard of arguably 2023’s hottest property in the heavyweight division.
One of the least likely on the list – at least in terms of being next up – will be the fight Ngannou wants most. He feels he beat Fury fair and square in Riyadh, and has the backing of some fans and pundits.
Would ‘The Gypsy King’ benefit the second time around from being able to study Ngannou in the boxing ring? Or would Ngannou take immeasurable confidence from not really being troubled throughout their ten rounds together? Fans want to see an undisputed champion, and Fury is necessary in that process, but this rematch has the potential to be huge down the line.
A curveball given Usyk has made it clear that his only goal left in the sport is to be two-weight undisputed champion, and he currently finds himself just one fight away. The only path to facing Ngannou for the Ukrainian means the fight with Fury would have to be off the table, and for that to happen without a breach of contract, the Brit may have to retire.
It’s unlikely to happen – in fact confirmed by Fury himself that it won’t be the case – but if it did, could Ngannou’s newfound favour with the WBC get him high-ranked enough to fight for a vacant title? Anybody who says no for certain hasn’t been keeping an eye on the sport in recent times…