Francis Ngannou was written off by most pundits ahead of his professional boxing debut last October – not any more.
The former UFC heavyweight champion didn’t go the easy route as he crossed over to the noble art, taking on WBC and lineal world champion Tyson Fury on debut.
Ngannou though outperformed his huge odds in a huge way, putting ‘The Gypsy King’ on the floor early in the bout in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and only losing via a controversial split decision.
The reward for ‘The Predator’ is another huge heavyweight matchup on March 8, this time vs two-time heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
Davison on Dewey factor
This time Ngannou’s odds are only around the 4/1 mark – less than half of what they were vs Fury. And Joshua’s trainer Ben Davison is absolutely a believer in his man’s next opponent.
One of the reasons Davison believes Ngannou is a real threat is his trainer Dewey Cooper, who devised the gameplan which almost saw Fury lose his unbeaten record.
This is not the first time Davison has had reason to sit up and take notice of Cooper either, as he explained in an interview with Queensberry Promotions this week (watch the full version at the bottom of this page).
“On Dewey Cooper, I know of Dewey Cooper because of a performance from Jessie Vargas against Manny Pacquiao – where he performed a lot better than people expected him to,” said Davison.
“Straight away, I’ve always had Dewey Cooper in my mind as he’s a coach that looks like he does his homework. Then we saw the Ngannou fight against Fury, and my respect went up for him even more.
“So I’m sure they’ll put together a good plan and I’m sure they know enough not to be as gung ho and reckless as that because the fight could be over that quickly – these are two big guys.
“Yes, Ngannou can punch and he’s a threat. But if he’s reckless, don’t forget that AJ is also one of the most devastating punchers out there with the ability to set traps, set things up and make him pay for those silly mistakes.”
Former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis was vocal this week in his belief that a fight with Ngannou does nothing for Joshua’s resume. Davison though has a very different take.
“He [Ngannou] made a real statement when he boxed Tyson, I think he shocked the whole world. He showed he’s more than credible and it’s a real fight, a real fight.”
There is a school of thought that Joshua struggles with southpaws (back-to-back defeats by Oleksandr Usyk for example). Davison though again would disagree, pointing partly to AJ’s last fight, that five-round demolition of Otto Wallin last month.
Also Davison and Joshua now have the tape of Ngannou in his Fury showdown, the MMA superstar is no longer a totally unknown boxing quantity.
He reasoned: “That [the tape] is a bonus, an advantage that we have. But there’s a job to do and we’ll prepare very seriously, taking this very seriously.
“He’s [Joshua] a true professional, takes his job very seriously. Not that it needs re-iterating, but he’s re-iterating to his team that it’s a serious fight and the job needs to be done properly.”
Joshua vs Ngannou tactics
There has been talk that Ngannou will look to really find and test Joshua’s chin by being aggressive in the early stages on March 8. Davison believes that would be a big mistake.
“I think that Ngannou’s team won’t be as mad as that. I think if they go gung ho to Joshua, he punches more than hard enough that if Ngannou is a bit reckless and gets caught on the counter, it could be over very quickly.
“I think it will be a similar approach for Ngannou, and that makes him a handful. A patient guy who can punch really hard. He didn’t get carried away with himself and he didn’t get flustered [vs Fury]. That, along with his phsyicality, is what brings the threat.”
Davison was asked for his thoughts on working with Joshua for the first time in preparation for that Wallin supershow. It’s fair to say he was impressed.
“I can’t speak for him, but my experience is he’s extremely coachable. I feel like trust got built to a certain point where I needed it to be just before the Otto Wallin fight. There was a few things before going into the fight that I was extremely confident that trust was there.
“Now each fight is different, and you have to keep building on that, but I think that the way we coach suits the type of character he is.
“It’s our job to pick the right bits we want to show and want to focus on. And dialogue as well, he might have something on his mind, he’s asking the question.
“A lot of is talking, having a discussion. Talking through a scenario, walking through a scenario, repeating a scenario, drilling a scenario. Then doing it in sparring and then all of a sudden, just like magic, it seems to happen on the night.”