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Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury, finally? There is no hiding now

Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury. It’s like people think if they say their names in the same breath enough the two shall magically appear in the ring together. The carrot has been dangled to the point of no return. And yet boxing has a nasty habit of falsifying hope.

Fury’s presence had been felt all week in Saudi Arabia; there was no Joshua talk without, too, a sprinkling of Fury talk. The lineal heavyweight champion of the world, decked out in his extravagant suits and never too from away from boxing’s emerging string-puller Turki Alalshikh, loomed at the forefront of the build-up to his rival’s iron-fisted collision with Francis Ngannou as something of a nod to what might lie ahead.

A so-called ‘Battle of Britain’ had been thrust to the front of the shop window, for it would be suggested repeatedly that the winner of Joshua-Ngannou would earn a shot at the winner of Fury and Oleksandr Usyk’s tussle for the undisputed heavyweight championship. We will see.

The storyline was hammered home. Fury pleaded with Joshua to get the job done against Ngannou, while Joshua and Eddie Hearn pleaded with their counterpart to handle business with an Usyk that twice defeated AJ.

Fury would watch on as Joshua unleashed a cold-blooded assault to knock out former UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou inside two rounds. AJ had held up his side of the deal emphatically. Now we wait for May 18 and the subsequent rematch.

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Tyson Fury was left seemingly impressed by Anthony Joshua’s devastating KO of Francis Ngannou.

“Why not fight them both (Fury and Usyk)?” said Joshua. “It shouldn’t really be one or the other, I should have the opportunity to compete with them both, and also not just those two, there are so many other fighters I want to compete with, but since you are asking me about the winner, I think both are very credible fighters and I’d love the opportunity to face them at some stage.”

Joshua and Fury reportedly signed the contract to finally meet in 2021, only for the third fight in an epic trilogy against Deontay Wilder to scupper plans. The pair then verbally agreed to fight in the aftermath of Joshua’s rematch loss to Usyk in 2022, only for nothing to materialise at a moment when AJ was admittedly due a deserved rest and recovery. It feels a little different, this time. But boxing has fallen into that trap before.

As the wait for an undisputed champion gradually draws to a close, there is a sense the top of the heavyweight division is reaching boiling point. If the generational fights are to be made, it has to be here, it has to be now. Both Joshua and Fury know that.

Joshua can take some credit for re-elevating the intrigue to a long-coveted encounter with Fury, who for a long time had been considered an overwhelming favourite in light of not only his growing supremacy but also his fellow Brit’s struggles against the mastery of Usyk.

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Highlights of Anthony Joshua’s stunning knockout victory against Francis Ngannou.

AJ has since relaunched himself under the tutelage of Ben Davison, remodelling the brutal spite of old and pairing it with every bit of nous, footwork, refined defence and ring IQ he has amassed during both the wins and losses of more recent years. The result has been a ruthless Joshua armed with a fortified self-assurance that has paved the way to ferocious finishes against Robert Helenius, Otto Wallin and now Ngannou. Standing before Ngannou was a Joshua who, in that mood, believes he can take out any man on the planet.

Suddenly, projections surrounding a Joshua-Fury clash are less conclusive, aided further by the latter’s shock knockdown when he met Ngannou on the MMA convert’s boxing debut back in October. Away from his own career, Ngannou’s interjection alone has cast a new, murky, fascinating cloud over a fight the public refuses to believe will not come to fruition.

Hearn referred to Joshua as the best heavyweight in the division during the immediate aftermath of his victory over Ngannou. Whether you believe it or not, it is a narrative they can now afford to push while riding the momentum of such a destructive knockout and with Joshua purring in full hunter mode.

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Anthony Joshua says he wants the winner of Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk after his devastating KO win over Francis Ngannou.

“I’m sure Oleksandr Usyk will have something to say about that, considering that he beat [Joshua] twice,” said Fury on DAZN. “It’s me and Usyk who fight for the No 1 and No 2 positions and the undisputed championship of the world [in May]. I had a s*** performance against Ngannou. I’ve never said anything different. Joshua knocked him out and that’s what a boxer should’ve done.”

Joshua saw Ngannou, naively, switch to southpaw and punished the inexperience-meets-slight overconfidence with three of the most frightening right hands to which boxing will bear witness this year. Earlier in the week Fury and manager Spencer Brown had underlined the toughness of Ngannou to barely budge in the face of the Gypsy King’s finest shots and even an accidental elbow; in doing so they inadvertently propped up Joshua’s image as a resurgent wrecking machine. What happens if AJ lands one of those shots on Fury? There is your new sell.

As a towering Ngannou folded, Fury offered Joshua his applause from ringside. He knew he had a fight on his hands down the line; but Fury has always known as much, no matter how dismissive he might have been of Joshua in the past.

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Anthony Joshua is in attendance at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, just a day after knocking out Francis Ngannou!

Fury all-but confirmed during the week that he and Usyk will fight in a rematch later this year following their initial clash for undisputed, which is scheduled for May 18 following a postponement due to a cut on the eye of the Englishman. With that in mind, Joshua could yet find himself waiting until 2025 for a shot at one of the two amid a period when his dazzling form has been partially built on activity and the momentum it has enabled him to build.

Filip Hrgovic represents one potential stopping point in the meantime as the IBF mandatory challenger, who could offer Joshua a route to becoming a three-time world champion if the belt is vacated following the first Fury-Usyk bout. The possibility of a match-up with Deontay Wilder seems to have come and gone on the basis of his shock loss to Joseph Parker, who might feel himself he would like another opportunity against Joshua after being out-pointed when the two fought in 2018. He, of course, has a rematch with Zhilei Zhang to think about first after surviving two knock downs to beat the 40-year-old on Friday.

As ever, the path to Joshua-Fury is anything but simple. But it is getting closer, and the pressure is mounting on both fighters and all affiliated with the fight-making process to ensure it happens. Joshua reignited by a rediscovery of violent tendencies, Fury still the feinting, fidgeting man to beat as he seeks to make a statement for the ages of his own by taking out Usyk.

Fight fans deserve it.

Sky News
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