Knockout Chaos is coming. Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou is officially set for Friday March 8th, 2024, at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as one of the final events of Riyadh Season 2023/2024.
This event sees former two-time unified world heavyweight champion Joshua take on former undisputed UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou in a professional boxing match over 10 rounds.
Joshua had signed to face Deontay Wilder over 12 rounds in March but due to Wilder’s loss to Joseph Parker as a part of ‘Day of Reckoning’ on December 23rd, 2023, also in Riyadh – the deal was scrapped.
Ngannou shocked the combat sports world when he dropped current WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in their 10-round contest in October at the opening event of Riyadh Season 2023/24 titled ‘Battle of the Baddest’.
Fury would ultimately get the decision over Ngannou but Ngannou walked out with his head held high having produced a very competitive performance in his professional boxing debut leaving Fury embarrassed in the eyes of the combat sports world and with a black eye for good measure.
Fast forward a few months and we now have another ‘freak’ crossover matchup between two giants of the combat sports world.
Not a fight anyone would have asked for or expected but ultimately, an intriguing prospect, nonetheless.
The launch press conference took place in Central London and saw the first face to face meeting between the pair as they had a day of media duties with broadcasters DAZN and TNT sports.
As the press conference began, the host turned to a man who is quickly making his mark in the world of professional sport and entertainment in recent years, head of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) of Saudi Arabia – Mr. Turki Alalshikh. He is an avid follower of the sport who is demanding all promoters come together and the best fight the best with blockbuster events one after the other.
Turki Alalshikh spoke in Arabic and his translator said the following –
‘In Saudi Arabia we are aiming to take extreme care to present to the boxing world only the most important matches that the fans are excited to see but also within affordable price ranges. This is why you are seeing the types of events that we are currently putting together for the world to witness.
’I am viewing all of the promoters and boxers that we are showcasing on our fight cards as my brothers, they all have my personal phone number and deal with me directly.
‘As you can see from the fight posters and artwork this particular event is inspired by the very popular video game – Street Fighter.
‘Our idea is to link all these events with an end goal in mind, ‘Ring of Fire’ Fury vs Usyk on February 17th followed by this event and the picture will become clearer.’
This was met with applause from the crowd in attendance as Mr. Turki Alalshikh doubled down on the commitment the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) has made to the sport of boxing.
‘In 2024 we will continue to put on big fight cards, first of all I would like to put together a card which will be Frank Warren vs Eddie Hearn where each has 5 fighters from their promotion facing off against their rival promoters 5 fighters’.
This was met with another round of applause and with Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren smiling and shaking hands seemingly indicating this concept will indeed be brought to life in the near future in Riyadh in 2024.
Queensbury 5 v Matchroom 5 a la Marvel vs Capcom for any of the games console fans from the 90’s!
This is something boxing fans have been asking for from these two promoters for many years, to match their best fighters against one another.
Putting the politics aside and giving the fans what they want to see, where financial demands and broadcaster commitments aren’t stumbling blocks in the way of the best possible matches being made a reality.
‘I am also looking forward to putting together Artur Beterbiev vs Dmitry Bivol for June this year. I will be speaking to Top Rank Insha’Allah (God willing),” Alalshikh said.
Another massive statement of intent in looking to put on the undisputed light heavyweight world championship bout between unified WBC/WBO/IBF champion Beterbiev and WBA champion Bivol within the next 6 months.
‘I would just like to finish by showing both Joshua and Ngannou what is waiting for the, after the result of their fight on March 8th, thank you everybody’.
An image was then shown on the main screen upon the main stage which was of a newly designed championship belt titled – WHUC (world heavyweight undisputed champion) with UNDISPUTED written across the main body.
On the side plates were the engraved names of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson.
Also on screen were the logos of the four main sanctioning bodies – WBC, WBA, IBF & WBO.
There was understandable confusion amongst everyone in attendance as the undisputed heavyweight champion will be crowned on February 17th when Fury faces off against Usyk.
So either this was said mistakenly in reference to being awarded to the winner of Joshua v Ngannou or the organisers have a plan to further convolute the championship title picture with this new title of their making.
Potentially, they may look to say we now need the winners of each respective bout – Fury v Usyk and Joshua v Ngannou to fight one another to crown the ultimate world heavyweight champion.
This could be a complete misunderstanding of what was presented yesterday but in the world of boxing this may also be a very plausible outcome.
We will have to wait and see.
Hall of fame boxing promoter Frank Warren gave his thoughts with the following –
‘These events keep coming and coming and at my age, 72 next month, I have never been involved in anything of this level. We are in a golden era of boxing in my opinion so a massive thank you to the organisers for making all of this happen.
‘There will be fireworks for sure on March 8th, Tyson turned out to be in a very tricky affair against Francis. He showed he can actually box as well as punch, he showed he can fight on the inside very well and he can also switch hit.
‘He put Tyson down and surprised us all, what a debut from him and I think Joshua is fighting someone now who knows he can mix it up in the ring now and compete at the highest level.
‘I think it will be very interesting how this fight plays out and I do think this will be a treat for the fans that ends in a K.O. The winner of this vs the winner of Fury and Usyk would be something everyone in boxing would love to see, every one of these guys has something to aim for – what a fantastic moment.’
Frank Warren was in good spirits throughout the presser, and it seems the partnership with the organisers of Riyadh Season has given him a new lease of life and further motivation to continue promoting at the highest level even after a hall of fame career already.
The next few years could see Frank promote some of the biggest events in modern boxing history. Never bet against Frank!
Next up was Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn with a few thoughts of his own –
‘This whole experience has been amazing. Imagine being able to put together all the fights that fans want to see at the drop of a dime. In just 5 months we have seen Fury vs Ngannou, the day of reckoning card, Fury vs Usyk is next followed by a monster event in Joshua vs Ngannou.
‘I met Francis in Las Vegas a few years back and I honestly did not take him seriously when he told me he had ambitions to enter professional boxing.
‘I believe he beat Tyson Fury and should be sitting here as the lineal heavyweight boxing champion, and he deserves his props. We had signed Joshua vs Wilder to take place next but as we know he lost a few weeks ago so we sat down and had to put together the next biggest fight possible and this is it.
‘Francis is on a roll right now and there is big jeopardy in this fight, this man to my right (Joshua) is going to be the undisputed world heavyweight champion one day, I truly believe that.
‘We need to get through this fight against this giant of a man who we are taking very seriously, and we cannot wait for March 8th a massive night and what is sure to be another fantastic and memorable fight for fight fans’.
Eddie Hearn is no stranger to events in Saudi Arabia.
He previously put on events with Skills Challenge Promotions who delivered both Ruiz vs Joshua 2 for the unified WBA/WBO/IBF championship in Diriyah in December 2019 as well as Usyk vs Joshua 2 for the unified WBA/WBO/IBF championship in Jeddah in August 2022.
A number of his fighters are set to feature on cards in Riyadh over the next 2 months – Joe Cordina current IBF super featherweight world champion and Jai Opetaia current RING magazine cruiserweight world champion will box on the undercard of Fury vs Usyk on February 17th.
Plus, Justis Huni, Australian heavyweight champion will feature on the undercard of Joshua vs Ngannou on March 8th.
Francis Ngannou was his usual laid back and jolly self, clearly not letting the size of the event get to him he appeared very relaxed and ready to let his fists do the talking come March 8th –
‘I am happy to be living my dream and having great experiences out in Riyadh. A lot of people have been praising me, so I appreciate that. I am going to train very hard, and I am coming in as the underdog, but I will win this fight, I know where I am at in my career, and I will show up even better than last time as I am just a beginner.
‘The Fury fight is in the past and I am preparing for a completely different challenge in front of me and I will take this even more seriously.
‘I believe I have the tools to beat AJ on March 8th, it won’t be easy, but I can get this done. I have heard he doesn’t have the best chin so I will be looking for it, it’s a fight and I will hit him wherever I can. I hope I can have the opportunity to test his chin. That’s what I am waiting for’.
The resurgent Joshua turned and gave a very strong glare to Ngannou during his comments about his perceived ‘chin’ problems.
He seemed like he was locked in and similar to his most recent fight week, he didn’t seem to be in a talkative mood.
He said the following –
‘Every fight leads somewhere. This fight is my everything and we will see where it leads me. I am not thinking about belts, just training to the best of my ability and getting to fight night and Francis.
‘Working with Ben Davison and his team has been great, I am searching for greatness and trying to elevate myself and every aspect of my game. I know who I am, but I will continue to discover more about myself through these experiences.
‘Francis has seen people like me, and I have seen people like him before, I just have to conquer his mind and spirit, we can both counterpunch and trade with one another so that guarantees explosiveness on both sides.
‘I’m not concerned about anything else at this moment but showing everyone in the U.K. that I am the one that has put boxing back on the map’.
The fighters then posed for the media and had a face off which seemed more tense than expected but ended with a smile and exchange of a few friendly words and what I can only imagine – a very firm handshake between these two behemoths and legends of combat sports.
‘Knockout Chaos’ March 8th in Riyadh Saudi Arabia is not one you want to miss.