The Anthony Joshua show reaches another defining act as he faces Francis Ngannou in mission to become three-time world champion

Anthony Joshua faces Francis Ngannou knowing a statement victory could open up one of the most exciting periods in his career as he targets becoming a three-time world heavyweight champion; watch Joshua face Ngannou live on Sky Sports Box Office on Friday March 8.

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Watch this epic arcade-style blockbuster fight promo ahead of Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou on March 8

Anthony Joshua keeps coming. Again and again. His global allure undeterred by setbacks, his will to hit back more than a match for his sceptics and his power – when unleashed – still one of the scintillating flashpoints in the modern fight game.

Whether relaunch or retaliation, his renewed pursuit of boxing’s pinnacle resumes in less orthodox circumstances on Friday when he pits his knockout exploits against that of former UFC star Francis Ngannou. A stoppage victory beckons as the latest statement on his targeted route back to heavyweight glory, while threatening a sharp jab to the Tyson Fury tale in light of the Gypsy King’s uncomfortable encounter with Ngannou late last year.

Ngannou wanted the biggest and the best were he to sacrifice UFC supremacy for his childhood dreams of stepping inside the ring. So he came to Fury and now he comes to Joshua, the latter of whom’s influence as a beacon of his era has helped sell yet more historic crossover combat in Saudi Arabia’s heavyweight playground.

The career of Ngannou has unfolded minus the burden of expectation such is his underdog background, while in contrast there may be no British fighter of the last decade that has shouldered as much pressure to succeed as Joshua during his gold-medal-springboarded rise to fame.

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Anthony Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn believes Anthony Joshua’s pressure will make Francis Ngannou gas out in their bout on Friday

Heavyweight boxing’s proclivity for fluctuation can be everybody’s favourite selling point until said fluctuation arrives. Joshua has conquered and been conquered, he has dictated, defended and, in turn, been dethroned; welcome to heavyweight boxing. The blemishes are fewer than some might wish you to believe, and the potential opportunities ahead more exciting than some might allow you to envision.

Write-off narratives have been tentatively nudged towards Joshua, and clobbered into the distance for good measure. He knows world titles are still within reach, he knows a British heavyweight showdown for the ages is still there to be made, he knows his luring power as a face for the sport remains intact, he knows in himself there are still knockouts to be recorded and headlines with which to bolster his legacy, both in and out of the ring.

As Joshua gears up to trade granite-fisted blows with Ngannou, he might afford himself a moment to reflect this week as he begins his 2024 a decade on from what could have been perceived as a breakout year in the professional ranks.

Olympic glory had teed up the story for British boxing’s next gold-encrusted poster boy when he officially stepped up from the amateur ranks in 2013, three knockout wins each inside two rounds doing well to set the tone for what was to follow. He would waste no time in burning the ground between himself and domestic rivals with seven knockout victories to announce himself in 2014, three of which he ended in the first round and none of which surpassed three.

Unfiltered, uncontainable ferocity was ripping through the heavyweight scene, and the unadulterated confidence of a soon-to-be-champion rapidly building.

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Frank Warren weighs up the ‘risk and reward’ for Anthony Joshua in his fight against Francis Ngannou this Friday on Sky Sports Box Office

Within his 2014 run had come a second-round stoppage win over Denis Bakhtov to claim the vacant WBC international heavyweight title, which Joshua went on to retain towards the start of the next year with a breezy second-round knockout victory over the, albeit older, Kevin Johnson who had previously gone the distance with Fury.

Between 2014 and the opening months of 2015, the extent of his lasting impression had chiselled the odds on his world champion prospects. It came as a defining explosion in a moment when boxing needed another heavyweight protagonist to prop up its landscape over the coming years. His reach was extending beyond boxing’s purists and touching a mainstream market with an ease to which only sporting superstars could attest; a decade on, as much is being amplified as Ngannou and Saudi Arabia draw on his appeal to boost their profile further through Friday’s lucrative main event.

A lasting impression in 2014 became the trigger for lasting memories, and lasting images of Joshua, of which people will have their own.

December 12, 2015: the lasting image for some might have been Joshua spinning his aloft wrist to play to the crowd in pre-celebratory mode as he hunted down a wobbling Dillian Whyte on the ropes before finishing his foe in the seventh round of their London grudge match. Spite had met slick showmanship to officially raise the curtain on his era of contention.

Then came the wry smile of an epiphanic Charles Martin – the Brit’s gateway to world titles – as he was sat down by a vicious right hand from Joshua, who slouched in his corner and shrugged his shoulders as if in wait of the real challenge while becoming IBF champion with a second-round stoppage victory in April 2016. And then a year later the crashing, head-snapping 11th-round uppercut that would kickstart his decisive flurry and ultimately spell the end of Wladimir Klitschko’s storied career as Joshua overcame a knockdown to stop the Ukrainian icon and confirm his place among the elite.

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Promoter Eddie Hearn looks ahead to Anthony Joshua’s fight against Francis Ngannou and a potential future fight with Tyson Fury

There was the exercise in patience over 12 rounds against Joseph Parker to become unified champion in March 2018, and a return to knockout destruction against Alexander Povetkin to dispatch a mandatory later in the year. There was the day the world stood still in June 2019 as a little-known Andy Ruiz Jr produced one of the great upsets in history to stun Joshua on his US debut, and the day Joshua secured redemption by out-classing his counterpart to snatch back his world titles with a unanimous decision response in Saudi later in the year. On he went.

There was the ill-effective game-plan that failed to solve one of boxing’s most complex, perhaps-unsolvable (tbc), equations in Oleksandr Usyk as Joshua relinquished his belts to the Ukrainian maestro in September 2021. And then the vastly-improved yet still unrewarded follow-up performance in the pair’s rollercoaster rematch, which had teased glimmers of Joshua dynamite in a thrilling ninth round before unloading the heartache of defeat when he tossed Usyk’s belts out of the ring during a post-fight outburst for which he would later apologise.

Lasting images of both ecstasy and adversity tell the tale of a true heavyweight journey, along which Joshua has both been hailed for his finishing prowess and asked to temper his bombs-away aggression, across which he has both been encouraged to try and out-box the ultimate technician in Usyk and questioned for straying from his natural fight instincts.

The scrutiny has been fierce under an unwavering spotlight, where glory as a two-time world champion has been accompanied by a shock only heavyweight boxing could conjure, coaching mistakes and a collision with a master in Usyk. Within that, he has never turned down a challenge. And here he comes again, as he always does.

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Francis Ngannou puts on a performance for Anthony Joshua’s trainer Ben Davison at the open workouts for their fight on Friday

In August he flattened Robert Helenius in round seven, and in December bludgeoned Otto Wallin into a round five retirement. He had been cast off towards decline by critics in the wake of his post-Usyk rant and seen his career questioned after a cautious return fight against Jermaine Franklin, but here was the reminder, if it was needed, that the knockout spark was still there. And suddenly, the heavyweight division began to feel better off for it.

The latest act of the AJ show could throw it back to where it began, the cold-blooded hunter with bigger prizes still to come. Joshua has triumphed at the top, since tasted and weathered a storm and now finds himself back staging one of the most high-profile fights of the year with tantalising implications regarding his immediate plans.

Filip Hrgovic could lie ahead in a clash for the IBF belt and a chance to become a three-time world heavyweight champion, however with victory over Ngannou the attention could yet fast-track towards the winner of Fury and Usyk’s duel for undisputed later this spring.

There is a fresh fire, a recharged focus, a heightened danger to Anthony Joshua, who still believes he can have the final say at the top of a heavyweight generation approaching its climax, if it isn’t already there. A statement against Ngannou could set up one of the most intriguing periods of Joshua’s career.

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Anthony Joshua is looking forward to getting back into training and not worrying about future opponents after facing Francis Ngannou on March 8

When is the fight and how can I book?

The event will start at 4pm, Friday March 8 on Sky Sports Box Office (Sky channel 491) and Sky Sports Box Office HD (Sky channel 492). The event is priced at £19.95 for Sky customers in the UK, €24.95 for Sky customers in the Republic of Ireland up until midnight on Thursday March 7.

Thereafter £19.95/€24.95 across all “self-service” bookings (remote control/online) or £24.95 / €29.95 if booked via the phone (either IVR or agent) but note an additional £2 booking fee if via an agent will apply.

The event price will revert back to £19.95 / €24.95 (ROI) from midnight Friday March 8. Two repeat showings (full duration) will be shown at 6am and 4pm on Saturday March 9.

Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight showdown with Francis Ngannou takes place on Friday March 8, live on Sky Sports Box Office with the main event expected around 11pm. Book Joshua v Ngannou now!

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