Joshua’s demolition of Ngannou underlines danger of crossover bouts | Donald McRae

TThe sudden ending was as shocking as it was predictable. Francis Ngannou, a very good heavyweight champion in the contrasting world of mixed martial arts, walked slowly and unsteadily towards Anthony Joshua. He had already been knocked down twice before in his second fight as a professional boxer. Joshua, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time former world heavyweight champion, stepped forward to close the show. He knocked out the staggering novice with a cold and brutal finish.

In the early hours of Saturday morning in Riyadh, it was completely expected and yet strangely alarming. Joshua had so much time he was able to plant his feet, aim and unleash a ferocious overhand right that landed Ngannou on the temple with such force that he began to slip into unconsciousness as he slumped to the canvas. Within seconds he was flat on his back. The referee, who frantically waved his left arm in the second round to signal the fight was over, ran to his aid.

Boxing thrives on such explicit violence, which means that, even for those of us who somehow still love the courage, determination and skill of its fighters, it is ultimately a bleak and often disturbing affair. Joshua, who was also shockingly stopped by Andy Ruiz Jr. and has been dismantled twice by Oleksandr Usyk, understands these hard truths. He didn’t roar or celebrate Ngannou’s demise by climbing the ropes. Instead, Joshua looked away from his stricken opponent and quietly walked over to his new trainer, Ben Davison, who tapped his glove in recognition of a brutal job well done.

They were right not to indulge in jubilation. Joshua did his job with clinical efficiency while showing some of the grudge that all great heavyweights carry. Mike Tyson produced these stoic responses better than any other fighter. After obliterating yet another hapless opponent, Tyson trudged around the ring with a disdainful lack of surprise. A somber expression reflected his certainty that the outcome had always been clear. It was hair-raising and intimidating and built the myth of Iron Mike.

But Tyson was lost in a dark maze. He eventually unraveled outside the ring and between the ropes. Joshua, a heavyweight boxing student, has immersed himself in these compelling yet tragic stories – and experienced the pain of his own defeats.

Joshua also knew that as long as he prepared hard and fought with calm intentions, he would blow Ngannou away. He has been boxing professionally for ten years and ten months, while it has been just over four months since Ngannou made his professional debut.

Boxing logic was shattered on that surreal night last October when, in his first fight as a boxer, Ngannou stunned Tyson Fury by dropping him in the third round. Fury rose to secure a split-decision victory. Ngannou performed admirably, yet Fury was listless and devoid of his usual cascade of guile.

A stunned Francis Ngannou reacts after being knocked down by Anthony Joshua. Photo: Richard Pelham/Getty Images

It turned out to be a mirage when Joshua crushed Ngannou in the Saudi desert. His promoter, Eddie Hearn, resorted to exaggeration that Joshua avoided. “You’re looking at the baddest man in the world,” Hearn said, stealing one of Tyson’s old nicknames as he pointed to Joshua. “He is the best heavyweight in the world and I can’t wait for him to beat Tyson Fury.”

Hearn’s statement was almost as absurd as the very idea of ​​these crossover fights. Fury mostly spoke with controlled common sense when responding to Hearn’s bombast: ‘I’m sure Oleksandr Usyk will have something to say about that, considering he’s beaten (Joshua) twice. Me and Usyk are fighting for the No. 1 and No. 2 positions and the undisputed world championship (in May). I had a bad performance against Ngannou. I never said anything different. Joshua knocked him out and that’s what a boxer should have done.

Usyk holds the IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles, while Fury retains his WBC title. Their compelling fight is the real deal and should cement the first undisputed world heavyweight champion of the 21st century. The last man to claim this exalted status, in 1999, was Lennox Lewis, another great fighter who contributed to Tyson’s downfall.

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It’s been a week in which Joshua has restored some order and clarity to boxing – by highlighting the dangerous folly of such crossover fights. They should not be allowed because permanent damage could still occur.

Of course, this being boxing, a grim announcement was made the day before Joshua faced Ngannou. On July 20, Jake Paul, the YouTube influencer turned professional boxer, will fight Tyson in “a blockbuster exhibition” at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The fight stunt, which will be streamed live on Netflix, is predicted to draw an audience of 80,000 and gross more than $100 million. Tyson would have just turned 58.

Hearn, who has previously promoted YouTube snippets, described the news as “very sad. It’s a big event, but that particular fight is sad to see for true fans of the sport.”

Despite all the harsh realism that Joshua dished out just before half past three on Saturday morning, the madhouse of boxing roars on. But in the middle of the night we were reminded that only real boxers were allowed to occupy such dangerous territory.