Francis Ngannou desperate for Tyson Fury rematch if he deals with Anthony Joshua

Ngannou now legitimate threat in heavyweight boxing (picture: Getty)

Below the surface, Francis Ngannou had doubts heading into last October’s showdown against Tyson Fury.

‘I’m sure somewhere in the back of Francis’ head, he was a little worried how he was going to feel in there,’ Ngannou’s long-time trainer and close friend Dewey Cooper said. ‘That was playing on his mind. And secretly, it was playing on my mind too and the rest of the team.’

They needn’t have worried. On his professional boxing debut, the former UFC heavyweight champion matched the undefeated, lineal heavyweight champion, providing one of boxing’s truly great shocks when he knocked down ‘The Gypsy King’ in the third round.

A controversial split decision defeat did little to dampen the excitement over Ngannou the boxer with another extraordinary clash against Anthony Joshua awaiting tonight. Lingering doubts over how he would carry over his explosive power from the cage and last 10, draining three-minute rounds in the boxing ring have disappeared between the two fight camps.

Something Ngannou and his team have long believed is now common knowledge – he is not an MMA fighter masquerading as a boxer but seemingly a legitimate threat at the top of the sport’s blue-riband division.

‘Things that don’t get talked about much is a person’s own perception of their abilities,’ Cooper said. ‘Going into the Tyson Fury fight, we all knew it was a hard task in his first boxing fight to do 10 rounds. People just don’t do that.

‘It is so hard going 10 rounds in your first fight, especially when you’re doing that against the best boxer in the world in that division. There was an inch of doubt probably in the back of all our minds.

Boxing In Riyadh: Tyson Fury v Francis Ngannou

Ngannou sent Fury to the floor in the third round of their fight (Picture: Getty)

‘But this fight, that’s not the case. It’s not the case with his team and most importantly, it’s not the case with Francis. He knows he can go 10 rounds, he knows he can put a strong body of work within those 10 rounds. I now see a man who knows he can do the rounds diligently and effectively.’

The shock of not having his hand raised as the winner against Fury last October has only emboldened Ngannou further. Fury was meant to immediately move onto his undisputed showdown against Oleksandr Usyk in December, but having been left battered and bruised that night, those plans were quickly abandoned.

The WBC champion offered little in the way of excuses for his performances and himself knew he had been well and truly beaten, Cooper insists.

‘It’s an unspoken rule. When two men meet to fight and that fight is over, they have a telepathic connection and they know who won the goddamn fight. It’s unspoken.

Francis Ngannou and his trainer Dewey Cooper

Cooper has been in Ngannou’s corner since 2017 (Picture: Getty)

‘It may not come across that way in front of the people and in front of the media, but when they look each other in the eye, they both knew who won that fight. You could tell by the body language. So we are going into this fight as the winners we are.

‘Francis moved on from the defeat immediately. The way Francis was discounted, the way we were made to look just like a bunch of MMA guys with no place in boxing, wasn’t fair. When you’re a legit world champion, you are different. We are not going into this like we lost our last fight, were going in as the champions we are.’

While the presence of Mike Tyson in his last fight camp made the headlines, Cooper is the man who has been stood by Ngannou throughout his rise in MMA and transition into boxing.

The relationship between the two dates back to 2017 when Cooper, a decorated MMA fighter, boxer and kickboxer and current president of Team Combat League, received a phone call about a 6ft 4in Cameroonian coming to America. The two met at the Mayweather Gym in Nevada and have been ‘rocking ever since’.

Francis Ngannou

Ngannou chasing a rematch with Fury for the world titles (Picture: Getty)

There have been bumps on the road. Ngannou earned a UFC heavyweight title shot after his iconic knockout of Alistair Overeem in 2017 but fell short in his first crack a world title gold, losing on the scorecards against Stipe Miocic.

Defeat against Derrick Lewis in his very next fight was another major setback but four knockout wins on the spin lifted him back into the world title picture, gaining his revenge over Miocic in 2021 to take the belt.

‘When Francis first came to me at the Mayweather Gym, we couldn’t understand each other at all. We spoke different languages so in that regard, things have definitely improved,’ a smiling Cooper said. ‘We went through losses together, we went through the glory of avenging those defeats together. You have all seen what we did to Tyson Fury and you will see more against Joshua. It has been years in the making, we have been training together for a long time.’

Turki Alalshikh, the man responsible for bringing together boxing’s biggest names for the recent shows in Saudi Arabia, has huge plans for the winner of Saturday’s fight, promising to deliver them a world title shot against the winner of Fury vs Usyk, now rescheduled for 18 May.

Anthony Joshua v Francis Ngannou Press Conference

Joshua will be fighting for a fourth time in less than a year (Picture: Getty)

Should Fury become the division’s first sole heavyweight champion for 25 years, it would set up the rematch Ngannou is desperate for. It could also replicate a feat only recently accomplished by the great Vasiliy Lomachenko, who was fast-tracked in boxing after his stunning double Olympic medal haul, winning his first world title in just his third professional fight.

Joshua is the heavy favourite for Friday night, refreshed and rebuilt after two defeats to Usyk and determined to win a third world title. But having began their boxing journey together with some doubts over how far it would go, Cooper and Ngannou are setting no limits for themselves.

‘We’re a championship team, we are not the new kids on the block. Francis may be the new guy on the block in boxing but he’s a world champion.

‘We understand what a mental focus is supposed to be. The thought of fighting for the undisputed title and winning them with a record of 2-1 is crazy. We can desire those things in our mind, start to appreciate the wonderful taste of it.

‘But it is always one step at a time. No world champion should ever underestimate their next job. It is against Anthony Joshua, he is getting all our mind power, resources and energy. We know how big it is and how big the ramifications are.’

MORE : Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou prize money and purse for huge Saudi Arabia fight

MORE : Boxer to fight on Anthony Joshua undercard as planned despite tragic death of his mother before fight night

MORE : Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou: UK fight time, undercard, ring walks and how to watch on TV