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JEFF POWELL: Anthony Joshua can dodge and dance his way through Saudi clash against Francis Ngannou to keep his Tyson Fury dream alive

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Was it a casual afterthought, a careless throwaway line, or a deliberately understated declaration of intent crafted for those who cared to listen? 

When asked how much longer this Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion intended to chase the third heavyweight crown which would elevate him to the throne room of the prize-ring, Anthony Joshua said: ‘I love boxing. I love training every day, which I will continue doing the Monday morning after I beat Francis Ngannou this Friday night.’

Then, as he began to turn away, he glanced back at the battery of microphones and muttered: ‘Without boxing I would only be a quarter of the man I am.’

AJ is intelligent, wealthy and has achieved more than most in this brutal profession would consider sufficient to be called a success.

He is unfailingly courteous to his elders, which is fortunate for me if a performance calls for an adverse critique, one of which he cannot afford right now.

Anthony Joshua (L) and Francis Ngannou (R) will go toe-to-toe inside the boxing ring on Friday

Anthony Joshua (L) and Francis Ngannou (R) will go toe-to-toe inside the boxing ring on Friday

The British star will hope that victory over Ngannou can help push his path to another title shot

The British star will hope that victory over Ngannou can help push his path to another title shot

If Cameroonian legend of the octagon Francis Ngannou connects even harder than he did on his boxing debut, when he sat Tyson Fury on his ample derriere here five months ago, AJ’s path to another title shot would be blown away on the desert wind.

Hopefully I am correct in interpreting that single philosophical sentence as not only testament to the impetus boxing has given him, but also as an indication of his determination not to be deprived of what he does best. Not just yet.

Joshua will be giving away more than a stone in weight to the UFC icon. Ngannou weighed in at 19st 6lb. Then Joshua scaled exactly 18st, to roars of approval from a couple of hundred supporters who have made the trek to Saudi Arabia.

Defeat Ngannou, preferably more emphatically than Fury did, and he will go to the head of the queue to challenge the Gypsy King or Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed world heavyweight championship, which they will contest on yet another of these hot nights in Riyadh on May 18.

Hitherto no mixed martial arts exponent would have been given a dog’s chance of beating a world champion when crossing over to boxing. But the hundreds of millions of dollars being lavished by the Saudi Kingdom on the world’s top pugilists have moved the needle.

When Ngannou met Fury he came close to defeating a great, but on the night complacent, heavyweight champion. Loads of money can do that to anyone.

Joshua is wealthy, too, but he has been forewarned by the disaster which nearly befell the Gypsy King. The flipside is that Ngannou’s first experience in the roped square will have improved his ring skills, which were much better than Fury anticipated.

Joshua will be giving away more than a stone in weight to the UFC icon after weighing in at 18st

Joshua will be giving away more than a stone in weight to the UFC icon after weighing in at 18st

Ngannou stunned Tyson Fury and knocked him down during their Riyadh clash in October

Ngannou stunned Tyson Fury and knocked him down during their Riyadh clash in October

Promoter Frank Warren summed up that surprise: ‘We all knew Francis could punch but none of us expected him to shape up like a boxer, measure distance like a boxer and switch from southpaw to orthodox like a very good boxer. Joshua needs to be on his game.’

AJ says he will be. ‘I’m looking for the knockout and after that to crack Fury’s jaw for all the nasty things he’s said about me, assuming he beats Usyk,’ he said. Joshua has the advantage of being the one who will call the tune. The pattern of the 10-round bout will be set by how he chooses to fight.

His options are intriguing. Go for a statement knockout and he opens himself up to being caught by an Ngannou punch which has been measured as the most powerful in combat sports.

If there is any apprehension in Joshua it will be deepened by his opponent saying: ‘When I put Fury down I didn’t quite land it perfectly. If I hit Joshua bang on the spot he will never get up like Tyson keeps doing.’

AJ’s alternative is to box on the back foot behind his excellent jab and pick off Ngannou from range. It is the way he dealt with his victorious second fight with Andy Ruiz Jnr, the Mexican who beat him first time out. 

Joshua has the option of boxing on the back foot, just as he did against Andy Ruiz Jnr

Joshua has the option of boxing on the back foot, just as he did against Andy Ruiz Jnr

However, Joshua will now be well-aware of the tremendous power that Ngannou possesses

However, Joshua will now be well-aware of the tremendous power that Ngannou possesses

The risk there is that Ngannou is much fitter, stronger and more mobile than Ruiz. If one is dodging and dancing, the other chasing and charging, then the questionable stamina of both comes into play.

And while Joshua is a big puncher himself, no opponent thus far has put a dent in Ngannou’s chin. His response to the heaviest blow Fury landed and then a rogue elbow was to rattle him again.

Even if all the chips fall perfectly so as to bring on the long-awaited confrontation between Joshua and Fury, the odds will still be on it taking place on these blazing sands rather than at Wembley Stadium. That is the shimmering reality of this hard old game.

Tonight Joshua is being cast as King Kong and Ngannou as Godzilla. But try as they might for the knockout, the most likely outcome is for rather more than a quarter of AJ to win on points.