Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou fight confirmed for March 8 with winner set to face Tyson Fury or Oleksandr Usyk Michael Benson

AJ and Ngannou faced off for the first time

Anthony Joshua’s fight with Francis Ngannou has now been officially announced to take place on Friday, March 8.

It was revealed earlier this month that the former boxing heavyweight world champion and ex-UFC heavyweight world champion had signed to meet in a ten-round boxing bout in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

On Monday, the date was confirmed as the pair met and faced off for the first time at their launch press conference.

Ngannou made his boxing debut when he fought Tyson Fury in October of last year – an event put together by His Excellency Turki Alalshikh, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s GEA (General Entertainment Authority).

The MMA sensation shocked the world by flooring the WBC heavyweight world champion in round three, and only lost by a narrow split decision.

Prior to this, AJ had dismissed the possibility of a ‘gimmick’ fight with Ngannou and instead prioritised Deontay Wilder.

However, Ngannou’s performance against Fury in fact opened the door for Joshua to join the Saudi party.

The Gypsy King was forced to delay his planned undisputed showdown with Oleksandr Usyk from December 23 to February 17 after being floored.

As a result, AJ and Wilder were contacted by the GEA and both signed to box on December 23, with the plan being for them to then meet in March.

Joshua beat Otto Wallin, but Wilder lost to Joseph Parker, scuppering these plans.

This led to AJ and Ngannou now signing to meet on March 8 instead – with the victor then in line to face the winner of Fury vs Usyk and challenge for all the heavyweight titles.

Ngannou knocked Fury down in his boxing debut

Joshua is the former two-time WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight world champion

On the undercard of Joshua vs Ngannou, Zhilei Zhang will face Joseph Parker in a huge heavyweight showdown for Zhang’s WBO ‘interim’ belt.

Also on the show, Rey Vargas will defend his WBC featherweight world title against Nick Ball and Mark Chamberlain will fight Gavin Gwynne.

Tyson Fury’s younger brother Roman Fury will have his fourth pro fight on the card.

And Justis Huni, Ziyad Almaayouf and Jack McGann will also feature.

People have always doubted me and I always proved them wrong,” said Ngannou.

“It is clear I am a trouble for elite boxers and AJ should prepare himself for a battle because I am like nothing he has ever faced.

“It is going to be another spectacle for boxing fans in Riyadh, only this time I have no intention of leaving it in the hands of the judges.”

He added: “I’m going to fight him, so what do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to look for his chin.”

The pair shook hands and showed respect

“That’s what happens in the fight. In the fight you try to hit somebody in the chin or wherever you can hit them.

“And then, yes, I heard that he doesn’t have a chin. I don’t know if it’s true or not.

“We’re going to find out. I hope I have the opportunity to test that out, that’s my wish.”

Joshua, while confident of victory, insists he will not underestimate his opponent despite the lack of boxing experience.

“If Tyson underestimated Ngannou, I sure won’t. Francis has lost the element of surprise with me,” he said.

“We knew Francis had a reputation as the biggest puncher in the world but the surprise was how well he boxed.

“He was exceptional on the inside and made life very complicated for Tyson. So much so that I do belong to the opinion that he beat Fury.”

Promoter Frank Warren, meanwhile, teased the prospect of Joshua or Ngannou facing the winner of Fury vs Usyk next.

Warren declared: “For the winner, the big fight’s happening on February 17, with Tyson and Usyk. The winner of that – would we like to see them with the winner of this fight? Everybody in boxing would love to see that.

“So everybody has got something to aim for. It’s huge a moment of excitement for boxing.”

Saudi’s boxing broker, His Excellency Turki Alalshikh, said: “You will see the result of this match will connect about the result of the 17 February – this is our idea.”

AJ, who has twice lost to Usyk, added: “There are two fights people want me to have, Wilder and Fury, and they haven’t happened yet.

“People want to see it in the UK — me and Fury. As long as we get the fight, that’s the main thing.”