Anthony Joshua
Anthony Joshua looks set for his first-ever fight with a non-boxer as he will take on Francis Ngannou in March. Ahmed Yosri/Reuters

British heavyweight boxing star Anthony Joshua is set to compete against Cameroonian and French MMA fighter Francis Ngannou in a crossover boxing bout on March 8th in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The former heavyweight champion ended 2023 in style as he stopped Otto Wallin after five rounds at the 'Day of Reckoning' event in Riyadh, building on his wins over Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius earlier in the year.

Deontay Wilder was tipped as a possible opponent for Joshua in early 2024, but the American lost his last fight to Joseph Parker on the undercard of the 'Day of Reckoning', so that potential bout is off the table for the time being.

Ngannou will be the first non-boxer that Joshua has ever come up against in a professional boxing bout. Ngannou participated in his first professional boxing match last October, as he faced off in a 10-round contest against WBC heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, in Riyadh.

Ngannou was given little to no chance of defeating Fury but he appeared to be silencing his doubters early on in that fight as he floored the Brit with a ferocious left hook in the third round.

The fight went the distance and despite Ngannou's impressive performance, Fury came out on top via a split decision, with many agreeing that Ngannou was the deserved winner instead.

Ngannou's performance against Fury earned him plenty of praise and credit, with the sanctioning body, WBC, ranking him as the 10th best heavyweight boxer in the world. Therefore, Ngannou will be no pushover for Joshua, and the Brit will need to prepare for the MMA star with the same level of seriousness as he has done for his other opponents if he wants to avoid a loss on March 8th.

A press conference is set to take place on January 15th in London to officially announce the 10-round fight and more details regarding the bout will be revealed then.

Ngannou's venture into professional boxing has been a successful one from a financial perspective, as the MMA fighter made close to £8 million from his fight with Fury. In retrospect, Ngannou's bold decision to turn down a £6 million three-fight deal from the UFC last year appears to have been the right one.

According to Forbes, Ngannou's performance against Fury has increased his exposure and he should receive a notable pay rise in his next contest.

The American business magazine estimates that Ngannou could make more than £15 million for his upcoming fight with Joshua, with that not even taking into account potential sponsorships and pay-per-view numbers.

There has not been as much clarification in reports for Joshua's purse for the fight, but he is likely to make considerably more than Ngannou. Fury allegedly made close to £40 million when he fought Ngannou and that is near the figure Joshua is believed to have requested and will receive to face the MMA fighter.

Joshua is one of boxing's biggest earners as he has supposedly made around £200 million from his professional career in the ring. From headlining pay-per-view bouts to selling out stadiums in Britain and now fighting abroad in boxing's most lucrative market at present, Saudi Arabia, Joshua has undoubtedly been a sporting and commercial success.

Providing Joshua comes through unscathed against Ngannou and avoids a loss, he will turn his attention to getting back into contention for a world title shot at some point in 2024. The Brit could get a shot at the WBA heavyweight title by facing Congo's Martin Bakole in a final eliminator, with the winner subsequently going on to fight for the title.

Bakole and Joshua are ranked as the number one and number two contenders respectively in the latest WBA heavyweight rankings.

The heavyweight division is set to dominate boxing in the first quarter of 2024, as Fury will take on WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk, on February 17th in Riyadh. The contest will be for the right to be named the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999.

Elsewhere, MMA star Conor McGregor is keen to return to action and called out boxing legend Manny Pacquiao for a future boxing bout when he attended the 'Day of Reckoning' event last month. McGregor last fought at UFC 264 in 2021, where he lost to Dustin Poirier, whilst Pacquiao retired from professional boxing that same year.