Eddie Hearn has been Anthony Joshua’s promoter from the moment the Olympic champ first began his journey into pro boxing under the Matchroom Sport banner in 2013, so he’s no stranger to the highs and lows of Joshua’s career. Given that, Hearn is the first to admit that Joshua’s latest unanimous decision win over Jermaine Franklin wasn’t exactly the type of bounce-back performance to set the world afire following Joshua’s recent slump, which saw the British heavyweight lose three of five bouts and drop all of his major titles.
Hearn also knows that if there ever was a time when Joshua may appear to be a vulnerable target for a high-profile free agent from another combat sport — say, former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou — that it’d probably be now.
So Hearn won’t begrudge anyone who throws Joshua into Ngannou’s matchmaking crosshairs following the Franklin win — and he’s not exactly opposed to the idea either.
“I agree with you,” Hearn said on The MMA Hour. “Personally, you cannot in a million years, with Francis Ngannou’s ability in boxing and pedigree in boxing, go in and compete technically, skill-wise — not just with AJ, but with any top-20 heavyweight in the world. But in that division, the difference is, what you can do is you could knock someone out. So it doesn’t matter whether Francis fights Anthony Joshua — Tyson Fury, I agree with you, horrible fight for Francis Ngannou because he’d he just poke [Ngannou] around — Deontay Wilder, Dillian Whyte, Derek Chisora, Jermaine Franklin; he has no chance against those guys, other than to be aggressive, trade up, and catch someone clean and take him out.
“So I think that you are correct in your statement, in that ... people would give fighters a much better chance against AJ having watched that performance. In your world, that translates to Francis Ngannou. And why not? I don’t feel like it’s a fight that’s going to continue the development of Anthony Joshua under his new trainer, but I’d [recently] done lunch with Francis Ngannou. You know his story. I was completely gobsmacked by the story of this man. We sat for two hours, and I was just listening to just the most remarkable — I mean, how this isn’t a film, I have no idea. Unbelievable,” Hearn continued.
“I’m thinking, ‘Please let me go to Hollywood now with you and sell this film.’ People need to be educated about what that man has been through, and his story to get to where he’s got to. I found him fascinating. Lovely guy, lovely guy, and I’d love to do something.”
Ngannou is currently a combat sports free agent after orchestrating a split from the UFC following his successful title defense over Ciryl Gane. “The Predator” has made it clear that his pursuit of a big-name boxing matchup is his top priority before he returns to MMA. Ngannou has spoken openly of negotiating a potential matchup against Wilder.
Hearn is happy to throw Joshua’s name into the mix for Ngannou, as long as that’s what Joshua wants. But it’s also not Hearn’s top priority. Instead, he hopes to book Joshua a return fight later in 2023 opposite the type of opponent who will properly prepare the Brit for another blockbuster showdown against some of the best names in heavyweight boxing.
“Dillian Whyte. Otto Wallin. Joe Joyce is another big fight. It’s a tough fight, but who knows,” Hearn said. “But I just feel that if we’re going to go into a Fury or Wilder, which is inevitable, I just want him to go in with the best chance that he can have. And I just feel that, right now, he’s not at the optimum level he could be to go into that fight.
“He would still go into them and I still give him a chance in those fights, I believe he could win those fights. But I would just like to see him firing going into those fights. And what I saw [against Franklin] wasn’t AJ firing on all cylinders.”