Anthony Joshua’s coach Ben Davison highlights undervalued strength ahead of Francis Ngannou fight

Ben Davison has highlighted an area of Anthony Joshua’s game that he believes is undervalued, as the pair prepare for Friday’s bout against Francis Ngannou.

Joshua, a former two-time unified heavyweight champion, will box ex-UFC champion Ngannou in Saudi Arabia, where the latter almost beat Tyson Fury in October.

Ngannou, a notorious power-puncher, floored Fury before losing a controversial decision in his boxing debut. Some fans believe that Joshua will be more vulnerable to the Cameroonian’s knockout threat than the unbeaten Fury was, yet Davison believes that “AJ”’s defence is underrated.

“We’ve pulled up clips of his defence, and his instinctual defence is good,” Davison told The Telegraph on Tuesday (5 March). “Look, he’s an Olympic gold medalist, he’s a two-time heavyweight champion of the world, he’s a phenomenal fighter with phenomenal attributes.

“He’s gone into two rematches straight off the bat [against Andy Ruiz Jr and Oleksandr Usyk after losing to each], and I think that says a lot about someone’s character and mental state. That’s a hell of a lot to contend with, he’s had a tremendous amount of pressure throughout his whole career, and that shows his mental strength.

“I think he’s the most critiqued fighter. I think if he wears an Airpod at a press conference, that gets commented about. I think if he wears a hat, that gets commented about. I think if he’s got a little bit of a frown on his face, that gets commented about – whereas someone else can be themselves and it’s not a thing.

“It makes him the most critiqued fighter and the most talked about. Everything is analysed, which must be a lot of pressure, but he deals with those things tremendously. It’s water off a duck’s back, to be honest.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Davison, a former coach of Tyson Fury, also commended Joshua, 34, on his coachability.

Anthony Joshua (right) with coach Ben Davison ahead of their win over Otto Wallin (Getty Images)
Anthony Joshua (right) with coach Ben Davison ahead of their win over Otto Wallin (Getty Images)

“I remember thinking, ‘Cor, he’s a mountain, but just polite, professional,’” Davison reflected on meeting his fellow Briton. “And then when we did do a bit of work, what came to my mind was ‘very coachable’. Professionalism, coachability, that’s a really important thing for me.

“If I say, ‘You’re doing this, this is an issue, you need to stop doing this,’ some fighters are going to go: ‘Yeah, but...’ Straightaway for me, that’s a red flag. That’s the difference. So, if there was something that we wanted to eradicate from his game, we would say, ‘We want to take that away from the game,’ and if there’s still resistance then, you’re uncoachable.

“But not with AJ; he’s very coachable, very professional. He’s not even on time, he is early every day, warms up properly, is ready to start on time with every detail taken care of. He has a real passion for the game as well, which I love.”

Joshua last fought in December, stopping Otto Wallin in five rounds, as the former champion fought under Davison for the first time. That victory in Riyadh followed AJ’s win against Jermaine Franklin in April and his victory over Robert Helenius in August. Joshua, who outpointed Franklin and knocked out Helenius, was coached by Derrick James in both fights.

Ngannou’s narrow loss to Fury marked his first boxing match, after the 37-year-old left the UFC in early 2023. Ngannou vacated the UFC heavyweight title upon leaving the mixed martial arts promotion, and he has since signed with the Professional Fighters League, with whom he is expected to resume his MMA career this year.