Anyone who has ever watched a boxing sparring session up close and personal knows that they are much more than a glorified practice routine.

Sparks often fly – no fighter wants to give an inch, after all – and they often provide a useful benchmark for how the boxers in question are shaping up.

So it was interesting to learn that one of Francis Ngannou’s former sparring partners, who helped him prepare for his boxing debut against Tyson Fury, is writing off The Predator’s chances when he returns to the ring against Anthony Joshua in March.

Sizable Underdog

The latest odds on boxing matches make it quite clear: Joshua, the 1/5 favourite with the bookmakers, is expected to prevail against the 7/2 underdog Ngannou in Saudi Arabia on March 8.

And that’s a sentiment that has been echoed by Darren Sealy, the man mountain selected by Ngannou’s camp to provide the sort of physical dimensions that their man would face against Fury back in October.

Sealy, a 6ft 9in basketball player turned heavyweight, battled Ngannou in a training camp in Riyadh. And while he was impressed with what he saw, he believes that Joshua’s experience and ringcraft will prove too much for the former UFC star in March.

The newly-turned professional cited Joshua’s ‘brilliant’ performance against Otto Wallin last time out in December as evidence that the Brit is ‘firing on all cylinders’, which Sealy believes will ensure AJ has too much on the night for Ngannou in just his second boxing bout.

But as The Predator showed against Fury, he is no mug when it comes to the sweet science – dropping the Gypsy King with one powerful combination and feeling aggrieved not to get the judges’ decision at the end of the contest.

Joshua was knocked out by Andy Ruiz – not somebody that could be described as a power puncher – back in 2019, while twice losing to Oleksandr Usyk since.

Ngannou’s ferocious right hand could shake up heavyweight boxing once more in March – not that Sealy is predicting as much having seen him at close quarters.

Keeping Busy

The sheer size of Sealy has scored him another high-profile sparring job since: he’s now in the Usyk camp for his unification bout with Fury in February.

And while the heavyweight wasn’t impressed enough with Ngannou to predict an underdog victory against Joshua, he is more bullish about the Ukrainian’s chances of dethroning Fury and claiming undisputed glory for the second time in his distinguished career.

Usyk will attempt to do in February. The likes of Terrence Crawford and Naoya Inoue have managed in the modern era – albeit at a lighter weight range, which just goes to show the extent of the Ukrainian’s potential achievement.

And if Sealy’s predictions are correct, his first defence will be against Joshua later in 2024.