Anthony Joshua scored an early knockout in his win over Francis Nagano

Former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua halted Francis Nagano's fledgling ascension to crossover stardom on Friday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, defeating the mixed martial arts star via second-round knockout.

Joshua (28-3, 25 knockouts) made quick work of Naganoo, ending the fight with a big right overhand that knocked the Cameroonian out cold. Ngannou (0-2, 17-3 in MMA) fights in his second professional boxing match after winning the UFC heavyweight crown in 2021.

“It is what it is,” Joshua said on the DAZN broadcast after the bout. “When I saw the fight between Francis and Tyson Fury, I realized he could fight. I wanted a part of that. He's an inspiration. He's a great champion and this decision doesn't take anything away from his abilities.

Ngannou's October bout against World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Fury was a stark contrast. The 37-year-old MMA star entered the bout as a substantial underdog, but dropped a stunning Fury with a left hook in the third round. After 10 frames, Fury escaped with a controversial split decision win on the scorecards.

Nagano said boxing was his first love before discovering MMA. But it sparked excitement in his professional boxing debut.

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Ahead of Friday's fight, Joshua said he won't underestimate Nagano like some believe Fury has. His trainer, Ben Davison, said Ngannou carried “false confidence” into the bout.

Come Friday, the 34-year-old Joshua dominated proceedings.

He landed a powerful right to drop Ngannou late in the first round. Joshua connected with a right hand to knock him down again in the second round. Seconds after Ngannou returned to his feet, Joshua landed a crushing right that flattened his opponent to the canvas. Ngannou was given oxygen by ringside medics and regained consciousness.

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“I told him he shouldn't quit boxing,” Joshua said of Nagano. “He can do well. He's fought two greats.

For Ngannou, a decisive loss crushes his chances of a rematch against Fury, who is set to face Oleksandr Usyk on May 18 for the undisputed heavyweight title. After leaving the UFC for the rival Professional Fighters League last year, Nagano will return to the cage in January 2022 to face Renan Ferreira in his PFL debut and first MMA bout.

Usyk defeated Joshua to capture his title belts in 2021, then repeated the feat to retain them in 2022. Promoter Eddie Hearn said the winner of Friday's bout will face the winner of the May 18 fight, opening the door for a blockbuster fight between Joshua and Fury, which Hearn has failed to secure in the past.

“My team will shape my future,” Joshua said. “I am here to fight. I'll go back to my cage and lock myself in, and I'll come back when it's time to fight.

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