It was a strange juxtaposition Saturday at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On one side was heavyweight champion Tyson Fury promising to knock his opponent spark out. Across from him was 37-year-old Francis Ngannou, a former UFC champion and boxing novice, vowing to give Fury the fight of his life.
The questions loomed. How long would it take for Fury to knock out Ngannou? Would the Englishman carry his opponent until the later rounds to give the fans a show before taking him out? Would the 6’9” Fury smash Ngannou from the opening bell for an electrifying knockout?
Or would the Cameroonian-Frenchman somehow put up a good fight and shock the world in defeat?
The novice. That’s who. The one no one thought could lay a solid punch let alone drop the self-proclaimed “best heavyweight there’s ever been.” Yes. As the great Jim Lampley said, “It happened!”
Ngannou Beats The Odds
Fury (34-0-1, 24 KOs) was expected to dominate Ngannou (0-1), the former UFC heavyweight champion who hadn’t fought in 21 months. Instead, he got decked in the third round and struggled to a split-decision win.
One judge scored it 95-94 for Ngannou, but was overruled by tallies of 96-93 and 95-94 for Fury, whose WBC heavyweight title was not on the line in the 10-round contest. Fury may have won the fight, but Ngannou certainly won the night.
Fury Thought Ngannou Would Fold Easily
The fact that Ngannou was a point away from becoming the lineal heavyweight champion on two scorecards says more about Ngannou than Fury’s lack of preparation.
The 35-year-old WBC champion had already signed to fight for the undisputed heavyweight title on Dec. 23 against three-belt unified world titleholder Oleksandr Usyk. Fury opted to take what he thought was a low-risk cash grab before squaring off against the champion from Ukraine. Fury made an estimated $50 million. Ngannou reportedly bagged $10 million.
Despite his claims he trained for 12 weeks for the fight, Fury was clearly ill-prepared and expected an easy fight. Ngannou had other plans.
In the third round, Fury failed to mix up his punches and threw consecutive one-two combinations. After the first miss, Ngannou was ready and countered him with a left hook that sent Fury to the canvas for the seventh time in his career.
But just like the previous six times — including four in his heavyweight trilogy with former WBC champion Deontay Wilder — Fury beat the count.
Ngannou looked as comfortable in a boxing ring as he did in the octagon in MMA. He did have some shaky moments, but Fury failed to capitalize and gassed down the stretch.
A Valuable Lesson For Fury
If we look closely enough, there’s a huge life lesson to be learned from Fury’s near-disaster.
In the lead-up to his bout against Conor McGregor in August 2017, Floyd Mayweather Jr. said, “Every time [McGregor] goes out there and defeats fighters, he’s standing up. He’s in a boxing position, and he’s beating fighters.
“Does he have a good chance of upsetting Floyd Mayweather? I can’t say, but anything can happen in the sport of boxing,” added Mayweather.
Virtually no one expected Ngannou to put up any semblance of a fight on Saturday night – except for Ngannou and his team including his celebrity guest trainer, former two-time heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
Don't Underestimate A Man With A Dream
Fury paid the price for underestimating an opponent who left behind a life of poverty in the salt mines of Cameroon to chase his dream of becoming a professional boxer.
It was the same dream that led Ngannou to be jailed for 60 days in Spain for trespassing. The same one that left him homeless and destitute in Paris before he discovered MMA.
Eight years later, Ngannou was the heavyweight champion of the world. In his most recent bout, Ngannou overcame MCL and PCL tears to defeat Cyril Gane to unify titles, proving anything can happen.
Fury's Rough Road To The Top
Fury has overcome his fair share of adversity. In November 2015, he dominated longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko in a monumental upset to lift three major titles and the lineal heavyweight championship. Fury never defended the belts, as he dealt with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues.
After blowing up in weight to nearly 400 pounds, virtually no one gave Fury a chance to fight again, letting alone become a two-time heavyweight champion.
Fury returned in June 2018 following a 31-month layoff and won both of his comeback bouts. It wasn't enough to convince his father, John, that he was ready to fight then-unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. The elder Fury was convinced the hard-hitting American would paralyze his son.
It was the same Fury whose father didn’t speak him to for five weeks leading up to the first fight against Wilder. John Fury feared Wilder would paralyze him. In December 2018, Wilder dropped Fury twice including in the 12th and final round, but Fury also outboxed him for long stretches.
The judges scored the first fight a split draw. Fury and Wilder fought twice more, with Fury scoring a seventh-round TKO in a one-sided bloodbath, then winning by 11th-round knockout in a breathless bout featuring five knockdowns, including two for Fury.
No Middle Ground With Tyson Fury
We've seen how dangerous a focused Tyson Fury can be. He's either in top form or, at best, a shell of himself. But if he took this lesson to heart, Usyk could be in for one hell of a fight. Fans will witness history, the crowning of the sport's first undisputed champion in over 23 years.
Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs), an Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed cruiserweight champion, defeated Anthony Joshua in 2021 to claim the WBO, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. Usyk, 36, again beat Joshua in last year's rematch.
Usyk returned in August with a ninth-round knockout of Daniel Dubois, motivated by the long-awaited undisputed heavyweight title fight with Fury.
“Twenty-three of December, I'm ready to fight,” said Usyk.
Despite the loss, it's Ngannou who saw his stock rise exponentially. He’s signed with the Professional Fighters League and is expected to compete for the PFL next year. But Ngannou stated in recent interviews he wants his next bout to be in a boxing ring. It's clear that his passion is boxing. His career in the ring is just getting started.