Forty-three years ago, a fuzzy-haired unknown named Salvador Sanchez walked into an auditorium in Phoenix and beat the breaks off one of boxing’s dominant champions, Danny “Little Red” Lopez.” It kicked off a career that some say is the greatest in Mexican boxing history. But that is the exception – not the rule – when anonymous no-names step into the ring against established world champions. For every Sanchez or Mike Weaver, there is a Patrick Charpentier, Morrade Hakkar or Ray Austin whose “Rocky” moments turn into rocky moments.
“Who is he?”
It’s in the top five pound-for-pound of most-uttered boxing phrases. Along with: “The pay-per-view is how much?” Plus: “What did the WBC do to embarrass itself today?” and “Who’d win between Apollo and Clubber Lang?”
In the latest edition of “Who is he?” – we present to you Francis Ngannou, who is reportedly next up for WBC and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. Ah, but Ngannou is not your garden variety no-name. If you are a boxing fan and you just can’t place him – there’s a reason.
He’s not a boxer.
The Exhibition Trend Is Throwing Knuckleballs
No, Ngannou is apparently very adept at that other combat sport, MMA. We hear he is the UFC heavyweight champion and a star. And we hear that the announcement for this latest installment in a seemingly never-ending odyssey of crossover and celebrity fights will be a “game-changer.”
Fair enough. But – next on the pound-for-pound list of most-asked boxing questions – “why?”
Well, if you haven’t noticed, this crossover/influencer/gimmick boxing thing is a thing. A big thing. A lucrative thing.
Tyson Fury says Ngannou would earn 50 times more than he’s ever earned in MMA. Which is puzzling but true.
For whatever reason, watching a practitioner from a completely different sport – or a person who is not a practitioner of anything – compete in boxing somehow captivates people for reasons that remain as mystifying as the Loch Ness Monster, the Kennedy Assassination and the Sopranos finale.
Really? Tyson Fury Has To Resort To An Exhibition?
It’s a disappointment, for sure. With all of these tremendous matchups being made – Tank Davis vs. Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko, Teofimo Lopez vs. Josh Taylor, Stephen Fulton vs. Naoya Inoue, and Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence – it only seemed natural that U.K.’s Fury, 33-0-1 (24 knockouts) vs. Oleksandr Usyk, 20-0 (13 KO’s), the IBF, WBA and WBO titlist from Ukraine, for the undisputed heavyweight championship would be made too.
No such luck. The “negotiations” fell through. Now we’re left with….this.
Wikipedia – sorry, not digging further than that for this fight – says Ngannou is signed to the Professional Fighters League (almost certainly an improvement over boxing’s sanctioning reality) after reigning as the UFC heavyweight champion.
He is Cameroonian-French, stands 6-4 and weighs 258 pounds. His MMA record is 17-3, with 12 knockouts and four submissions. His nickname: “The Predator.”
He is said to be the best heavyweight in the world – of the UFC variety.
This possible fight has been brewing since April, when Tyson Fury stopped Dillian Whyte. He invited Ngannou into the ring afterward – a fairly good indication that this spectacle was enroute. Two literal and figurative giants from opposing sports on a poster together is an instant extravaganza. But, people apparently like the anticipation of a fight better than the actual fight. Because, if Ngannou is fighting Tyson Fury on boxing terms – there won’t be a fight.
Could This Pairing Play Out Positively From The Fan Side?
Former world champion Carl Frampton – an actual boxer – spoke for all boxing fans when he told Boxing Social: “I’ve met Francis Ngannou – he’s a lovely big fella, he’s a monster of a man as well. But he’s not a boxer. How can a guy who doesn’t box go to beating one of the top fighters on the planet? Impossible.”
He’s right. It’s impossible. Not James “Buster” Douglas impossible. That, by comparison, was entirely possible. No, this makes Charpenter vs. Oscar De La Hoya, Hakkar vs Bernard Hopkins and Austin vs. Wladimir Klitschko look like the “Thrilla in Manila,” “The Brawl for it All” and “The Fight of the Century.”
Ngannou is obviously a tremendous fighter and a very big name in UFC. But, in a boxing ring – even with so-called “hybrid” rules, even as an “exhibition” – against arguably the best heavyweight in the world, his challenge of Tyson Fury is nothing more than a spectacle.
Not that that matters to the paying public.
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at [email protected]