Upset like never before, Briton Tyson Fury narrowly won his long-awaited boxing fight against MMA star Francis Ngannou, who lived up to his reputation as a formidable puncher, on Saturday in Riyadh. Big favorite as WBC heavyweight champion, Fury was declared the winner by split decision against Ngannou, who was competing in his first boxing fight at the age of 37. But the Cameroonian, who sent the Briton to the mat in the third round, almost achieved one of the greatest feats in boxing history!
The event, above all lucrative, presented a priori a questionable sporting interest, as the fight seemed unbalanced. It was ultimately much closer than expected, Ngannou showing himself powerful and diligent against the ghost of Tyson Fury. Despite his defeat, the Cameroonian, former champion of the UFC, the most prestigious MMA league, emerges stronger. Above all, he won all the esteem of the boxing world.
Conversely, Fury's performance can only be described as embarrassing, even worrying, as the Briton is expected to return to the ring in December for a boxing unification fight against Ukrainian colossus Oleksandr Usyk. “It was definitely not planned in the script. Francis is a hell of a fighter, a hell of a puncher,” admitted the “Gipsy King,” who had spent the week calling his opponent a “good big sausage.” “I respect him a lot. He didn't come forward, he stayed back and waited for me. He gave me probably my toughest fight in ten years,” he continued.
The clash had generated enormous interest due to the caliber of the protagonists, considered the two current alpha males of combat sports. He had to determine who was the “baddest man on the planet,” but at the end of the evening, it still seems difficult to award this title to one of the two men. The fight had in any case attracted a constellation of stars to the Saudi capital, the new stronghold of boxing, which had seen things big by building a special enclosure for the occasion.
The ring came out of the ground shortly before 1:00 a.m. local time, and we had to wait until 1:30 a.m. to witness the arrival of the fighters. Boxing gloves on his fists for the first time in his career, Ngannou entered the stage alongside the legend Mike Tyson who advised him for the occasion, while Tyson Fury, whimsical as usual, made his appearance to the tune of “Pretty Woman”.
Among the spectators, big names in boxing, from Sugar Ray Leonard to Larry Holmes or Evander Holyfield, or in football, Cristiano Ronaldo, Figo, the Brazilian Ronaldo... But also music stars like Eminem or Kanye West. In the front row, the terror of the octagons Conor McGregor who had engaged in a similar fight six years ago against boxing legend Floyd Mayweather. At the time, logic was respected with the American's victory by stoppage of the referee.
This time the fight went to the end of ten rounds and that in itself was a victory for Ngannou. The decision to give Fury the winner is sure to stir up debate in the days to come. “I don't know how close it was, but I won and that's how it was. (But) we have to be fair to Francis, (...) it was a good fight.”
Throughout the clash, Ngannou was serious and diligent, while Fury never seemed to start the hostilities. The Cameroonian caused a small earthquake during the third round by sending Fury to the mat with a powerful left hook. The Briton got up but struggled to find the key to the exchanges. As could be expected, Ngannou experienced a drop in power at the end of the fight and was less conquering, and this is perhaps what tipped the scales of the judges.
What’s next for the two men? “I'm going home, I've been in training camp for 12 weeks. I'm going to take a long rest and see what the future holds for me,” Fury said. Ngannou should pick up the thread of his MMA career, unless his evening performance gives him desire for more.