Tyson Fury may have escaped with the win in Saudi Arabia but Francis Ngannou ended up being the real winner with a story made for Hollywood.
The former UFC heavyweight champion was given no chance to beat WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. But Ngannou bet on himself when nobody else would, dropped Fury and came as close as anyone has come to beating the champion.
He ended up falling just short as Fury managed to outbox him to escape with a split-decision victory. Two judges scored it in favor of Fury with scores of 96-93 and 95-94 while a third judge had it for Ngannou with a 95-94 score.
It was a stunning performance from Ngannou, who made his professional boxing debut against the best heavyweight of this generation. Very few gave him a chance to win, much less make it competitive. But the 37-year-old nearly shocked the world and pulled off what may have been the biggest upset in the history of sports.
Fortunately for Fury, he escaped with the win and his undisputed heavyweight championship fight with Oleksandr Usyk was salvaged. However, the proposed date for December 23 may be in doubt as neither Fury nor promoter Frank Warren would confirm the date.
And that heavyweight megafight came this close to blowing up in their face.
It was expected to be a spectacle with very little substance and turned out to be an event that will be talked about for a long time.
A bevy of early undercard knockouts and an expensive opening ceremony where the ring emerged from underground to the sounds of Lil Baby and Becky G set the stage for the massive crossover encounter.
Ngannou’s entrance was spectacular as the former UFC heavyweight champion emerged seated on a throne with his name scribed on the back, wearing a crown and golden robe as Cameroonian flags were waved alongside him. Mike Tyson lifted the crown off Ngannou’s head as UFC fighters Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya joined him on his way to the ring.
Fury followed by walking the halls lined with legendary boxers and danced to Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” as he made his way to the ring. But the fun and games ended for Fury as soon as the opening bell rang.
Unlike other mixed martial artists who tried their hand at boxing, Ngannou looked the part after a single round against Fury. He refused to fall for Fury’s tricks, held his composure and boxed as well as anyone has against Fury in recent memory.
The stunning moment came in the third round when Ngannou caught Fury with a right hand and sent “The Gypsy King” to the canvas. A look of shock was worn on the face of Fury as he rose to his feet and completed the round.
What was thought to be a glorified sparring session ended up being a nip-and-tuck affair between two gargantuan heavyweights. Fury needed to resort to his boxing as Ngannou pressed forward, landed power shots and proved to be the challenger he made himself out to be.
Fury managed to score points by prodding with the jab in the middle rounds to negate the knockdown. But Ngannou never gave up and found a way to outbox Fury in the final third of the 10-round encounter. But it wasn’t enough as Fury remained undefeated and avoided being the laughing stock of the sport.
“Now I know I can do this sh-t,” Ngannou said following the loss with a smile. “Get ready, baby! The wolf is in the house!”
This may not be the last time we see Francis Ngannou in a boxing ring.
The Sporting News was following the event live, with commentary below.
Round Ten: Left hook lands from Fury and Ngannou barely misses one of his own. Chants for “Francis” are ringing out. Fury can’t find his target. Not much happening. Fury with another jab. One minute left. Ngannou just went for a superman punch because why not? Nothing happening as the round comes to a close.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Fury (96-93 Fury)
Round Nine: Ngannou opens the round landing a left hand flush. Fury firing the jab. Right hand lands from Fury. Fury bouncing on his toes like he just realized this is serious. They exchange hooks. Fury popping the jab. Not exciting but Fury takes the round.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Fury (86-84 Fury)
Round Eight: Ngannou walks into a right hand and they clinch. Fury lands a right hand but Ngannou responds by catching him with a left. Fury jabs and tries to find the uppercut. Fury lands one but Ngannou takes it. Ngannou lands a trio of punches. Hard right hand from Fury moves Ngannou. Ngannou is still coming and lands a combination. Small brawl breaks out. Fury ties him up. This is insane. Fury is slowing down. Right hand from Ngannou lands clean. Another Ngannou round.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Ngannou (76-75 Fury)
Round Seven: Hard right hand lands for Ngannou. Fury is fine but he’s learning that Ngannou is better than he thought. Ngannou rushes in and lands a left hand. Pair of right hands land for Fury. Ngannou takes the round as Fury seemingly takes it off.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Ngannou (67-65 Fury)
Round Six: Left hand lands for Fury as Ngannou is starting to slow down. Ngannou launches a bunch of big shots but falls short. Fury’s jab has more snap on it now. Short right hand from Fury lands. Ngannou is losing his composure as Fury slides into a rhythm.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Fury (58-55 Fury)
Round Five: Ngannou lands a right hand and Fury gives one back. Both big men stand firm. Fury pops the jab. Fury lands a right hand on Ngannou’s temple. Fury sweeps with the right hand. A lot of clinching now. They both miss big uppercuts. Big right hand from Fury lands and Ngannou tries to respond. Fury is slowly picking him apart but Ngannou ain’t going away.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Fury (48-46 Fury)
Round Four: Ngannou starts the round landing a right hand. Counter left from Ngannou. Left hand from Fury lands clean. But Ngannou is building confidence. What in the world is going on??? Fury lands a left and Ngannou barely misses a right hand and shoves Fury across the ring. Chopping right hand from Fury lands. Ngannou takes it well. Combination from Fury lands clean. Fury may have buzzed Ngannou. Fury misses a sweeping right hand but is finding his rhythm now.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Fury (38-37 Fury)
Round Three: Ngannou is very composed. Misses a right hand but lands a left. Ngannou to the body. Fury jabbing but can’t find what he wants. They clinch again as Fury advances. Ngannou lands and drops Fury!!!! Fury is up as the round comes to a close.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-8 Ngannou (28-28)
Round Two: Ngannou starts the round with a body shot and moves inside. Fury circles off and lands a left hand to the head. Ngannou getting more aggressive. Ngannou lands a left hook and lands a right hand on the inside. Fury switches stances and lands a right hook. Body head combination from Fury. Fury has a small cut above the brow. Ngannou blocks a combination and they clinch. Better round for Ngannou.
SN Unofficial Scorecard: 10-9 Fury (20-18 Fury)