Francis Ngannou Blazes A Trail For His Ex-UFC Brethren To Follow Against Fury

Say what you want about Fury's motivations, but this fight makes sense for Ngannou
12:00, 15 Jul 2023

WBC champion Tyson Fury has attracted a great deal of scorn for choosing to fight ex-UFC heavyweight king Francis Ngannou in a non-title 10-rounder. Fans and pundits seem united behind the idea that the reigning number one big man on the planet should be defending his championship against a true contender rather than participating in a sideshow. This may well be the case. A boxing champion has competitive responsibilities and fighting someone who has never competed as a professional pugilist falls outside of those. 

But what about Ngannou? Whatever you think of Fury’s part in this Saudi extravaganza, the MMA star cannot really be blamed. He holds no responsibility to the sanctity of a sport in which he will be debuting. ‘Predator’ stands to earn in excess of £6 million for fighting Fury. His highest UFC purse was the £440,000 he earned for beating Ciryl Gane to capture the UFC title. That event, UFC 270, drew over $5m at the live gate.


Boxing offers greater riches than the UFC, despite the fact the latter is arguably more popular these days. This disparity was part of the reason Ngannou turned his back on the organisation while reigning as their champion. His MMA home is now the Professional Fighters League, who offered not only a seven-figure deal but the flexibility for Francis to combine boxing with his ambitions in the cage.

It is ironic that Fury riling the purists in his sport has dovetailed with Ngannou campaigning for better conditions for the fighters in his. His PFL deal includes the opportunity to offer career-high purses to his opponents in the company. Now his headline-grabbing clash is paving the way for his colleagues to combine MMA and boxing careers.

Until now, the UFC stars who have crossed over have done so at the end of their usefulness in MMA. Fighters like Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley were past their peak in their native sport by the time Jake Paul was outboxing them. But, aside from Conor McGregor, who got special dispensation that Ngannou wasn’t afforded in order to fight Floyd Mayweather in 2017, no other peak UFC star has made the jump.

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Now the doors are open though. How many other top stars will be tempted with the idea of bumper boxing paydays and the ability to supplement their MMA legacies with more open-minded companies like the PFL or Bellator? UFC’s insular approach has worked for so long because it was the most viable game in town. While the paydays paled in comparison to boxing, its status as the global leader in the sport meant it was still the place to be for exposure. But Ngannou is now getting more exposure than ever by trading codes and fighting boxing’s best heavyweight.

This fight makes no sense from a boxing perspective, we know that. Fury’s legacy is harmed in the process. He will have been inactive for 10 months by the time he gloves up in Saudi Arabia. It would have been a long time to wait for any sort of fight, but at least a WBC title defence against a genuine challenger would have been somewhat acceptable. An ever-distant undisputed title match with Oleksandr Usyk would have been preferable, but Anthony Joshua or Andy Ruiz Jr would have done. From the Fury viewpoint, this fight is unacceptable. But for Ngannou, the story is far different.

The Cameroon-born superstar is boldly going where no MMA fighter has gone before. Whether he wins or loses he will make more money than he could fighting anyone else in any other discipline. Ngannou is also lighting the way for better pay and more fairness in the way MMA fighters are treated. Given the abundant freedom he is now afforded, it feels like, whether Ngannou wins or he doesn’t, the real losers from this fight are the UFC.

fury vs ngannou fight odds*

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