Tyson Fury And Francis Ngannou Prepare For War, But What Is It Good For?

At best, this bout is an aperitif for the real heavyweight main course of Fury-Usyk
12:56, 23 Oct 2023

WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury takes on former UFC kingpin Francis Ngannou on Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As a sentence to encapsulate where sport as a whole is in 2023, the above is incredibly effective. Take a distorted, funhouse mirror inversion of a popular sport and transport it to a Gulf state. See also: LIV Golf or Cristiano Ronaldo et al in the Saudi Pro League.

As shorthand for the shifting dynamics of the sporting world, Fury-Ngannou is perfect. As a professional boxing match, it is largely pointless. The best heavyweight boxer on the planet takes on someone who has never boxed professionally. In terms of true meaning, this is up there with the time Harry Redknapp picked a fan out of the crowd to play in a West Ham United friendly.


Ngannou can fight, of course. One of the defining modern heavyweights in MMA, he packs an almighty wallop that has put down greats like Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Stipe Miocic. But punching for boxing is very different to punching for MMA. Ask Conor McGregor, who a courteous Floyd Mayweather allowed to go ten rounds before getting stopped in 2017. 

MMA fighters have beaten boxers in boxing matches before, but the circumstances were very different. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort knocked out the legendary Evander Holyfield in a 2021. The caveat here being that ‘The Real Deal’ was 59 years old at the time and had been retired for a decade. When the stars of MMA have entered balanced fights with boxing stars, they have usually lost. Take the example of former contender Kubrat Pulev, who brutally hammered ex-UFC heavyweight king Frank Mir in Triller’s bizarre ‘Triad Combat’ competition. The weird triangular ring couldn’t save Mir from a hiding.

These fights aren’t built on sporting competition, however. Misfits Boxing did over a million pay-per-view buys last weekend for a card boasting some of the worst boxing ever televised. MMA nomad Dillon Danis laid down, attempted takedowns and launched more punches at Logan Paul’s security than he did Paul himself. Very little boxing, but lots of money to be made. A clear parallel to Fury-Ngannou.

Nobody expects Ngannou to come in wielding Danis’ jiu-jitsu, particularly given the fact ‘The Predator’ was more of a puncher in his Octagon days. But the Misfits show can still be instructive for Fury in particular. After all, his brother Tommy took part in the main event. ‘TNT’ huffed and puffed to a dissatisfying unanimous decision win over influencer KSI. 

For the second time in a row, Tommy has gone the distance with someone who is not a professional boxer. His previous distance bout saw him go to the canvas against Jake Paul. Unlike Mayweather against McGregor, there has been little sense he was just giving the fans their money’s worth either. The younger Fury has genuinely struggled in these fights against novices.


There is no suggestion Tyson will have the same problems. Whatever you think of this fight, ‘The Gypsy King’ has proven himself time and again as one of the very best boxers on the planet. But he is also the arch-showman. Whether it is serenading the fans with a carefully chosen Frank Sinatra ditty or taking to WWE wrestling like a duck to water, Fury knows how to put on a show.

But after seeing the negative reaction Tommy has received for being unable to stop KSI and Jake Paul, Fury can’t risk being too generous. If Ngannou goes the distance, or close to it, the WBC champion’s reputation could take a major hit. A carry-job will expose this fight as an artificial entertainment spectacle. This isn’t WWE and Fury gains nothing for “putting over” Ngannou in victory. Not only does lengthening the bout risk reputational damage, but also opens Fury up to a potential ‘Hail Mary’ punch from Ngannou. He can’t box, in a professional sense, but his 12 knockout victims in MMA will tell you he can punch.

It behooves Fury to get rid of Ngannou as early as possible. He won’t gain a massive boost in victory, given Francis’ non-existent boxing credibility. But at least people will see Fury handle this unconventional fight like the heavyweight champion he is. That will then set the stage for the true main event: a facedown with future foe Oleksandr Usyk.

The Ukrainian WBA, WBO, IBF and The Ring heavyweight champion will be seated ringside in Riyadh. That revelation suddenly casts a different glow on this crossover fight. It exists not as some defining clash of the best boxing and MMA heavyweights of modern times. Instead, it is an aperitif to whet our appetite for the real fight: Fury vs Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.

Usyk will climb in that ring on Saturday. He will stand nose-to-nose with Fury. Fury will call him a ‘big dosser’ and a ‘middleweight’. And we’ll all get ready for the fight we actually want to see. That’s the idea anyway, as long as the wild swings of Ngannou don’t open a cut on Fury, or worse. If Tyson comes through unscathed we may even get the heavyweight title attraction the sport craves before the year is out. 

Until then, though, this is what passes for a heavyweight pay-per-view extravaganza. Boxing fans would have preferred Andy Ruiz Jr, Anthony Joshua or Usyk in the opposite corner. Just like they would have when Fury beat Derek Chisora for the third time last December. We are long overdue a reminder of the immense talent Tyson Fury is. A win over Ngannou, no matter how spectacular, will not serve that purpose. But it may finally set the stage for a bout that will

fury vs ngannou odds*

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