Sports writer Sam McManus discusses the controversial win for Tyson Fury against Francis Ngannou in one of the most anticipated boxing events of the year.
Crossover boxing has a certain peculiar appeal.
When an MMA fighter laces up the 10oz gloves, it pulls in viewers purely because it’s different, and therefore exciting, to watch. Often the outcome is seemingly obvious, but that never seems to matter. You can get hooked onto the dream that the impossible ‘could’ happen.
Like in 2017, when UFC star Conor McGregor pulled the undefeated Floyd Mayweather out of retirement for a crossover match like none before. Millions tuned in at 4 a.m. in the hope the Irishman would shock the world with one punch; it didn’t land. Somewhat predictably, the boxer beat the MMA fighter in a boxing match.
So when it was announced that lineal Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury was to face former UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou, many boxing fans rolled their eyes. Instead of facing the undefeated Oleksandr Usyk, Fury was taking an easy payday by facing a man who had never boxed professionally. What a waste of time.
The event itself was glamorous beyond belief. Both fighters donned a gold crown as they made their ring walk, and the bell soon rang to begin the inevitable mismatch which we were about to see.
But it never came.
Fury started well, flicking out his long left jab as Ngannou looked tentative and awkward. However, as the fight progressed, Ngannou’s presence grew more formidable. An unexpected uppercut from Ngannou in the clinch introduced the first twist in the narrative, leaving Fury visibly marked and setting the stage for a dramatic turn of events.
Then, in round three, the impossible happened. Ngannou landed a beautiful short left hook, clipping Fury on the temple, and the Briton was sent tumbling to the canvas. We were on the verge of a seismic upset, which would’ve been talked about for decades to come.
Fury quickly regained composure and rose to continue the contest. Yet, he fought the remainder of the bout with a newfound caution, as the knockdown left an indelible mark on the proceedings. Fury’s shots appeared sluggish and his reactions uncharacteristically slow, as Ngannou continued to land clean punches to the head and body throughout the 10-round fight.
Fury was clearly the more experienced boxer, switching stances and using his enormous 85in reach to keep his opponent at bay. A few clever right hands (and one elbow) clipped Ngannou, as the Gypsy King reminded onlookers of his pedigree. Yet, Ngannou’s unrefined yet effective technique posed a consistent threat to Fury’s dominance, which made for an even match that none of the pundits, bookies or fans were expecting.
A star-studded, shocked crowd looked on in disbelief as the heavyweight champion was hit with a series of clubbing combinations by the ultimate underdog. After the bell sounded to end Round 8, Fury looked weary as he slumped back to his corner; with only 6 minutes to go, the outcome was completely in the balance.
Following two very competitive final rounds, the final bell sounded and the tension was thick. The result truly could’ve gone either way.
When the scores came in, Tyson Fury escaped disaster with a contentious split-decision victory. Fury took the result 96-93 and 95-94 on two of the judges’ cards, with the other judge scoring the bout 95-94 in Ngannou’s favour.
Yet, while Fury retained his crown, it was clear that the evening’s real victor was the Cameroonian juggernaut. His rise, from the depths of adversity to nearly besting a boxing legend, is the stuff of Hollywood scripts.
In what was supposed to be a wipeout, he had put on a brilliant display, pushing Fury to his absolute limit, putting him on the canvas, and nearly taking a victory at the end.
On the other hand, Fury looked rather sheepish, donning a fierce black eye whilst admitting that “definitely wasn’t in the script.”
He’s an awkward man and a good puncher and I respect him a lot. He’s given me one of my toughest fights of the last 10 years.Tyson Fury
This narrow victory meant an enormous bout with WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, which was agreed in anticipation of a Fury Victory, remains on the horizon. However, after claiming to need a “long break”, it seems Fury has no intentions of facing the Ukranian on 23rd December signalling a need to recuperate from what was undeniably a surprisingly gruelling contest. The narrow escape raises questions about how he will fare against a boxer of Usyk’s calibre, who will likely offer an even greater challenge to Fury’s claim to the heavyweight throne.
While Fury remains undefeated, it is certainly Ngannou who won the night. His stock has risen exponentially, with his display of frightening power and resilience positioning him as a compelling new entrant to boxing’s heavyweight division. Discussions of matchups with heavy hitters like Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua now seem less like fantasy matchmaking and more like legitimate, intriguing prospects.
Ngannou’s draw as a crossover star has been solidified. The fight has propelled his name into conversations not just within the MMA and boxing communities but in the wider sports world. His next steps are critical; a decisive move into boxing could see him capitalizing on this newfound reputation, potentially drawing new fans to the sport eager to see if he can repeat the success of this match, or even improve on it. But, lying in wait remains Jon Jones, who replaced Ngannou as the UFC Heavyweight champion; a return to MMA would likely deliver the biggest match-up in the history of the sport.
For Fury and Ngannou, the path forward is at once thrilling and totally uncertain. All from a fight, where the result was supposed to be beyond doubt. It’s yet another testament to just how much things can change in combat sports with one punch.