In the heart of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a thrilling spectacle unfolded as former UFC champion Francis Ngannou made his dazzling boxing debut against none other than the reigning WBC heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury.
The world watched in awe as Ngannou defied expectations, going the full distance in the ring and even sending Fury to the canvas in a remarkable display of raw power.
However, when the final bell tolled, it was Fury who emerged victorious, albeit in a split decision that left the crowd buzzing with controversy.
The judges’ scorecards delivered a mix of emotions as two leaned in favor of Fury with scores of 96-93 and 95-94, while a lone judge favored Ngannou at 95-94.
For Fury, this victory marked the continuation of an unblemished record, boasting an impressive 34-0-1 with 24 knockouts. In stark contrast, Ngannou’s UFC record stood at 17-3, making his transition to boxing all the more astonishing.
It’s worth noting that Fury’s coveted championship belt was not up for grabs in this electrifying matchup. Nonetheless, the fight held official recognition and enthralled spectators.
The contest began with Fury employing his trademark jab and briefly shifting to a southpaw stance in the second round, a tactical adjustment prompted by Ngannou’s early advances, which included an impactful cut above Fury’s left eye. The third round was the turning point, with Ngannou delivering a powerful left hook that sent Fury to the canvas—a rare occurrence in Fury’s illustrious career.
In the face of adversity, Fury displayed remarkable resilience, with the champion making a swift recovery and standing his ground in the ensuing rounds. The fourth round saw both fighters engage in an even exchange, despite Ngannou’s earlier attempts to stagger Fury.
Fury found his footing in the fifth and sixth rounds, asserting his dominance. However, Ngannou made a spirited resurgence in the seventh, showing unwavering determination as both pugilists traded blows.
The eighth round witnessed Ngannou unleashing a flurry of powerful left hooks, momentarily staggering Fury with two ferocious combinations. Fury, in a display of composure, held on to weather the storm as Ngannou gained the upper hand. As the 10th round rolled around, the crowd’s chant of “Francis! Francis!” echoed through the arena, underlining the unexpected endurance of the contest itself.
This high-profile event attracted a constellation of stars, with luminaries such as Kanye West, Eminem, Cristiano Ronaldo, Conor McGregor, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Manny Pacquiao in attendance. The fight garnered colossal attention from the realms of entertainment and sports, transcending boundaries and captivating the global audience.
For Tyson Fury, this bout marked yet another venture beyond the realm of traditional boxing. The 35-year-old British pugilist, known for his WWE appearances and a Netflix reality series, was lured by the prospect of a reported $50 million to inaugurate Riyadh Season’s entertainment festival.
Saudi Arabia, the host nation, played a pivotal role in making Fury vs. Ngannou a grand spectacle. The contest unfolded within the magnificent confines of the 26,000-seat Kingdom Arena, while the preliminary bouts took place in an outdoor venue custom-built for the occasion.
The grandeur of the event was evident as recording artists Lil Baby and Becky G graced the main arena with their performances. Both fighters, like kings entering an arena, made regal entrances, seated on thrones and adorned in robes befitting their stature.
For Francis Ngannou, this match represented a significant departure from his comfort zone as a native of Cameroon and a former UFC heavyweight champion accustomed to the octagon cage. The presence of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who had also made the journey to Saudi Arabia, contributed to Ngannou’s preparation for this extraordinary boxing debut.
This fight not only marked Ngannou’s debut in professional boxing but also his first competition since his victory over Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 in January 2022. Ngannou’s path has been marked by a fallout with the UFC, culminating in his signing with the Professional Fighters League in May, with his first PFL fight expected in early 2023.
The future holds the promise of unification for Tyson Fury, who is poised to take on Oleksandr Usyk, the Ukrainian boxer currently holding the other three heavyweight championship belts. The highly-anticipated battle between Fury and Usyk is scheduled for December 23, 2023, also in Saudi Arabia.
As the boxing world watches with bated breath, Fury’s quest for unification may very well define the future of the heavyweight division.