Former UFC star Francis Ngannou shocked the world in his boxing debut last night after taking heavyweight champion Tyson Fury to a highly controversial split-decision loss in Riyadh.
Not even the MMA community itself had given massive underdog Ngannou much of a chance of finding success against the decorated boxing champ, but perhaps no one was as surprised as Fury himself when ‘The Predator’ delivered the best performance of his career when it mattered most, leaving many fans, pundits and even boxing stars believing that he was actually robbed of earning what would have been the biggest upset win in the history of the sport.
Ngannou was only given credit for his famed punching power in the build-up to the fight, but on the night he caught everyone off-guard by actually showing a surprising level of calmness and composure in the ring that hadn’t been evident in his rise to the heavyweight title in the UFC.
Flipping the script, it was actually Fury who showed the first sign of reckless aggression when he attempted to clobber his opponent with a big overhand right at the opening bell, perhaps looking to quickly assert his dominance or score a quick KO, but Ngannou appeared entirely unfazed by it and didn’t take the bait to turn the fight into a brawl.
Instead Ngannou settled into his groove, demonstrating some respectable boxing fundamentals and a willingness to stick to a sensible gameplan, keeping a good base, managing distance well against his rangey opponent and opting to pick his moments to let his hands go rather than just blindly press forward looking to land a fight-ending blow that could have opened him up to Fury’s counter-strikes.
When he did go on the offensive Ngannou wasn’t finding Fury to be a particularly elusive target, and in the second round he even opened up a very minor cut to the forehead, which seemed to perturb the boxer momentarily.
There were signs even at this early stage in the fight that things weren’t going according to plan for Fury, but nothing could have prepared the combat sports world for the earth-shattering moment in the third round when Ngannou landed a hard left-hook counter high to the head of his opponent, sending him crashing to the canvas.
Fury was dazed and his eyes looked glazed on the canvas, but he still had his wits about him and after taking a deep breath he righted himself and the fight continued. Of course we’ve seen Fury knocked down before, and he’s always had a knack for battling back to win, so at this stage the fight was far from over.
However, regardless of what came next, Ngannou had already done more than anyone had expected and silenced his critics. And on top of that, with a 10-8 round in the books and a decent case to be made that he’d won at least one of the two previous rounds, there now appeared to be a real chance at fighting to a decision victory if he couldn’t find a finish inside the distance.
In the few rounds that followed Fury started to gain a little more of a foothold in the fight, finding some success with the jab, but he still looked out-of-sorts and off-kilter by his standards and appeared to have been caught completely off-guard by the fact that Ngannou was maintaining his composure and not just blindly bringing the action to him as he’d expected.
Meanwhile, the left-hook counter that had already dropped him was a weapon Ngannou had clearly worked on heading into this fight as he’d often flash it when Fury tried to go on the attack, which may have been why the champ appeared wary of fully committing to his own offense.
As such, it was Ngannou who continued to land the more meaningful blows, connecting nicely to the body as well as the head at times, while Fury never seemed to have the power to hurt ‘The Predator’ and instead was trying to outpoint him by being marginally more active with his punch rate.
By the final round there was a sense Ngannou could be on the verge of an historic win, and while he was still competing at a measured pace, a nod to his MMA roots with a superman punch attempt demonstrated how comfortable he was feeling at this late stage in the fight, while Fury looked concerned and out-of-ideas.
And so we headed to the scorecards, where Ngannou’s excellent performance didn’t quite lead to the result he perhaps deserved, with Fury emerging victorious via split-decision (94-95, 96-93, 95-94).
The result is considered highly controversial, and so even in defeat this feels like a win for Ngannou, whose stock has risen tremendously and helped shine a very positive light on MMA in the process, while Fury’s reputation has taken an unexpected hit.