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Francis Ngannou wanted to prove he can hack it in the boxing world, not just in MMA. Mission accomplished.
He didn’t win his debut Saturday, but certainly will leave Saudi Arabia with a newfound respect from many in the boxing world. Despite a size disadvantage, and despite no pro boxing experience, Ngannou gave Tyson Fury, the unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion, a competitive fight – and even landed the fight’s only knockdown.
But in the end, Fury (34-0-1), who was a prohibitive betting favorite around 14-1 when the fight started for his fight with boxing debutant Ngannou (0-1), took home a win on the scorecards by unanimous decision. Fury won with a pair of 96-93 score and a 95-94. The dissenting scorecard for Ngannou was 95-94. The list of fighters who haven’t been able to go the distance with Fury is long and distinguished, and the immediate talking point was whether Ngannou overperformed or Fury underperformed.
The showcase fight – Fury’s boxing title was not on the line – took place at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a venue that was built in about three months for this event and future events.
Despite the loss, Ngannou said he was glad to have a good showing in his first fight in a new sport. He left the UFC as its heavyweight champion earlier this year after contract negotiations fell through. He signed with the PFL and is expected to return to MMA there next year, but also has the ability to box – and was guaranteed a reported $10 million payday for his fight with Fury.
“I feel fantastic. I’m very happy,” Ngannou said. “It didn’t go my way … I’m just a fighter and I’m ready to fight any time soon. We can run it back, and I’m sure I’m going to get better. This was my first boxing match – great experience.”
The size difference in the ring was noticeable. But 30 seconds in, Ngannou wasn’t afraid to let loose with a big right hand. He closed the distance and tightened the quarters early. But Fury’s lengthy reach – north of 85 inches at 6-foot-9 – paid dividends with his jab.
Ngannou went to the body with 40 seconds left in the opening round, but a few seconds later Fury came over the top with a big right hand, and a jab a few seconds later. At the end of the frame, Fury stared at Ngannou and stuck his tongue out as if to say, “Welcome to the boxing world.”
A minute into the second round, Ngannou landed a shot that drew some blood from Fury. He switched to southpaw stance, but Ngannou followed to give Fury a different look, too, and the result may have been a closer round for the judges to look at.
Ngannou threw a big right hand a minute into the third that Fury mostly blocked, but he dropped his hands and Ngannou landed a left right behind it that might have been the best punch of the first seven minutes.
But with 45 seconds left, Ngannou drilled Fury with a left hand and put Fury on his backside on the canvas. It was the seventh time Fury had been knocked down in his boxing career. He made it up for the standing 8-count and stayed safe the final 25 seconds or so to get to the fourth round. Fury landed just one punch in the third round.
Fury started the fourth with a bevy of confidence. his punches seemed to come even faster and harder. Fury threw a big left that just missed, but Ngannou stayed
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