IT WAS BILLED as a battle to decide the ‘Baddest Man On The Planet’ (BMOTP). But while the super-fight between heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and former UFC legend Francis Ngannou in Riyadh on the weekend ended in the boxer’s favour, it may have just tarnished the ‘Gypsy King’s’ legacy. Ngannou, meanwhile, fighting under Queensberry rules for the first time, enhanced his reputation and given the odds at which he fought against, may now have the stronger claim as BMOTP.
A relieved Fury was awarded victory 95-94, 94-95 and 96-93 in a controversial split decision, with one judge giving the fight to the hard-hitting Ngannou, who knocked the Englishman down with a huge left hook in the third round. Fury got up, as he always does, but appeared rattled by the Cameroonian’s power, resolve and fighting instincts thereafter.
Entering the eighth round, Ngannou landed a long left as he maintained the pressure on the Englishman. He then hit the Gypsy King with a hard left and series of vicious combinations. By the end many analysts thought Fury lucky to walk away with the decision.
This is not how it was supposed to go. Super-fights between seasoned boxers and MMA fighters, like the one between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor back in 2017, follow a script. The boxer doesn’t exert himself too much as he feints and jabs his way to an easy points victory, while the MMA fighter swings big, rarely connects, and ultimately wears himself out. Obviously, no one bothered to tell Ngannou, who used his brutal power to completely unsettle the Englishman.
Ngannou had admitted before the bout that he faced a mountainous challenge against Fury. But he also stressed: “I am not afraid of mountains—I have been climbing them all my life.”
Indeed he has. Born into poverty in a village in Cameroon, Ngannou began working in a quarry when he was just 10. In 2012, aged 26, he left for Paris in hope that he might learn how to become a boxer. Instead he ended up in jail as a refugee before finding work as a bouncer, which led to an opportunity on France’s MMA circuit. He eventually cracked the UFC in 2015. Given his performance here, there should be plenty of incentive for Ngannou to box again and a rematch with Fury would be keenly anticipated.
Fury, meanwhile, is due to fight for the undisputed world title against Oleksandr Usyk on December 23. The Ukrainian, who holds the IBF, WBA and WBO titles, stepped into the ring afterwards to meet Fury and to make clear his readiness to fight on the agreed date. The problem is, after the battering he took here, Fury may not be ready; as his promoter, Frank Warren, stressed afterwards, two months does not give Fury much time to recover.
The Fury-Usyk fight may well determine the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion. But the winner may have to fight Ngannou for BMOTP status. After giving such a good account of himself against the heavyweight champion of the world, it’s probably his to lose.
How did Francis Ngannou almost beat Tyson Fury?
This fight always offered a more equitable match-up than most contrived super-fights do. In comparison to fights involving the Paul brothers (Jake and Logan) this fight saw two of the best in their respective sports clash while still being close to their primes. Ngannou, (36) is a pure striker renowned for his brutal punching power; the Cameroonian holds the current record for the hardest punch in the world—having registered a striking power of 129,161 units on a PowerKube (which measures the power of a punch by analysing its force, speed and accuracy). No one, including former World’s Strongest Man winner Eddie Hall, has managed to break Ngannou’s 2018 record. UFC president Dana White emphasised just how powerful the MMA star is by comparing his punches to being struck by a ’12-pound sledgehammer from full-force overhead’. It was certainly enough to ring the Gypsy King’s bell in the third round and the ever-present threat seemed to make the Englishman overly cautious for the rest of the bout.
Where does the ‘Baddest man on the planet’ title come from?
Originally used to describe ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson in the ’80s, it’s a moniker Ngannou had started to earn via his rampaging run through the UFC’s heavyweight division. The Cameroonian (20-3-3 in MMA) last competed in January 2022, when he retained his UFC heavyweight championship with a unanimous-decision victory over Ciryl Gane at UFC 270. After failing to reach terms on a contract extension, however, Ngannou left the UFC in January, robbing fans of a dream match-up with newly crowned heavyweight champion Jon Jones, widely regarded as the UFC’s GOAT.
Did Fury’s poor showing tarnish his legacy?
Probably. While Fury has been knocked down before, most famously by Deontay Wilder, who briefly put him to sleep in the ring back in 2018 before the Gypsy King’s eye’s blinked wide open and he got up, here he was put on the canvas by a man making his boxing debut. Even if Fury wins against Usyk in December, no one is going to forget that he nearly had his lunch stolen by a boxing debutante. From the days of Iron Mike, it’s always been the heavyweight boxing champ who carries BMOTP status. That’s arguably no longer the case.
What about Jon Jones?
Having cemented his UFC GOAT status in the eyes of most fans with his move up to heavyweight and subsequent demolition of Gane at UFC 285 back in March, Jon Jones has developed an appetite for acronyms and would dearly love to add ‘BMOTP’ to his resume. He desperately wanted to fight Ngannou—it was one of the reasons he moved up to heavyweight—before the Cameroonian left the UFC. Instead, he’s had to make do with a bout against Stipe Miocic at UFC 295 on November 12. If Jones wins that bout, which he should, the prospect of a Jones-Ngannou fight is now even more of a mouth-watering prospect.
Has Fury-Ngannou changed how super-fights are perceived?
Yes. While future bouts across combat sports are unlikely to feature two opponents who are as well-matched as this one, if Ngannou is involved or if Jones should follow the Cameroonian into the ring, then you can bet no boxer will be underestimating an MMA fighter again.