It wasn’t nearly as easy as much of the public expected, but Tyson Fury fended off Francis Ngannou on Saturday night to move on to the heavyweight fight that currently matters most.
The undefeated Fury got up from a third-round knockdown and boxed and moved his way to a 10-round, split-decision victory over Ngannou in their heavily hyped non-title fight at the newly constructed Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Fury fought sloppily at times and couldn’t hurt the determined Ngannou, but he escaped victorious because he won on the scorecards of judges Alan Krebs (95-94) and Juan Carlos Pelayo (96-93).
Judge Ed Garner scored their surprisingly competitive fight for Ngannou, 95-94.
The 37-year-old Ngannou gave a great account of himself in the former UFC heavyweight champ’s first professional boxing match and remained dangerous right up until the final bell sounded to end their pay-per-view main event. The 6-foot-9, 277¾-pound Fury entered the ring as a 20-1 favorite, but he was very careful over the final seven-plus rounds once Ngannou dropped him with a counter left hook.
“No, that definitely wasn’t in the script,” Fury said during his post-fight interview in the ring. “Francis is a hell of a fighter, strong, big puncher, a lot better boxer than we all thought he would ever be. … Listen, he’s a very awkward man and he’s a good puncher, and I respect him a lot – before the fight and afterwards.”
Fury credited Ngannou for giving him “probably one of me toughest fights in the last 10 years.”
Fury-Ngannou drew plenty of criticism, especially from boxing fans, because the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Ngannou never boxed as a professional prior to Saturday night, whereas Fury is an elite-level heavyweight who has beaten hard-hitting Deontay Wilder by seventh-round technical knockout and 11th-round knockout and long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko by unanimous decision.
At least, however, Fury’s victory ensured that Fury could move forward with the much more significant fight for which he had already signed a contract. Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs) and Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) are now expected to take part in their long-discussed heavyweight title unification fight, perhaps as soon as December 23 at Kingdom Arena.
England’s Fury suffered a small cut on the left side of his forehead early in his fight with Ngannou, but it didn’t bleed much and had little impact on their bout. Assuming it heals quickly, Fury figures to be able to face Usyk in eight weeks.
The WBC champion was noncommittal when asked about facing Fury on December 23, though.
“Listen, I’m gonna go home,” Fury said. “I’ve been in training camp now for 12 weeks. I put a long, tough, hard camp in. I’m gonna go home, take a long rest and we’ll see what’s next for us.”
Whenever they fight, unless Fury-Usyk results in a draw or no-contest, Fury, 35, or Usyk, 36, will emerge from their fight as the first fully unified heavyweight champion of the four-belt era. Usyk, who watched Fury defeat Ngannou from a ringside seat, owns the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO belts.
Fury was wary of Ngannou’s power throughout the 10th and final round Saturday night. He clinched Ngannou numerous times during the final three minutes and clearly was just trying to reach the final bell.
Fury kissed Ngannou on the side of his head and rubbed his head as a show of respect as soon as their fight ended.
Ngannou came forward again during the ninth round, but Fury kept his distance, occasionally threw jabs and tied up Ngannou whenever he got close.
A fatigued Ngannou came forward during the seventh and eighth rounds, but he mostly attempted one punch at a time. Fury clinched on several occasions in those rounds and missed with right uppercuts he hoped would flatten his still-dangerous opponent.
Ngannou mostly swung and missed during the sixth round, when Fury carefully pot-shotted him with jabs and moved around the ring. Fury nailed Ngannou with a hard jab 1:05 into the sixth round.
Fury also appeared to intentionally hit Ngannou with a right elbow while throwing a punch during the sixth round.
A right uppercut by Fury grazed Ngannou’s chin with 50 seconds on the clock in the fifth round. Fury drilled Ngannou with another right hand about 25 seconds later and landed a stiff jab with less than 10 seconds to go in the fifth round.
Fury landed a right hand as Ngannou pressed forward and tried to throw hard shots a little more than 40 seconds into the fifth round.
After getting dropped by Ngannou in the final minute of the third round, Fury fought in rhythm during the second half of the fourth round. The heavily favoured fighter landed lefts and rights, but Ngannou took those shots well and kept coming forward.
A counterleft hook by Ngannou landed on the side of Fury’s head and knocked him down with 44 seconds to go in the third round. A stunned Fury got up pretty quickly from the seventh knockdown of his career, but Ngannou, who taunted Fury after he went down, couldn’t capitalize on that momentum and Fury made it to the end of the round.
Fury clinched Ngannou several times during the third round when he also fought from a southpaw stance. Ngannou missed with a right hand but quickly caught Fury with a left barely 40 seconds into the third round.
Ngannou landed a right uppercut while they fought out of a clinch late in the second round.
Ngannou landed a short, left hand with just over 1:50 to go in the second round. Soon thereafter, blood appeared on Fury’s forehead, from a cut apparently caused by a clash of heads.
Fury landed a hard jab about 40 seconds into the second round.
A flush right hand by Fury connected with just under 30 seconds to go in the opening round. Fury complained that Ngannou wouldn’t break barely a minute into their fight.
Two rounds later, Fury found himself on his back, surprised that a comparative novice put him down.
“It’s a part of boxing,” Fury said. “You know, I got caught behind the head again. I wasn’t like hurt or nothing. I was all right. And I got back up, and it was what it was, got back to me boxing.”
credit: Keith Idec of BoxingScene.com