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Embarrassing Boxing: How Francis Ngannou Shocked the World & Exposed Tyson Fury

Francis Ngannou was the big winner of boxing's latest "crossover special", proving without doubt he is the Baddest Man on the Planet

Simply put, Francis Ngannou was thrown into a squash match in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

Thanks to Saudi oil money, boxing was "treated" to another crossover event that was hoping to capture the combat sports world in much the same way that Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather did some six years ago.

Unfortunately for this instance of the "mixed martial arts champion ventures into a boxing ring to face a boxer" story, there were no concessions made to make it a "fair" contest in the eyes of fans.

In the case of Mayweather-McGregor, while it also took place under purely boxing rules, McGregor did sport a few advantages to make things more competitive - he was the clearly bigger fighter, and Mayweather, though just two years removed from his last boxing match and the last defense of his titles, was also the far older man at 40 years of age.

This, combined with McGregor's boxing-oriented style and power in MMA, made it an extremely compelling matchup for casual fans and captured the imagination of droves of people around the world, resulting in one of the biggest pay-per-view events in history. McGregor's star power and affinity for trash talking certainly didn't hurt either.

In the 2023 attempt to recreate that magic, no such concessions were made for the MMA challenger, Francis Ngannou - he was set to make his boxing debut in a 10-round, standard rules boxing match against a current heavyweight champion widely touted as the best heavyweight boxer of his generation.

Unlike McGregor, he would not enjoy a size advantage over his 6'9 opponent and despite his impressive physique would weigh in a few pounds lighter than the "Gypsy King". He also wasn't on the good side of an age gap, as Ngannou at 37 is actually two years the elder of Tyson Fury.

Every single thing was weighted against Ngannou in his boxing debut, and the task simply seemed impossible not only to boxing fans, but to MMA fans alike. His lack of brash trash talking also didn't fool casuals into thinking he stood a chance, a la McGregor.

How could a 37-year-old who has never had a boxing match, and who started combat sports at 25, go up against the best heavyweight boxer in the world, an undefeated 33-0 champion who has been training since he was a child, in a pure boxing contest and have a hope in hell of winning?

Of course every heavyweight has a puncher's chance, but given Fury had survived the likes of thunderous knockout king Deontay Wilder on several occasions, it seemed impossible that Francis would be able to topple the heavyweight champion this past Saturday, regardless of the fact Fury's title wasn't on the line.

The plethora of boxing and MMA royalty that were flown out to Saudi Arabia to engage in the festivities (and the horrendously planned production that had viewers wait through nearly two full hours of filler and a horrendous "music performance" between the night's co-main event and the main attraction) had many feeling that the atmosphere was manufactured in an attempt to copy the prior high of the last great crossover fight, rather than of it occurring organically.

Back in 2017's PPV blockbuster, McGregor had a respectable showing early and proved that he could hold his own in a boxing ring, but after Mayweather let his inexperienced foe get some work in, he quickly showed that there are indeed levels to the game and he was simply way above McGregor in the realm of boxing.

Cardio in particular played a big factor as Conor failed to pace himself early and punched himself out, gassing badly as they entered the later rounds which ultimately prevented him from coming even close to seeing the final bell. It was something that plagued him in his MMA career as well if he couldn't finish his opponents early, and jumping straight into a (in his case, 12-rounds, though he was stopped in the tenth) full-length boxing match is something even career boxers don't do.

There's a reason boxers tend to start their pro careers in four- and six-round bouts, gradually making their way up to the full ten three-minute rounds that is the standard at the elite level, and 12 for championship bouts.

Similar to McGregor, Ngannou was also jumping right into the deep end not only in his opposition, but in the fact that he was scheduled for a full 10-round fight.

As a hard-hitting finisher at heavyweight, Ngannou's cardio was never his strong suit either, though he had made major strides in that department since his failed title bid in 2018 against Stipe Miocic.

In that first title shot, Ngannou entered the third round for the first time in his entire career, and by that time he was completely exhausted after having emptied his gas tank entirely in the very first round, spending the first round battering the champion but wasting all of his energy trying to finish his opponent early in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy.

He spent the next four rounds being outwrestled and beat up by the superior conditioned Miocic, teaching Ngannou a valuable lesson in energy management and in letting hype and excitement dictate your actions in a fight.

His next outing against Derrick Lewis however showed severe growing pains as Ngannou went too far in the other direction, opting to conserve his energy to the point of doing nothing and losing a decision in an abysmal fight which saw "The Predator" refuse to engage in anything but a staring contest.

He would soon return to his roots and regain his dominant form following that 15-minute borefest however, as he went on to slaughter the UFC's heavyweight division and in his second bid at the heavyweight title, he made good on his potential by not only completely shutting down Stipe Miocic's wrestling, but remaining composed (and surprisingly technical at times) throughout until he scored a vicious second round knockout to earn the heavyweight crown.

His next outing in January 2022 was against Ciryl Gane, a fantastic kickboxer who has yet to round out his overall MMA game, but is an extremely versatile threat on the feet.

The two strikers were expected to deliver fireworks, but thanks to a blown out ACL Francis had suffered before he even stepped foot in the Octagon, the big man's movement was severely compromised and as such he had little hope of closing the distance on the nimble kickboxer.

Gane simply picked away at him at range as Ngannou's unstable leg prevented him from getting close, forcing Ngannou to change tactics midway through the fight. Despite his injured leg, Ngannou showed off the work he had put in on the mat and took Ciryl down at will, controlling him on the floor and scoring points to win on the scorecards over the 25-minute affair.

It may not have been the thrilling striking battle fans were expecting nor did it deliver a brutal knockout, but Ngannou showed the evolution in his overall game and was able to hold onto his title despite a debilitating injury.

Following his title defense, Francis would of course fail to come to terms with the UFC, who were unwilling to let Ngannou venture into boxing for a potential crossover match and major payday. Ngannou in fact didn't even get pay-per-view money for his championship fights as he had refused to sign a new contract, opting instead to fight out the contract he had signed previously that didn't account for pay-per-view bonuses or championship fights in order to become a free agent at its conclusion.

It was a massive gamble; not only would he not receive nearly as much money for his last two UFC fights, but if he had lost, his negotiating position would have been obliterated and even if he had received a higher offer on the free market, there's virtually no chance it would have made up for the money he left on the table for the last two UFC fights on his contract.

Of course, literally days after Francis' stint with the UFC ended, Jon Jones would end a nearly three-year hiatus (which saw him "bulking up" for his heavyweight run, something he had been promising for the past decade) and finally signed to fight for the now-vacant heavyweight title. Ironically, Jones and the UFC accused Ngannou of ducking the fight with Jones, despite Ngannou repeatedly calling out Jones and Jones refusing to sign a fight agreement until Ngannou left. But that's a story for another time.

Francis opted to bet everything he had on himself, and sure enough, he entered the free market and soon found himself in a major crossover event in Saudi Arabia, a cool $10 million guaranteed, as well as a lucrative contract to return to MMA for the PFL.

Most figured the boxing well would dry up with a single, albeit lucrative, fight - after all, when Tyson Fury was done trouncing him in the boxing ring as everyone expected, he'd have little hope of garnering that kind of payday again in the ring after the initial crossover appeal was gone, but would still find a successful home for himself in the PFL cage making millions per fight anyway.

Little did everyone know, Francis really could box. And in doing so, he would expose the "Gypsy King" and this era of heavyweight boxing for all the world to see.

When the fight finally began after what seemed like an eternity of awkward commentary time-filler and laughable "music" performances, Ngannou pretty quickly established that he wasn't there just for a paycheck.

His somewhat awkward stance (for boxing at least) seemed to have Fury questioning how best to approach the 270-pound Predator, and Francis surprised the champion by throwing double jabs and hitting the big man with straights and hooks to his midsection early to bypass Fury's head movement.

What really gave Fury trouble came in the second round however.

Expanding on the tactics Wladimir Klitschko had so much success with before him, Fury is heavily reliant on the "punch-and-clutch" school of boxing, particularly when facing heavy hitters. The 6'9 giant loves to charge into the clinch and make his opponents carry his weight, smothering their offense and eliminating his risk of eating a haymaker.

It's something he used to great effect against the likes of Dillian Whyte and of course Deontay Wilder over the course of their trilogy.

Against Wilder in particular given his slender frame, Fury would tie up Wilder at every opportunity, not only keeping himself out of danger of Wilder's wild swings but draining Deontay's gas tank and tiring out his arms in the process.

Fury may move quite well for a man of his size, but a young Ali he is not and if he was forced to purely outbox his opponents without being able to clinch, he likely wouldn't have captured a single belt let alone unified them or become the best heavyweight of his era.

Many fans, including longtime boxing commentators, fail to realize the significance of the clinch for fighters like Fury and how it can impact a fight.

Against Ngannou however, Fury wasn't able to simply tie up and hug his opponent whenever he wanted.

Thanks to his MMA experience and his terrifying power, Francis is no stranger to having his opponents try to tie him up in the clinch. It was here that he really screwed up Fury's plans and instilled a sense of panic in the undefeated boxer.

Not only could Francis physically match Fury's strength, but he is comfortable in the clinch not only in gaining advantageous positions, but in being able to hit from there. Where Fury was normally safe and given a chance to rest while wearing on his opponent, he was now getting framed on, getting hit, and getting pushed off and forced to get back on his bike. Even just to stay in the clinch he was forced to constantly work, a far cry from what he was used to and defeated the purpose of his use of the clinch in the first place.

It was something Fury simply hasn't had to deal with in the ring as no one had really found an answer to his constant clinching, and throughout the second round Fury's attempts at establishing some semblance of success in the clinch became increasingly desperate as Francis eliminated his comfort zone.

Fury's jab was also failing to find its mark. Though he certainly doesn't possess the kind of jab greats like Larry Holmes and Muhammad Ali did, Fury's jab has won him most of his fights and is his primary source of success from an offensive standpoint.

Against someone of comparable stature, Fury became hesitant to throw the jab thanks to Ngannou's insistence of heavy left hooks whenever Fury came into range. Clearly focused on shutting down Fury's jab, Ngannou also did an admirable job of parrying Fury's left hand with his own rear glove.

This left Fury's right hand, and although he isn't a power puncher, he does have a strong straight and anyone his size that puts some weight behind their rear hand is going to be able to hurt whatever it hits.

With the clinch no longer being a safe place to rest to go to after throwing his right (the classic "punch-and-clutch" he loves so much), Fury opted instead to simply back out of exchanges once he threw his right, wanting no part in an extended exchange with someone that has Ngannou's kind of power.

In the third round, he got a little too comfortable in trying to land that right hand, trying the same combo twice in a row and fully committing to it, keeping himself in range for too long. It was then that Ngannou's looping left hook over the top clocked him upside the head, dropping him to the canvas.

You could see the realization in Fury's eyes as he got up to make the count - "this is not going how I thought it would".

Indeed, it did not go how anyone thought it would, and Ngannou continued to give Fury everything he could handle for the entire ten round fight.

Ngannou continued to come forward but smartly forced Fury to initiate exchanges and instead looked to counter, something he was always good at in MMA even if it went largely unnoticed. This kept the champion visibly uncomfortable throughout thanks to his power, eye for counters, and ability to shut down Fury's clinches.

He also surprisingly switched to southpaw regularly in the fight, a new wrinkle in his game - although he essentially just threw the southpaw straight when he was in this stance, his straight was cleaner and clearly more impactful than Fury's on the occasions Tyson went to southpaw, and when Fury was orthodox and Ngannou was southpaw, Fury seemed to have no answer offensively thanks to the jab being shut down by the forward right hand.

Considering Fury is supposed to fight Usyk next, who is easily the best southpaw in heavyweight boxing today, that doesn't exactly bode well for the Gypsy King.

It did however show just how quickly Francis picks things up and how technical he can be despite getting wild and reckless at times in his UFC career.

As usual, Fury tried to make things dirty, even resorting to throwing a blatantly illegal elbow which cleanly tagged Francis (and somehow didn't even bother him, surely disheartening Fury even further).

At times Fury looked downright embarrassing as he desperately looked to the clinch and ate power shots from the supposed "novice" boxer, and failed entirely to ever hurt or trouble his opponent over the course of ten rounds. Even with an illegal elbow, Fury couldn't even manage to put a mark on Ngannou's face, while he left with a swollen black eye, a knockdown and his reputation in tatters.

After the scorecards were read and Fury "won" a split decision, even many boxing fans were left stating that Ngannou deserved the nod.

The one aspect of the fight that Ngannou will surely regret is his lack of action in rounds 9 and 10, which winning either one would have secured him the win - though he had blasted and dominated Fury in rounds 7 and 8 and surely took 9 off to pace himself, the final round saw him throw almost nothing despite clearly having some gas left in the tank.

Knowing the notorious judging in boxing, he probably should have had some urgency in the final minute to try and take one of those rounds even if he felt he had done enough to win already, but given it was his first time in the ring and he was no doubt tired at that point even if he did still have some left in the tank, it was an understandable misstep.

To his credit, Fury didn't say he looked past Ngannou and said he had a proper 12-week training camp, though humourously he blamed ring rust for his poor showing. His last boxing match was just over ten months ago - Ngannou hadn't competed in any combat sport since January 2022, nearly a full year before Fury's last outing, and that was in MMA - he had never competed in a boxing match, either as a pro or an amateur.

Ngannou's performance was incredibly impressive and undoubtedly secures his position as the "Baddest Man on the Planet" - even if he lost a split decision, simply being so competitive in boxing against the best heavyweight boxer of an era while also being the undisputed UFC heavyweight champion (and yes, I'm still calling him that since he didn't lose the title in a fight - Jones was given that treatment after sitting out for over two years, so what's fair is fair) makes him undoubtedly the most dangerous combat fighter in the world today.

It also exposed Tyson Fury's shortcomings (and by extension, boxing's recent slate of heavyweights).

Many media pundits and boxing fans had compared Fury to the greats of old, using the same myth that athletics and athletes are continuously improving while in reality, rule changes and differences force sports to evolve, but there are certain athletic heights that people can reach (particularly in terms of skill/overall ability) regardless of era and particularly in a sport like boxing, styles make fights.

Modern times may increase the average skill and how many elite athletes exist in popular sports, between population increases and financial/fame incentives fueling far more interest and dedication amongst the overall population. But, particularly in boxing which hasn't changed all that much in the last hundred years, there's clearly eras that are superior than others and just because someone is the best today, doesn't mean they'd beat the greats of yesteryear.

Skilled outliers like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, and even a prime Mike Tyson would be great in any generation - someone as limited as Fury would have similar success as he does today in certain eras thanks to his size, but would struggle mightily in others.

His overall boxing skill, while great for a man his size, is nowhere near many of the smaller heavyweights, and although that size differential would definitely help him overcome that, there are plenty of heavyweights that would have given him absolute fits in the ring.

I've heard some say that thanks to his size Fury would have beaten the likes of Ali or a prime Tyson; a young Ali would have danced around him all night thanks to an insane speed difference and he certainly fought heavier hitters even later in his career when he wasn't able to move like he did in his younger days (Foreman for instance).

Iron Mike's peekaboo style was perfect for getting through the jab and although his short stature and considerable (50+ pound) size differential may be problematic, he still sported devastating power and would be ripping Fury's body all night long and had the speed to get away from Fury's clinching should he remain disciplined.

A young George Foreman would have smashed Fury into bits - he had the power of a Tyson or Ngannou and the strength to keep him away, and a high activity rate that would be extremely hard for Fury to survive.

Fury's only hope in any of those matchups would be to exhaust them in the clinch and hope he could tire them enough to not be embarassed at range or knocked out by the far more powerful and skilled legends.

Fury is without doubt the best heavyweight of his era in boxing, but that era was simply not that great - its best include Deontay Wilder, who has freakish punching power and an extremely long frame, but isn't exactly what one would call skilled in terms of technique; Anthony Joshua, who is a good athlete and good all-rounder but doesn't stand out as anything special; and now Oleksandr Usyk, who's easily the most talented of the bunch but is a small heavyweight (former cruiserweight) and is coming into the heavyweight division rather late in his career having only fought a handful of fights up at heavyweight.

There are certainly boxers nowadays and in recent times that can compete with and stand amongst the greats of years past, such as Terence Crawford, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquaio, but the heavyweight division in boxing has been rather weak for the last few decades and the most incredibly dumb arguments have come from boxing commentators that call the likes of Tyson Fury "pound-for-pound" greats or have him ranked highly in such pound-for-pound lists.

The pound-for-pound debates are of course regularly interpreted differently by different people, but its whole intention was to compare fighters in terms of skill and ability if size weren't a factor.

To have Tyson Fury even mentioned in a top pound-for-pound listing goes against that very definition - his level of skill and technical ability is nowhere near someone like Terence Crawford or Canelo Alvarez for example, and it's because of his size that he has success. If you took his skillset and applied it to a middleweight fighter, he wouldn't even crack the top thirty.

Even if (and boxing fans are certainly hoping it's the case) Fury didn't take the fight seriously, his skillset has always been rather limited and relies extensively on clinching his opponents and either tiring them out with his weight so he can score some right hands, or doing just enough to squeak out rounds on the scorecards.

You take that away, he becomes a much less daunting challenge - the problem is, like Klitschko's era before it, nobody seemed to be able to deal with that clinch work, a testament to the weak state of heavyweight boxing and how this generation of fighters has failed to evolve. Perhaps if they take some lessons from a mixed martial artist who had the balls to step into their world, boxing can make their heavyweight division great again.


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