When Tyson Fury claimed, days out from his fight with Francis Ngannou, that it would be like a “table-tennis champion” facing Novak Djokovic in a Wimbledon final, most fans agreed. And, in the end, Fury was right – it’s just he had the labels the wrong way round. Because in the third round, it was Ngannou who clubbed him with all the might of a Djokovic backhand, and Fury’s miniature bat offered no defence whatsoever.
As Fury lay on the canvas, the whites of his eyes bulging and outshining even the most ostentatious points of the evening’s opening ceremony in Riyadh, he was utterly humiliated. There really are no two ways about it. On this night in Saudi Arabia, Fury was hurt, disciplined, and embarrassed by Ngannou – the MMA star, the boxing debutant, one of the biggest underdogs in combat-sports history. The “Table Tennis champion of the world”, as Ngannou himself wrote on Instagram after this crossover contest.
Even Andy Murray had to chime in, as Fury’s words came back to bite him with a little bit more venom. “How many points would the world No 1 squash player win vs the world No 1 tennis player, in a tennis match and vice versa?” tweeted the former world No 1 tennis player. “I’m thinking close to zero for both… bad look for boxing.”
In the strangest sense, it would have been better if Fury had been knocked out. At least then the WBC heavyweight champion could have pointed to the pre-fight narrative that Ngannou’s only hope was that his notoriously hellacious power would conjure a stupefying moment of magic.
Instead, the Cameroonian, 37, outboxed the Briton, 35, for phases of this fight – this boxing match, remember – and in the eyes of many in attendance, including legends of the boxing world, won enough rounds to beat Fury.
Ultimately, Ngannou was denied on the scorecards, leading many viewers to echo a sentiment that has long sounded within boxing: that the underdog was never going to get the nod on a night like this, no matter how many rounds he’d seemingly taken. Yet the truth is this: as incomprehensibly well as the former UFC champion fought, this bout was razor close. Fury winning via split decision is not necessarily the wrong call. But the fact that those words even exist in that order on any medium, show that Ngannou was a victor – even if he wasn’t named the victor.
Ngannou, in reality, was a victor when he escaped the sand quarry where he worked as a 10-year-old in Cameroon. He was a victor when he left prison in Spain after making it to Europe after numerous failed attempts, and when he honed his martial arts skills to the degree that he could finally leave poverty behind him, in Paris. He was a victor when he won the UFC heavyweight title, and an even greater victor when he boldly relinquished that belt and walked away from a contract that would have made him the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history.
He was a victor when he signed to fight Fury and secured a purse that eclipsed his entire UFC earnings, and he was a victor when he sent the lineal boxing heavyweight champion cascading to the canvas in Saudi Arabia – even if he wasn’t a victor when the scorecards were revealed.
Fury, meanwhile, was a loser in victory. His undisputed-title clash with Oleksandr Usyk, with whom he shared the ring after “beating’’ Ngannou, has been mooted for 23 December. It was seemingly Fury pushing for that date, while rumours suggested that Usyk would not be ready in time. But as they spoke to one another in the ring, it was the Ukrainian who demanded that they square off in two months, while Fury and his promoter distanced themselves from the date in question.
Earlier this week, Fury suggested that he would “sue” Usyk if the 36-year-old did not fight him on 23 December. Now, Fury’s side are calling for January or February; so, they can expect to be sued, then? Almost certainly not, is the answer of course; there is no public proof that the date is mentioned in their contract, which is why it was silly for Fury to use it against Usyk in the first place.
It is understandable that Fury’s team are pushing for the fight to take place next year, though. It is hard to imagine this version of Fury beating Usyk in December or at all, as different as the southpaw’s skills are when compared to Ngannou’s.
And what was this version of Fury? Alongside his pre-fight table-tennis jibe, he claimed that he could have beaten Ngannou after drinking “25 pints of beer”. Here’s hoping the post-fight drug test included a breathalyzer.