Tyson Fury floored by Francis Ngannou but wins by controversial split decision

A battered and relieved Tyson Fury was awarded a controversial split-decision victory in Riyadh over the remarkable Francis Ngannou, who was making his boxing debut. One judge believed Ngannou, who knocked down Fury heavily in the third round, had won the fight 95-94. A second had the exact same score in favor of Fury, while the third official’s scorecard was a ridiculous margin of 96-93 for the WBC world champion. In this 10-round non-title fight, Ngannou dented and then tarnished the champion’s prestige by fighting with fire and purpose.

Fury was left badly swollen around the left eye and the possibility of his heavily hyped fight for the undisputed world heavyweight title against Oleksandr Usyk on December 23 taking place as scheduled is now in jeopardy. The Ukrainian, who holds the IBF, WBA and WB0 titles, then stepped into the ring to face Fury and make it clear he was willing to fight on the agreed date. Fury suggested he was ready to rumble at that point, but before Usyk climbed between the ropes he had sounded less confident. His promoter, Frank Warren, then stressed that they need to think carefully as less than two months does not provide much time for Fury to recover from his painful encounter with Ngannou.

Fury has been boxing for 25 years, since he first walked into a gym at the age of 10, and his status as world heavyweight champion only scratches the surface of his vast experience and ring knowledge. Ngannou, on the other hand, had never boxed professionally before climbing through the ropes and earning himself a whopping $10 million. But no matter how gracious he was when he heard of his undeserved defeat, it felt as if he had been unlucky in the middle of the night in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, Ngannou is also a fighter through and through, having forged an impressive career in the cutthroat world of Mixed Martial Arts, becoming an admired UFC Heavyweight Champion. In the dramatic third round, a top left hook hit Fury hard on the temple and sent him tumbling to the canvas. Fury stood up, as he often does in his career, but the composed and determined Ngannou beamed with confidence.

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk will face off after Francis Ngannou’s scare, but will the undisputed heavyweight title fight now go ahead in December? Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Instead of a routine display of prowess in the ring, Fury struggled for the remainder of the fight to match a man who has endured many dark moments in and out of the MMA cage. But Ngannou’s calmness was particularly striking on a dramatic evening. Entering the final three rounds, both men were marked and swollen around the eyes. Ngannou landed a long left as he kept up the pressure in the eighth round. He then hit Fury with a hard left hand and a series of combinations that buzzed the boxing champion, leaving him looking ragged. It had been another big round for Ngannou.

Fury looked flat and out of ideas as a silent and almost stunned crowd watched the final two rounds. Fatigue also took its toll and Fury didn’t try to push the pace. It was almost as if he believed that the judges would favor him and therefore allowed his fate to be protected by their decision-making.

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Ngannou had admitted before the fight that he faced a mountainous challenge against Fury. But he also emphasized that “I’m not afraid of mountains – I’ve been climbing them all my life.” Ngannou was born into poverty in a village in Cameroon and started working in a stone quarry at the age of ten. Life was no easier when he left for Paris in 2012, at the age of 26, in the vague hope that he would learn to be a boxer. . He was briefly imprisoned as a fugitive before finding work as a nightclub bouncer, which also found opportunities on France’s low-key MMA circuit. Ngannou showed extraordinary grit and determination, earning a contract with the UFC in 2015.

He could have hit the jackpot in his boxing debut. For the dwindling group of purists and romantics who cling to the idea that boxing can still be a noble and uplifting sport, this was another evening of contention. Usyk will have found great encouragement watching Fury’s struggling performance, but it is now uncertain when the circus will be in town again, amid the darker shadows of Riyadh and boxing.