Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou: How seriously will Briton take crossover bout?

Boxing Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou: How seriously will Briton take crossover bout?
OCT 28, 2023 LISTEN

Tyson Fury is on the cusp of legend status. That is just about irrefutable. Perhaps he is even in the mix of the debate about all-time great heavyweights.

The WBC champion has signed a deal to face Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk - who holds the three other belts in the division - in a historic undisputed fight in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The winner of the bout, mooted for 23 December, will become the first heavyweight boxer to hold all four major world titles and cement their position as a modern-day great.

There is just one little hurdle for Fury to overcome before then. Or maybe not so little. Looking to spoil the party is Francis Ngannou, a 6ft 4in French Cameroonian who weighs more than 18 stone.

Fury, 35, will face former UFC champion Ngannou on Saturday. The WBC title will not be on the line in what is 37-year-old Ngannou's first boxing bout.

As a boxing contest, it should be an easy night's work for 'The Gypsy King'.

"In any stage of Tyson Fury's career, he wouldn't have used Ngannou for sparring. That's put a relevance to how easy this fight should be for him," former world champion Barry Jones said on the 5 Live Boxing podcast.

But with possibly just eight weeks to prepare for the career-defining Usyk bout - the most anticipated fight in world boxing - a lacklustre performance, or even an inconceivable loss, against a novice would be a complete embarrassment for the Morecambe fighter.

With all that on the line, how seriously will Fury take Ngannou?

  • Boxing's credibility on the line

A boxing superstar taking part in a lucrative crossover bout is nothing new.

On 26 June 1976, the great Muhammad Ali - as undisputed heavyweight champion - faced Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki.

The 'fight' soon turned into a farce with confusion surrounding the rules. Inoki laid on his back for the majority of the contest and kicked out at Ali, who held his opponent's legs. It ended in a draw.

When the accomplished Floyd Mayweather faced UFC's Conor McGregor six years ago, in arguably the biggest crossover bout to date, it was 'Money' Mayweather's last pro fight.

Ali's contest was not a boxing bout, nor did it pretend to be. Mayweather was not a reigning champion and was cashing out on one last payday as a professional. But both Fury and Ngannou are at the peak of their powers.

Ngannou has landed an opportunity possibly at the expense of a far more deserving, ranked boxer. The credibility of boxing is on the line, and the pressure is on Fury to show the gulf between an elite-level pugilist and an MMA champion is real.

Fury says he has been in camp 12 weeks for this fight, suggesting he only did "five or six" weeks before tackling Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte.

"I might give him a slick, master boxing performance, not let the ugly man touch me once," Fury said at Tuesday's grand arrivals.

"That would be unbelievable, wouldn't it? I might start dancing, tripling the jab like Apollo Creed, move around, just stick and move."

  • Will it be a glorified exhibition?


Tyson Fury (right) has won 33 fights and drawn one since turning professional in 2008

After some uncertainty, it is now confirmed that Fury-Ngannou will be sanctioned as a professional bout, and the build-up has the feel of a 'proper' boxing contest. The WBC has created a commemorative 'Riyadh champion' belt for the winner.

Saudi Arabia has given it the star treatment with all the usual fight week festivities: grand arrivals, open workouts, press conference and weigh-in.

But Fury is the ultimate athlete/showman hybrid. His involvement in the scripted world of WWE earned him a reported £12m. He is the star of his own reality TV show, At Home With The Furys, and has even teamed up with Robbie Williams on a Christmas single.

The easier, and more entertaining, option may be to treat the fight as an exhibition.

Current unified light-welterweight champion Natasha Jonas says "even Tyson might not know" his approach until the first bell rings.

"Tyson will do what Tyson wants to do," Jonas says. "He hasn't marketed himself as being perfect, so no matter what he does, people will go 'OK that's Tyson, we expect that from him'.

"He can be serious or a joke. He can contradict himself. He's unpredictable, but as fans we know and expect that."

  • 'Show Ngannou you're the king of the ring'

Having endured more than a year of failed negotiations coupled with tedious trash talk, boxing traditionalists remain sceptical about Fury-Usyk actually happening.

Those fans would deem it unforgivable if Fury were to suffer a cut or injury that could jeopardise or delay boxing's blockbuster bout, especially in a non-title fight which critics argue is nothing more than a money-making venture.

Fury has repeatedly said earning money far outweighs any desire of creating legacy. With the career-high Usyk pay day in the back of his mind, perhaps Fury will either resist engaging too much with Ngannou or get him out of there as early as possible, minimising the risk of any injury.

Usyk is expected to be at ringside, but Fury insists he is not overlooking Ngannou. Comparing Ngannou to his two previous opponents, Britons Derek Chisora and Whyte, Fury said: "He probably hits as hard as [those] men and is as talented as them."

Fury added: "I've got this big sausage to deal with, and once I've grilled him up nice and good, then we'll move on to the next one."

Jonas, who recently became the first black woman to obtain a British Boxing Board of Control manager's licence, says Fury should see Ngannou as preparation for Usyk later this year.

"If I was managing Tyson I'd say get a bit of ring rust off, get a couple of rounds in," she explains.

"Every now and again I'd tell Tyson to put it on him. Then really show him this is boxing and get rid of him. Show him you're the king of the ring."