Francis Ngannou shook the boxing world to its core by nearly defeating Tyson Fury in Saturday’s shocking and controversial split decision in Saudi Arabia.
Count Matchroom Sport chairman Eddie Hearn among those still shell-shocked by what unfolded in the former UFC heavyweight champion’s professional boxing debut.
“I thought he won the fight,” Hearn said Monday on The MMA Hour. “And for a debutante to beat the world heavyweight champion is just the most unbelievable [feat]. And I know he has the respect of people and all that, but he should actually also be walking away with the greatest victory in the history of boxing. That’s the reality. I can’t believe he did it.
“You can’t not respect what he’s done. Like, you can say Fury wasn’t focused, you can say this. [Ngannou went] in there under immense pressure, immense pressure, against a guy that is difficult and awkward — and just to explain it to people that might not follow boxing as much, the little things that Fury does, that work with 99 percent of boxers, just didn’t work with Francis Ngannou. Like, the feints, the traps that he’s setting. Whether that was brilliance or naivety [from Ngannou] doesn’t really matter, but I have to give him respect.”
Hearn gave a full mea culpa on Monday after previously being staunch in his stance that Ngannou didn’t stand a chance of even being competitive with Fury.
The Matchroom Sports exec, who promotes heavyweight boxers Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte under his banner, heaped praise upon Ngannou for being undaunted in the face of boxing’s lineal heavyweight champion. Ngannou knocked down Fury in the third round, opened a cut on Fury’s forehead with punches from the clinch, and ultimately authored most of the bout’s meaningful sequences. In the end, two judges scored the bout for Fury, 96-93 and 95-94, while the lone dissenter gave Ngannou a 95-94 score. But popular opinion certainly landed on Ngannou’s side once all was said and done.
“I’ve never seen Tyson Fury [look like that],” Hearn said. “He looked petrified. When he got dropped in the third round, he did not want to engage. He was thrown around like a rag doll in the clinch. That Francis did so many basic things well in there — his guard was solid, he caught shots — I’m still [shocked].
“Obviously, you’re your [MMA] community, we’re our [boxing] community — and our community is walking around [in a daze], and you guys are walking around [puffing your chests out]. That’s the most bizarre thing — crossover fights are not competitive. Like, they’re not supposed to be competitive. This is like a boxer that has never fought MMA before, going in, and not just knocking out a UFC guy, but actually competing with him in terms of his skill. I can’t believe it. It’s amazing.”
“I think Tyson is going to find it difficult over the next few weeks, because it’s going to be on top of him,” Heard added. “And he doesn’t like that. He won’t like the criticism. And he’ll probably take a break from social media or media and just sort of slip away, and say, ‘I’m going to just chill,’ and family time and Christmas and stuff like that. But it will hurt him, the criticism, because it’s massively tainted his legacy.”
By all indications, Fury’s next move will still be a relativity quick turnaround for a heavyweight title unification bout against Oleksandr Usyk sometime in early 2024.
That matchup has been one of the most anticipated bouts in all of boxing for more than a year now. And while it’s still meaningful, Hearn believes Ngannou’s performance against Fury took some of the shine off a fight that was supposed to be an all-out blockbuster.
“It’s an interesting dynamic now,” Hearn said. “I said after the interview, it was a bit of a snap reaction, that the Usyk-Fury fight is dead. It’s obviously not dead. It’s still a big fight. But the value of that fight has plummeted. Because really, you want to see him rematch Francis Ngannou. And I think Francis Ngannou now sits there with plenty of opportunities.”
That being said, Hearn believes Saturday’s stunning result was still a win for both boxing and MMA, if only because of the eyeballs Ngannou’s feat drew to both sports.
“It’s actually amazing for boxing and MMA,” Hearn said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘This is terrible for boxing, some guy has just come in and beat Tyson Fury.’
“It’s like, mate, do you know how many people are talking about boxing today? Actually, I just got back, I’ve been to the gym — everyone’s talking about it. And if you’re Francis Ngannou right now, you’re sitting there as one of the most valuable boxers in the world. And you’re right, he can go back into the MMA world and have a massive fight.
“Now he’s a huge name. Huge. Good luck to him.”