Francis Ngannou nearly pulled off the upset of the century after scoring a knockdown on Tyson Fury, but ultimately lost a razor-close split decision.
It was an unreal performance from the former UFC heavyweight champion, who most wrote off before the fight even started. However, Ngannou had other plans. He came out guns blazing and showed no fear, trading punches with arguably one of the best heavyweight boxers in the past 30 years.
A strong start for Ngannou eventually resulted in the most dramatic moment in the fight when he uncorked a huge left hand that blasted Fury behind the ear and sent him crashing to the canvas in the third round. Fury climbed back to his feet, but he struggled to ever really settle into any kind of rhythm, although he did manage to land more punches than Ngannou for the majority of the fight.
In the end, the judges scored the fight 96-93 and 95-94 for Fury, with the third official giving a dissenting 95-94 score to Ngannou. That was still enough for Fury to secure the victory, although Ngannou likely leaves feeling like a winner after a stunning 10-round performance.
“That definitely wasn’t in the script,” Fury said afterward. “Francis is a hell of a fighter. Listen he’s a very awkward man and he’s a good puncher. I respect him a lot. He was very awkward. He gave me one of my toughest fights in the last 10 years.”
While he was disappointed in the result, Ngannou still had a smile on his face after he came so close to handing Fury the first loss of his professional career.
“I’m feeling great. I’m very happy,” Ngannou said. “I might come up short today, I might be wounded, but I can bite. I’m just a fighter and I’m ready to fight anytime soon. We can run it back again. I’m sure I’m going to get better.
“This was my first boxing match. Great experience. I’m not giving any excuse. I know I came up short but I’m going to go back and work harder. With a little bit more experience, a little more feeling in the game, and come back even stronger.”
It was Fury who came out aggressive right away as he put punched right in Ngannou’s face to see exactly what the former UFC heavyweight champion had in his arsenal. To his credit, Ngannou sought to close the distance as he jabbed to the body, but he struggled to really connect on target in the early going.
The first big punch came from Fury when he clubbed Ngannou with a stinging right hand just before the first round ended. “The Gypsy King” continued pawing away with his jab, but it was Ngannou who actually drew first blood when he snapped off an uppercut in the clinch that opened as small cut on Fury’s forehead.
Fury decided it was time bully the less experienced fighter, however Ngannou made him pay for it when he unloaded a massive overhand left. The punch bounced off Fury’s head and sent the heavyweight boxing champion down to the canvas.
The crowd in Saudi Arabia reacted with equal parts cheers and stunned silence after Ngannou scored the dramatic knockdown while a rattled Fury got back to his feet.
In the corner between rounds, Fury’s coaches shouted that he was trying too hard and Ngannou was making him pay for it. On the restart, Fury began throwing more power punches while trying to back off Ngannou, who was surging with confidence after the knockdown.
It wasn’t until the fifth round that Fury finally started settling down and taggingg Ngannou with arguably his best punches in the fight. While Ngannou showcased a concrete chin, Fury began connecting with more regularity, including a slick left-right combination that gave “The Predator” problems.
Ngannou was still hanging around because his power gave Fury pause in almost every exchange. Every time Fury tried to string together his punches, Ngannou unloaded a massive shot that scared him off and backed him away.
Switching stances also allowed Ngannou to fire off punches from different angles, which allowed him to tag Fury with a hard right hand. Ngannou continued putting on a punishing pace, including a blistering combination that seemingly wobbled Fury for a split second.
As the fight moved into the final round, Fury attempted to come back from a largely listless performance as Ngannou patiently awaited the moment to unleash another head-rattling shot. With time ticking away, Fury appeared cognizant that he had to hope the scorecards would hand him the victory, while Ngannou kept seeking the knockout until the bell sounded to end the night.
The final tally for punches had Fury out-landing Ngannou 71-59, and that likely made the difference in a couple of the closer rounds on the scorecards. Fury survived to get the win, but there’s no way Ngannou felt like a loser after a performance like that.
“I wanted the victory,” Ngannou said. “The proof wasn’t just to box and go home. The ‘W’ is always sweet. Tonight was about dedication, determination, tonight was about hope. Tonight was about fate with my dream and my goal.”
Following the fight, Fury quickly shifted gears for a faceoff with Oleksandr Usyk, who he already signed to fight before setting foot in the ring to meet Ngannou. While that fight will still be next, Fury didn’t discount the chance of seeing Ngannou again as an opponent.
“There’s no rematch clause either way,” Fury said. “I would like to do it again down the line. I’m sure Francis would like to do it as well. We’ve got [Usyk] to deal with next and that’s what’s next for us.”