Few things infuriate MMA fans more than a fight being scored incorrectly, though the term “robbery” tends to be thrown around carelessly and is often steeped in bias. With Robbery Review, we take a look back at controversial fights and determine whether the judges were rightly criticized for their decision – or if pundits need to examine their own knee-jerk reactions.
Francis Ngannou might be the best heavyweight boxer in the world.
I watched it. I just typed it. And I still don’t believe it.
This past Saturday, Ngannou put on an inspiring (really, pick your superlative of choice, I’m going with “inspiring”) performance against the No. 1 heavyweight in the world, Tyson Fury, and nearly pulled off what would have arguably been the greatest upset in combat sports history.
Fury had his hand raised in the end, but it was the former UFC champion who authored the most memorable moment of the fight, a blow that will be replayed repeatedly until the end of time, when he cracked Fury with a left hook that sent Fury crashing to the canvas. In that moment, literally anything seemed possible.
Unsurprisingly, there was a polite discussion about the scoring afterward — OK, some people were downright angry — and while I personally didn’t see the judging as all that controversial, the fact is that the split call in Fury’s favor didn’t sit well with a vocal portion of the fighting community.
This once-in-a-lifetime outcome more than merits our first-ever boxing Robbery Review.
Table of Contents
What was the official result?
Tyson Fury def. Francis Ngannou via split decision.
Juan Carlos Pelayo scored it 96-93 Fury.
Ed Garner scored it 95-94 Ngannou.
Alan Krebs scored it 95-94 Fury.
Rounds 1, 2, 4, 7, and 10 were all disputed, with Fury having the edge in the first four of those rounds and Ngannou taking the 10th. Ngannou scored the only 10-8 of the fight with his dramatic knockdown of Fury in Round 3.
As for the remaining rounds that all three judges agreed on, Fury claimed 5, 6, and 9, while Ngannou took Round 8.
How did the fight go?
Rather than chronologically going round-by-round and punch-by-punch (if you want a more straightforward rundown of the fight as it happened, check out my live blog here), let’s focus on the five disputed rounds, the defining third, and then the rest.
Fury uncharacteristically opened the fight by just charging in and throwing a looping right hand at Ngannou’s head. It’s hard to tell if he actually thought he could catch the inexperienced Ngannou off guard, or if he was trolling. He soon went back to working his jab and then caught an advancing Ngannou with a solid counter right. Not long after, Ngannou connected with a left hand and then a right over the top. They exchanged jabs until Ngannou landed a hard body shot, which got a reaction from Fury and the crowd. That woke the champ up, and he smacked Ngannou with a 1-2 overhand right combination. At the very least, Ngannou was showing off a champion’s chin. Ngannou threw wild, Fury circled out and then clipped Ngannou with a left hand. On to Round 2.
Ngannou had trouble navigating Fury’s reach, but after taking a few on the chin, he caught a ducking Fury with a well-timed left. Fury tried to clinch his way out of the corner, but Ngannou broke that up with a trio of punches, one of which opened up a small cut above Fury’s left eye. Ngannou walked through a few pawing right hands from Fury, prompting the boxing champion to go body-head. Ngannou again got his attention with a blindingly quick right hand counter, resulting in another clinch. Fury ended the round straight-up tackling Ngannou to set up clinches, which Ngannou aggressively worked his way out of.
Round 3…pretty sure I remember something cool happening here. Better rewatch just to be sure.
With about 45 seconds remaining in a frame that Ngannou was likely winning, he capped off the stretch with the fateful left hand that put Fury down. Chaos. Pandemonium. Bedlam.
DOWN GOES FURY.
Fury recovered well enough and had no issue answering the count, but with authority, Ngannou took the clearest round of the fight thus far.
Every second of the fourth round was fraught with tension and Ngannou seized the moment with a right hand on the money. Fury employed a ton of feints to throw Ngannou off, which led to Ngannou getting hit by a glancing left. Fury also started throwing to the body and then immediately clinching, again defusing Ngannou’s offense. Ngannou just missed with a right hand, that still drew some “oohs” from the crowd. Ngannou missed another big punch, but the fighters became tangled and Fury went stumbling. The referee separated them, and then Fury landed a right hand. Fury popped Ngannou with a left hand that made the PFL fighter miss. Another big right from Fury scored. Seriously, it’s a good thing Ngannou has a chin.
Fast forward to Round 7, another disputed round. Ngannou came out throwing power and Fury’s defense was just sharp enough to keep him from getting brained. A minute in, Ngannou caught Fury with a beautiful straight right. Shortly after, a right to the body scored for Ngannou. Fury tried to clinch, but Ngannou punched his way out. Fury came forward effectively, but another tangle caused him to essentially shoot in for a double leg. I never expected Fury to be the one to mix the martial arts!
Let’s jump to the last round of the fight, also the last of our disputed rounds. Both men were moving well, but definitely more reluctant to let loose than before. Ngannou landed a left hand on a circling Fury that caused “The Gypsy King” to smirk. Much of the round was spent with the fighters jabbing at one another, with the occasional hook being thrown out. They clinched, and Fury got the better of it with a good uppercut. Ngannou broke out a Superman Punch with about 30 seconds to go, shout-out to Georges St-Pierre. It didn’t land, but it was damn cool. Our final meaningful exchange of the fight was a lunging jab from Ngannou met by a counter left from Fury.
As for rounds 5, 6, 8, and 9, here’s a quick rundown:
- Round 5 and Round 6 (both went to Fury) — Fury found his rhythm in these two rounds, scoring with plenty of punches from range while making Ngannou miss. Unfortunately, Fury’s best strike during this stretch might have been the illegal elbow he smacked Ngannou with. Eep.
- Round 8 (Ngannou) — One of the most fun rounds of the fight, this is the closest we came to seeing Fury and Ngannou brawl. Ngannou’s best moment was a flurry off of a break that saw him land at least two hard punches, while Fury sneaked in an uppercut in the clinch that would have rocked many other fighters. Plenty of entertaining and close exchanges in the round.
- Round 9 (Fury) — Felt like these two were saving their gas for the final stretch because there was a lot of hand fighting with little of impact landed. Fury had been better working from distance and that held true here for the most part.
What did the numbers say?
Ngannou came into this fight with the reputation of being a dynamite puncher, and while he couldn’t keep Fury down, he did win the power strikes battle according to CompuBox stats, 37-32. It was Fury who landed more of those strikes to the head though, 29-24, for what that’s worth.
Going round-by-round, Ngannou had the edge in power punching in rounds 3 (duh), 4, 6, 7, and 8, Fury had rounds 5 and 9, and the others were tied.
Total punches were in Fury’s favor, 71-59.
What did the media say?
Six of the nine media scores on MMA Decisions were in Fury’s favor, including five with the incendiary 96-93 score. MMA Fighting, ESPN, CBS Sports, and Bad Left Hook were among the outlets to have it for Fury, while Sherdog.com is responsible for the trio of 95-94 Ngannou scores.
Some auspicious members of the MMA media declined to mark down an official score, but touted Ngannou as the winner in no uncertain terms:
What did the people say?
(Data derived from MMA Decisions and Verdict MMA)
“Justice was not served!” say the voters on MMA Decisions.
Ngannou 95-94 is the healthy leader of the fan vote at 40.7 percent, with 95-94 Fury second at 20.6 percent and 96-93 Fury third at 14.9 percent.
Looking at the Verdict MMA scorecard, Ngannou again comes out ahead, though by a narrow 45 points.
Frankly, the gap should be bigger given that the Round 3 tally indicates that not everyone on the app scored that round 10-8. The perils of uneducated fan scoring, sadly.
How did I score it?
I agree with Judge Pelayo. I also agree with Judge Krebs. And I agree with Judge Garner.
What a cop-out, eh?
Full disclosure, I had it 96-93 scoring live, and I’ve slept the sleep of the just since despite plenty of jabronis screaming at me on the post-fight show that I was out of my mind for that take.
Rounds 1, 2, and 4 were close, but I scored them all for Fury on my initial viewing. The main theme here is that as impressive as Ngannou’s power punches where when they landed, quite a few of them whiffed and led to Ngannou getting countered. Fury’s jab work was excellent, and he actually landed a few bombs that would have dropped a lesser fighter.
On the other hand, I actually sided with the lone 10-9 Ngannou score in Round 7, a frame that saw Ngannou land a beautiful right hand down the middle and a big body shot. Those were the best punches of that round in my eyes and I’m a little surprised two judges had that one for Fury.
Round 10 I gave to Fury by a nose. Other than a left from Ngannou that caused Fury to smirk and a nice clinch uppercut by the WBC champion, there wasn’t much to separate these two as time ticked away.
R1: 10-9 Fury
R2: 10-9 Fury
R3: 10-8 Ngannou
R4: 10-9 Fury
R5: 10-9 Fury
R6: 10-9 Fury
R7: 10-9 Ngannou
R8: 10-9 Ngannou
R9: 10-9 Fury
R10: 10-9 Fury
Overall: 96-93 Fury
The one round I felt most tempted to switch was Round 2. But even if I did, that would just make it 95-94 Fury on my card. If you want to flip Round 10 to Ngannou to get your 95-94 Ngannou card, I’m not mad at it. This was so close, you guys.
Was it a robbery?
Let me make my stance on this as clear as possible. Ngannou was phenomenal in this fight. Phenomenal. This might be my new favorite fight of the year, it was that mesmerizing to watch (credit to Fury as well, of course). I gave Ngannou little to no chance of winning, and I’ve got as much egg on my face as anyone.
With that out of the way, this was anything but a clear-cut win for Ngannou, at least if we’re sticking strictly actual boxing scoring. Take Round 4 for example. I scored it for Fury on initial and second viewing without hesitation, but I can understand how the ripples from Round 3 might affect someone’s opinion. The same could be said for the final two rounds, which likely had Ngannou supporters feeling like he was on his way to a win with how well he fought in rounds 7 and 8, despite the fact that there was still plenty of work to be done in rounds 9 and 10.
Ngannou passed the vibes check so smoothly that couch judges could easily overlook that Fury was still boxing well enough to win, no matter what Eddie Hearn tells you. I, being a cold, unfeeling, fun-hating robot, had no such issue.
I totally get that people are disappointed that Ngannou didn’t get the validation of an official win, but my hope is that no matter how you scored the fight, that it doesn’t overshadow how much you enjoyed it as it was happening. Never let some boring scoring controversy mess with your love of the game.
So hold that 95-94 Ngannou scorecard up high with pride, but please, make space for the rest of us. Even as someone proudly carrying a 96-93 Fury card, I assure you I am with you when it comes to giving Ngannou all of his flowers.
The final verdict
Not a robbery, if you want to be a nerd about it (which I do).
Ngannou won by PRIDE rules/Diaz rules/prison rules, whatever you want to call it, and I can’t wait to see him box again.