Former UFC fighter Ngannou almost delivers one of boxing’s biggest upsets as he gives the heavyweight champion a scare.
WBC heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury has beaten former UFC fighter Francis Ngannou on a split decision in a non-title fight in Saudi Arabia that almost delivered one of boxing’s biggest upsets.
Fury, the unbeaten holder of one of the sport’s most prestigious belts, narrowly avoided a first defeat on Sunday at the hands of a 37-year-old opponent who had never boxed professionally before but went through the full 10 rounds with some swagger.
Ngannou, whose UFC record was 17-3, knocked down the Briton in the third round with a left hook, although the 35-year-old self-styled “Gypsy King” was able to see out the round.
But this was a missed opportunity at a major upset. Ngannou landed only six of 38 punches in the final two rounds, according to CompuBox, compared with 14 of 37 for Fury.
Fury landed more punches overall (71-59), but Ngannou hit the mark with more power shots (37-32).
Fury remained undefeated at 34-0-1 with 24 knockouts but was under no illusions about the near-upset.
“That definitely wasn’t in the script,” said Fury after two of the judges gave him the win 96-93 and 95-94. The third judge scored it 95-94 in favour of his Cameroon-French opponent.
“He’s a hell of a fighter and a hell of a lot better boxer than we thought he would be. He’s an awkward man and a good puncher and I respect him a lot.
“He’s given me one of my toughest fights of the last 10 years.”
Fury said there was no rematch clause but he would like to fight Ngannou again “down the line” after an undisputed title fight with Ukraine’s IBF, IBO, WBO and WBA champion Oleksandr Usyk.
The pair are set to meet in Riyadh at a date yet to be announced officially but which both champions said will be December 23.
Ngannou said he felt “fantastic”, despite the loss.
“I’m very happy. It didn’t go my way, but I want to thank … the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [for] the opportunity to prove people wrong one more time.”
The fight was inside 26,000-seat Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, and the preliminary bouts were in a nearby outside venue constructed for the event.
This not only was his first boxing match, but Ngannou had not competed at all since beating Ciryl Gane in UFC 270 in January 2022.
Ngannou, 37, had a falling out with the UFC earlier this year. UFC President Dana White stripped him of his belt in January, and in May, Ngannou signed with the rival Professional Fighters League. His first fight for the PFL is expected to take place early next year.
“I know I’ve come up short, but I’m going to go back and work harder with a little more experience this time, a little more feeling of the game and come back stronger,” Ngannou said.
“This is a new sport that I never did, that I never fit. Now I know I can do this … get ready. The wolf is in the house.”