On October 29, in Saudi Arabia, the world witnessed an electrifying showdown between the WBC heavyweight world champion, Tyson Fury, and the former UFC fighter, Francis Ngannou. In a non-title bout, Fury narrowly secured victory in a split decision, marking one of boxing’s most unexpected upsets.
Tyson Fury, the undefeated holder of a prestigious belt, faced a formidable challenge from his 37-year-old opponent who had never before ventured into professional boxing. Ngannou’s resilience and swagger shone through as he took Fury through the full 10 rounds, with a defining moment in the third round when he sent the “Gypsy King” to the canvas with a powerful left hook.
Reflecting on the fight, Fury admitted, “That definitely wasn’t in the script.” The judges’ scorecards reflected the intense battle, with two judges favoring Fury at 96-93 and 95-94, while the third judge gave Ngannou the edge at 95-94. Fury praised Ngannou, stating, “He’s given me one of my toughest fights of the last 10 years.”
Although there was no immediate rematch clause, Fury expressed his interest in fighting Ngannou again “down the line,” after an anticipated undisputed title match with Oleksandr Usyk, the IBF, IBO, WBO, and WBA champion. The much-anticipated clash between Fury and Usyk is set to take place in Riyadh on December 23, though an official date is yet to be announced.
Francis Ngannou vacated his UFC heavyweight belt due to a contract dispute, becoming a free agent in January. Despite a relatively short training camp of three and a half months and an injury, Ngannou displayed his determination and vowed to improve his game, declaring, “Now I know I can do this… get ready. The wolf is in the house.”
The event attracted a star-studded audience, with notable sports figures and celebrities in attendance. Football legend Cristiano Ronaldo was a prominent presence, joining the Saudi Pro League and still going strong at 38. Former Manchester United player Rio Ferdinand, who had dabbled in boxing training after retirement, was present for media duties and to witness the spectacle.
In addition to Ronaldo and Ferdinand, former football stars Luis Figo and Brazilian Ronaldo graced the event. Vince McMahon, a figure from sports entertainment, was accompanied by his retired WWE colleague, The Undertaker. A who’s who of the fighting world, including Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan, Mike Tyson, Teddy Atlas, Evander Holyfield, Kamaru Usman, Dmitry Bivol, Junior Dos Santos, Randy Couture, and Conor McGregor, added to the star power. Film star Salman Khan and music icon Eminem also made their presence felt.
In Riyadh, the crowd demonstrated that boxing continues to draw the biggest and brightest names, making the Fury vs. Ngannou clash one of the most celebrated events of 2023.