Tyson Fury wins split decision against MMA fighter Ngannou
"Fair play to Francis, he cut my head here. It was a good fight."
Britain’s Tyson Fury fights against Cameroonian-French Francis Ngannou during their heavyweight boxing match in Riyadh early on October 29, 2023. Picture: Fayez NURELDINE / AFP
World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury beat mixed martial arts fighter Francis Ngannou in a split decision after their boxing bout went the distance in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Ngannou knocked Fury down in round three but the 35-year-old British fighter, though shaken, was able to continue.
The undefeated Fury, who earlier this week laughed off his opponent as a “big fat sausage”, afterwards acknowledged that the 37-year-old Cameroonian had effectively kept him off-balance.
“He’s a very awkward man, and he’s a good puncher and I respect him a lot,” Fury said of Ngannou, adding that it was “probably my toughest fight in 10 years”.
Fury was the overwhelming favourite against boxing novice Ngannou.
“This was my first boxing match, great experience –- I’m not giving any excuse,” Ngannou said in a ringside interview.
“I know I come up short, I’m going to come back and work harder… now I know I can do this.”
Fury came out swinging in the first round with a hard right hand but sustained a cut to the forehead in the second round and looked especially sluggish after hitting the mat in the third.
The final rounds dragged as both men tired, neither able to land a decisive blow.
“I don’t know how close it was, but I got the win and that’s how it was,” Fury said.
“Fair play to Francis, he cut my head here. It was a good fight.”
Fury’s WBC heavyweight belt was not on the line in the “Battle of the Baddest” in the capital Riyadh, but Saudi officials nevertheless hoped it would further boost the Gulf kingdom’s reputation as a top-flight boxing destination.
With all parties desperate to lend the contest some sporting legitimacy, the WBC had fashioned a “Riyadh Champion” belt to allow the winner to strut around the ring at the end with something other than a fat pay cheque.
Fury has been linked with a £50 million ($60.6 million) payout from Sunday’s exhibition bout, while he has said in the British press that Ngannou will earn £10 million.
Fury has a far more serious bout lined up in Riyadh in December against the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, who currently holds the other three world titles.
“I’m going to go home, I’ve been in training camp for 12 weeks,” he said on Sunday.
“I’ll take a long hard rest and see what’s next for us.”
Saudi boxing boom?
Saudi Arabia has hosted a series of high-profile fights in recent years including the 2019 “Clash on the Dunes”, in which Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world heavyweight crown from Andy Ruiz, and last year’s “Rage on the Red Sea” in Jeddah, in which Joshua lost in a split decision to Usyk.
Saudi officials say there has been a surge of domestic interest in boxing in recent years.
Their goal is to have 500,000 boxers in the kingdom by 2030 as part of a broader sports push under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda.
Footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, now in the Saudi Pro League, and rappers Kanye West and Eminem were on hand for Sunday’s event which marked the beginning of Riyadh Season, a four-month series of concerts and sporting events intended to make Saudi Arabia more attractive to tourists.
The festivities went ahead despite concerns the Israel-Hamas war could pitch the wider region into turmoil.
Turki Al Sheikh, head of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, this week dismissed criticism on social media at a time when other events in the region have been cancelled, saying on Facebook that “every Saudi, including myself, is busy with the development and renaissance of his country”.
The war came up just once on Sunday, when heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov said after his undercard win: “Victory to our brothers in Palestine!”