Tyson Fury Gets Off the Deck to Narrowly Defeat Francis Ngannou


By Arne K. Lang

The overwhelming consensus going into today’s crossover mega-fight at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou was that the Gypsy King would win as he pleased.

Tyson Fury did win but, as he acknowledged in his post-fight interview, this 10-rounder proved to be one of his most difficult fights.

For a moment, it appeared as if Ngannou was going to forge an upset for the ages. In round three, he landed a sweeping left hook just above Fury’s right ear and the Gypsy King was on the mat. He beat the count and was never wobbled from that point on, but Ngannou landed a few more good shots as the fight progressed while Fury, wary of Ngannou’s power, was content to out-box him.

At the end, one of the judges ruled for Ngannou (95-94) but was out-voted. The others had it 96-93 and 95-94 for the Gypsy King who retained his undefeated record. Although the match was certified as a legitimate boxing match by the British Board of Control, it was not an official title fight.

This was more than a moral victory for Francis Ngannou, 37, who stamped himself as a force to be reckoned with in the heavyweight division in what was his first true boxing match. Most impressive was his granite chin. The Gypsy King landed several straight right hands that would have staggered someone else, but Ngannou was un-moved.

Ngannou is easy to root for because of his inspirational back story. At age 12, he was working in a sand quarry in his impoverished hometown in Cameroon. After moving to Paris at age 26, he was homeless for a time, sleeping on the street. Considered the hardest hitter in UFC history, he won his title with a one-punch knockout of Stipe Miocic who had outpointed him three years earlier. But no one figured that he could stay 10 rounds with Tyson Fury. Having gone the distance in only three of his twenty UFC fights (five 5-minute rounds), it figured he would gas out if the match degenerated into a fight of attrition.

The other bouts on the star-studded spectacle were contested in a separate ring outside Riyadh Stadium. There was a long delay between the last undercard fight and the main event during which there was a show somewhat akin to a Super Bowl halftime show, only much longer and pegged at the hop-hop generation. It was almost 2 am local time when the Fury-Ngannou fight started.

Chief Supporting Bout

For the first time in history, the coveted Lonsdale Belt was at risk in a heavyweight fight contested outside British soil. It remained in the hands of Fabio Wardley (17-0) who won his sixteenth straight inside the distance with a seventh-round stoppage of David Adeleye (11-1).

Adeleye brought none of the snarl to the fight that he exhibited in pre-fight press confabs. He fought off his back foot, giving up rounds while hoping to land a big shot that would turn the fight in his favor. But Wardley beat him to the punch, so to speak, decking him with a right-left combination that send Adeleye to the canvas, his head landing between lower strands of ropes. Adeleye beat the count, but Wardley wouldn’t let him off the hook and the referee waived it off with Adeleye, who protested the stoppage, covering up on shaky kegs with his back on the ropes. The official time was 2:13 of round seven

Wardley, who had the noted trainer Ben Davison assisting in his corner, is expected to make his next title defense against 32-year-old Frazer Clarke who is 8-0 at the pro level after winning a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics.

Other Bouts

Former WBO world title-holder Joseph Parker had too much class for Simon Kean and knocked out the Canadian slugger in the third round. Parker (33-3, 23 KOs) ended matters with a crunching right uppercut that knocked Kean (23-2) in the seat of his pants, unable to beat the count. The official time was 2:04 of round three.

Parker, the best heavyweight from New Zealand since David Tua, had been training at Tyson Fury’s home gym in Morecambe under the tutelage of former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee, an Emanuel Steward protégé who happens to be Fury’s second cousin.

Arslanbek Makhmudom, a 260-pound, Montreal-based Russian, continued his ascent up the heavyweight ladder with a first-round blast-out of Illinois journeyman Junior Anthony Wright. A stablemate of Artur Beterbiev, Makhmudov needed only 110 seconds to advance his record to 18-0 (17 KOs). The 37-year-old Wright, a former cruiserweight, declined to 20-5-1.

Martin Bakole, who came in at 299 ½ pounds, was conspicuously overweight, but had too much firepower for 42-year-old veteran Carlos Takam. Bakole dominated the match until the bout was stopped at the 2:15 mark of round four. It was the eighth straight win for the Scotch-Congolese Bakole (20-1) following his lone defeat the hands of the American, Michael Hunter. Takam (40-8-1) suffered his fifth loss inside the distance.

18-year-old British phenom Moses Itauma (6-0, 4 KOs) needed only 113 seconds to dismiss Istvan Barnath.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images
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