By now Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou know the game.
They know a sporting demographic primed to bite and indulge in a cross-discipline battle of the world’s premier heavyweights. They know high-reward opportunity when they see it.
After back-and-forth teasers on social media, the pair officially set the wheels in motion in view of a long-rumoured exhibition bout on Saturday when boxing’s WBC heavyweight champion Fury welcomed UFC’s heavyweight champion Ngannou to the ring after the Gypsy King’s sixth- round knockout victory over Dillian Whyte.
While Fury promised fireworks and complimented his counterpart’s muscles, Ngannou tempted a historic ‘Rumble in the Jungle 2’ in Africa and sold the answer as an answer to the question of the “baddest” man on the planet.
Fury was later quizzed on his desire to fight Oleksandr Usyk or Anthony Joshua for the undisputed world heavyweight championship, but his attention returned to Ngannou as he excluded exhibition bouts and the accompanying ‘Floyd Mayweather’ money from his ‘retirement’ plans.
How do Fury and Ngannou compare?
|Tyson Fury||Francis Ngannou|
|records||32-0-1 (23 knockouts)||17-3 (12 knockouts)|
“He’s on my hit list in an exhibition fight, however he wants it. In a cage, in a boxing ring, boxing gloves, UFC gloves – we can make it happen,” Fury told reporters.
“I think everyone wants to see it. He’s a monster of a guy, I’m a monster of a guy, so it’ll be a clash of the titans for sure.”
Speaking on the MMA Hour podcast, Ngannou said: “Make it a hybrid fight, something that makes it a little uncomfortable for him as a boxer. Ideas like MMA gloves or fighting barefoot. We still have to figure this out.
“We both want this fight, that’s clear, and we respect each other. Probably next year it will happen. I think it’s going to happen.
“It’s just a matter of our promotions, but we will sort this out at some point. I would say there’s a 70 per cent chance (my next opponent) is Fury. On his side, I would say 90 per cent against me.”
How would it look?
Upon embracing in the ring, the two behemoths had appeared to hint towards a mixed-rules hybrid bout consisting of UFC gloves, boxing rules and a boxing ring, Ngannou more than compliant to making the more significant jump having made no secret of his ambitions to one day return to his boxing roots.
Top Rank president Bob Arum would go on to suggest it would be an ‘easy’ fight to make, that sentiment perhaps a reflection of why crossover contests have become such a trend given the usual politics in bringing boxing and the UFC’s best together.
One answer to ‘what would the fight look like?’ is it would look like a retirement-fund capable of lasting multiple lifetimes, though you would argue Ngannou needs Fury more than Fury needs Ngannou in that respect.
Fury pocketed £26.2m from his fight against Whyte when combining his base purse and winner’s bonus; Ngannou’s last outing saw him earn just £471,000 after beating Cyryl Gane to become undisputed heavyweight champion.
Granted, Wembley Stadium welcomed a European-fight record 94,000 capacity for Fury’s UK return in contrast to a 17,000-person attendance for UFC 270 in California, but the disparity in two life-on-the-line sports remains an uncomfortable talking point.
As far as location goes, Cameroon-born Ngannou appeared to warm to the idea of staging the fight in his home continent, though Fury had previously suggested it would be held in Las Vegas, which is where the razzmatazz and pay-per-view records they seek feel more likely to await.
With Ngannou comes a reputation as one of the hardest punchers in combat sport across the world, while Fury’s resume includes defeating a man with the same claim in Deontay Wilder along with a SugarHill Steward-polished blend of elite sweet science and recently-prominent knockout power .
All that said, the boxing man breezes through a boxing match, regardless of Ngannou’s background in the ring. But while mixed opinions over a one-sided contest are to be expected, Fury sellouts in Vegas and at Wembley means so are eye-popping numbers.
What would it mean?
Ngannou finds himself in the middle of a dispute with the UFC over a new deal ahead of the expiration of his current contract at the end of this year.
The 36-year-old, who is recovering from knee surgery likely to keep him out for the rest of 2022, is seeking greater flexibility that would allow him to pursue opportunities in boxing alongside his mixed martial arts career.
That request seemingly received pushback from UFC president Dana White, whose feud with Arum casts doubt over a Fury fight being agreed were the latter to be signed to a new contract.
In a recent interview with Sky Sports, White voiced his disapproval for crossover bouts when asked about the possibility of Kamaru Usman boxing Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. To this day Conor McGregor remains the only UFC fighter to have been granted exemption to box when he took on Floyd Mayweather Jr in 2017.
Between contract negotiations and Ngannou’s injury layoff, a prospective meeting with Fury would likely not come to fruition until early 2023. And with Fury having also teased an appearance at September’s WWE event in Cardiff, the end of next year appears a realistic earliest window for a possible unification bout with Joshua or Usyk – providing he does not withdraw.
Meanwhile, the bigger picture for UFC fighters is perhaps a game-changing door opened by Ngannou were he to exploit the lucrative pay-day on offer in boxing before later returning to mixed martial arts.
‘Fury can turn his hand to anything’
A boxing rules fight looks the most likely and logical approach, however former UFC welterweight Dan Hardy believes a coachable Fury possesses the natural ability to test himself in Ngannou’s discipline.
“He’s a technician, he’s a student of the game, even speaking to his dad John Fury you can tell they’re a fighting culture, it’s in his blood and it doesn’t matter what he’d be doing, whether it’s boxing or mixed martial arts, which I think he’d do very well in as well, I just think he’s found his groove in the world and that’s what he’s supposed to be doing,” Hardy told Sky Sports.
“I think he might want to hang up his boxing gloves, but I think we might see him in some different gloves at some point. Francis Ngannou was in the ring with him, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that fight happen, whether it’s boxing or MMA.”
Fury has previously been seen training in the octagon with UFC middleweight Darren Till, with footage picturing him working on using his knees and elbows while wearing mixed martial arts gloves.
“They’re going to give him all the information and knowledge he needs to be a good MMA fighter,” Hardy continued.
“Boxing or mixed martial arts, it doesn’t matter what it is, Tyson is a fighter and I think he could turn his hand to anything. The clinch work he does, the inside fighting and the size of the individual, it doesn’t t matter what heavyweight he’s up against in the world, he’s going to have some natural advantages over them anyway.
“I wouldn’t mind him stepping away from boxing, trying MMA, and then coming back, because I think there are some things he could learn in the MMA world that would transfer over to his boxing game as well.”