Ngannou's opponent, the 'Gypsy King' Tyson FuryMike DiDomizio with permission for Varsity

The UFC has changed the complexion of Mixed Martial Arts in recent years. Moving away from the ingenious matchmaking strategy of PRIDE FC, which involved asking questions such as “what would happen if this 350lb man fought this 400lb man?”, the UFC has sought to establish itself as a mainstream sporting organisation. As MMA pursued legitimacy, the freak show found a new home at the forefront of boxing.

The age of the “what if?” in boxing was ushered in when Conor McGregor, UFC superstar, booked a bout with boxing great Floyd Mayweather. Not long ago there was talk of the “death of boxing” on the lips of Joe Rogan and others, and MMA, we were assured, would take its place as the face of combat sports. But when McGregor made the move from MMA to box Mayweather, “the noble art” became the destination for freak-show fights, and gave the sport a new lease of life. Though, watching Logan Paul fight KSI, one wonders if boxing lost something of its nobility and art somewhere between death and resurrection.

Now, Francis Ngannou follows in the footsteps of McGregor in his transition to boxing. Though he admired Mike Tyson as a young man and dreamt of pugilistic glory, he has hardly taken a conventional route to face the world champion. Working in a sand quarry from the age of 10, the Cameroonian only started training in boxing at the age of 22, and four years later would head for the west to pursue the sport professionally. After a journey fraught with danger, Ngannou found himself homeless on the streets of Paris. It was there that a local MMA coach found Ngannou and persuaded him to pursue the sport. Over the following eight years, he compiled an impressive highlight reel, becoming the UFC’s heavyweight champion. Now he returns to his first love, boxing, coached by his hero Mike Tyson – only to face the latter’s namesake in the ring.

Whatever role genuine boxing aspirations play here, the great incentive for fighting Tyson Fury is the money. Unfortunately for most MMA fighters, the business strategy of the UFC is to keep its fighters hungry. There’s a saying in boxing: “It’s hard to get up and do your morning roadwork when you’re sleeping in silk sheets.” UFC president Dana White evidently takes this notion very seriously.

Francis Ngannou is one of the biggest stars in MMA, and unlike many UFC athletes, he knows his worth – becoming an advocate for higher fighter wages. Perhaps, upon reflection, he didn’t fancy having his arms twisted, legs kicked and face punched by rather large men until his state pension kicked in. Naturally, this made him Dana White’s public enemy number one.

Ngannou parted ways with the organisation to fight extremely large man Tyson Fury in a comparatively tame boxing match. He will likely earn into eight figures for this, though Fury will rake in much more cash still. It is a fight that Ngannou can’t lose because, regardless of the outcome, he comes away with the biggest paycheque of his life. Fury can’t lose because he can’t help but win.

Much like McGregor vs Mayweather, speculation will revolve around the “puncher’s chance” for the MMA fighter, as both Ngannou and McGregor were known for their punching power. Unlike Ngannou, however, McGregor drew intrigue through the semi-mythical status of the traditional martial artist. He convinced people, and perhaps himself, that he was magic – that he was “Mystic Mac”, and that Mayweather had never dealt with anyone like him before.

Ngannou has no such mystique. In fact, his success in the UFC has owed little to his savvy as a martial artist, and much more to seemingly being made of steel. He was nigh impossible to hurt in his UFC run, while possessing great strength and exceptional speed, speed which made that strength deadly. He was sold as the man who hit with more force than a Ford Escort going flat out. He may well be the scariest man in the history of cage fighting.

But none of this will faze Tyson Fury. He has beaten both Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder, two of the most dangerous punchers in boxing history. Fury will probably let Ngannou swing optimistic punches until he gets it quite out of his system. Then, when Ngannou is exhausted and doesn’t feel much like fighting, Fury will be able to end the fight more or less whenever he pleases. A stoppage between the sixth and tenth round seems a reasonable bet.


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We have seen Fury take a series of softer fights of late. The choice not to make meaningful matches is not for a shortage of options, however. One Oleksandr Usyk is currently the heavyweight champion of the world according to three of the four major sanctioning bodies in boxing, winning those belts from Anthony Joshua in 2020. Fury has the elusive fourth belt, and is also the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury seems uninterested in unifying these titles, having no desire to face Usyk. He is simply unwilling to risk his reputation as an unbeatable mammoth in a fight with the Ukrainian, who is a smaller name in a smaller frame.

Opting for the outlandish over the fight that matters, Fury vs Ngannou is a worrisome omen for the boxing fan. But the “what if?” around Ngannou, the Cameroonian Rocky story, will make the organisers of this event a lot of money. They’re not selling a competitive fight. They’re selling a spectacle, with a side of hope. But who’s to say the upset can’t happen – going by his life story, a morsel of hope is all Ngannou has ever needed.