By Matt Christie
IT WON’T matter to some what is written here in this preview because they’ll already be irate that Boxing News is giving a contest between a man claiming to be the world heavyweight champion (Tyson Fury) and a 37-year-old debutant (Francis Ngannou) any coverage at all.
On numerous occasions BN has been accused of being part of the problem when covering similar events in the past, with an insinuation that a total swerve would serve the sport better. Yet my view on that remains the same as it always has – if something newsworthy occurs in the boxing world, it is our duty to report on it. Reporting is quite different to endorsing and it means, very simply, that we’re doing our job as a news outlet. Serious news outlets, for example, would write about a reputable politician relinquishing his parliamentary duties for a month so he could appear on a reality show and no one of sane mind would confuse those reports with promotion for either the politician or the reality show. Also consider that most of the coverage surrounding Fury-Ngannou will merely be an amplification of the promoters’ message that this is in some way a worthwhile contest. Ignorance from us, therefore, most certainly isn’t bliss.
Set for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and staged in a different ring to the very well-matched undercard, the main event is little more than theatre. It’s like a circus act from a bygone age; one that’s designed to appear competitive – two savage giants collide, wow! – while ensuring any element of competitivity is non-existent by matching one of the best boxers in the entire sport with someone who has never boxed competitively at all. I’m not suggesting it’s fixed or anything of that nature but by virtue of the laughably lopsided matchmaking, it’s about as stage-managed as boxing gets.
Some might choose to overstate the jeopardy at play now that Fury has signed to fight Oleksandr Usyk, who is set to be ringside on Saturday night. No doubt every single person attached to this event, from the promoters to the fighters to the media, will repeatedly ram that point home – oh, the danger! – before and during the show.
I doubt, however, they’ll be so keen to bang on about how stupid they were to make or endorse such a contest should the unthinkable occur: Ngannou chins Fury with one of those ‘record-breaking’ punches we’ve already heard too much about and the most important contest to be made in boxing bites the dust. The only danger here is that, with the Usyk showdown now within touching distance, Fury gets cut or injured. To justify this monstrosity for that reason alone is frankly preposterous.
Perhaps we should be grateful that at least there is a hook of sorts here, however daft it may be. Because if the Usyk showdown wasn’t signed and sealed this distasteful affair could be accused of bringing the sport into disrepute, particularly on the back of Fury’s last outing – a horrible drubbing of a war-torn Derek Chisora who had done nothing beforehand to suggest he stood even the faintest chance.
Plenty will view this dance with Ngannou, who has had a bit of help from Mike Tyson, as just a bit of fun, something to keep Fury busy and generate extra attention for his bout with Usyk. But the truth is it’s an astonishingly irresponsible bout between an accomplished 33-0-1 (24) heavyweight and a 0-0 raw novice.
‘Ngannou isn’t a raw novice you idiot,’ some involved with this contest might reply, ‘he’s a fearsome fighter!’ Well, that’s true to a degree. Ngannou isn’t just someone they’ve plucked off the street. No, that really would be bad. He’s a respected MMA fighter known for his punching power. However, and this is a point worth laboring, he has not boxed a single competitive round in his life. In no other elite sport would such a dangerous disparity in class occur but, in the violent world of boxing, where punches being exchanged is the name of the game, it will be one of the year’s most-watched events.
The oddsmakers don’t like underdog Ngannou’s chances but that he’s only 7/1 against suggests he’s being given a chance of sorts. That likely speaks of that aforementioned power and size of Ngannou and the notion that all he needs to do is land and Fury could be in trouble. Tyson has been down before, you see. And it’s certainly feasible that, after a lifetime of fighting those trained in the art of boxing, opposing someone who is so contextually unorthodox it looks utterly ridiculous may well give the 35-year-old something to think about.
But Fury is adept at thinking and adapting in battle. In fact, he’s likely one of the cleverest of all boxers, not least because he’s managed to secure a fortune for a fight weighted 95/5 in his favour. That Ngannou will be able to present the kind of problems that Fury – who has bewitched the likes of Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder in the past – won’t be able to solve is far-fetched in the extreme.
There is also a misconception that Fury is easy to hit because he’s so big and therefore is one ginormous target. But he’s all arms and legs and merely aiming for his body – often thought to be the obvious way to attack the Gypsy King when the reality is his torso is not much bigger than any other heavyweight – is not easy at all. We must of course reference Fury’s age and consider the possibility that his reflexes are already fading but, even if that’s the case, his experience inside a boxing ring will surely keep him out of harm’s way against a man who won’t yet know how to get the most from his natural strength in a boxing match.
What we can’t accurately predict – and couldn’t ahead of Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor in 2017 – is how the boxer will approach this affair. We don’t know if Fury will be keen to take his time or whether he’ll want this one done and dusted early. If it’s the latter, and he drowns Ngannou in mere minutes, he’ll surely be aware that the criticism of a blatant mismatch will be fierce. I won’t honour this with a prediction – aside from reaffirming my view that an upset is not going to occur nor at any time look likely.
The genuine hope is that, at the end of it, those who facilitated this rubbish are not left with some very serious questions to answer.
The Verdict – If boxing needs events like this to generate attention it’s in trouble.