FRANK WARREN was typically passionate and prickly last week when he defended the professional boxing match that will take place between Tyson Fury, 33-0-1, and MMA star Francis Ngannou, 0-0, over 10 rounds in Saudi Arabia on October 28.
Unless you’re in the thick of the argument that triggered his annoyance, there is something endearing about Frank when he’s grappling with his rag. It shows that his enduring and unteachable passion remains. It confirms he still cares about his own business and his own fighters. And it proves, despite being written off more times than Del Boy’s Reliant Regal, British boxing’s favourite wheeler dealer isn’t going anywhere soon. In fact, in conversation with Steve Bunce, Warren even said that Fury-Ngannou is the biggest event he’s been involved with to date.
Given Warren’s nature, it really was no surprise that he opted to come out fighting with his guard high and his promoter’s hat firmly in place. If you’re expecting him to empathise with anyone declaring this contest a complete waste of time, you’re only wasting yours. Warren’s job, as Fury’s promoter, is to promote events that will pay the heavyweight as much money as possible. And that’s exactly what he’s doing; Fury will pocket a very tidy sum in his 35th contest for fighting a debutant. Nice work if you can get it, even if it is a flagrant mismatch.
We’ve also been informed that this is a ‘game changer’. But what does that mean? That we’re going to get more and more fights like this at the expense of real ones? Because what it can’t mean is that this hasn’t been done before. Fury-Ngannou is most certainly not a game changer. It’s merely the latest example that proves how changeable the game has always been when there’s cash to be made. Even the reign of Jack Johnson, now regarded as the pioneer for the modern heavyweight era, was littered with unfitting opposition. Arguably his two biggest fights, against a fat and inactive James J. Jeffries and middleweight Stanley Ketchel, came against opponents, despite being actual boxers, who had no chance of winning.
One would like to think we’ve moved on in the 112 years since those horror shows but the sheer size of Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor in 2017, and now Fury-Ngannou being touted as a game-changing event, provides concrete evidence that we haven’t. And for those who like to find old interviews from years ago where someone says one thing, and then juxtaposes them alongside interviews from today for the purpose of shouting ‘hypocrite’ at them because their view has changed, well, you’re all out of luck in this instance. Warren never once criticised the making of Mayweather-McGregor. To the contrary, he all but applauded it because it would generate a lot of money. And making money is why Warren is here, it’s why Fury is here and it’s why Ngannou is on his way.
During a recent exchange with TalkSport’s Adam Catterall, Warren – after yet again explaining why bouts with Usyk and Joshua remain elusive – scoffed at suggestions that Fury should have fought a heavyweight boxer instead. Catterall referenced Frank Sanchez and Arslanbek Makhmudov as two big men highly rated by the WBC who would have been better options than a non-boxer. Warren, just about containing his temper, disagreed because Sanchez and Makhmudov are unknown. He’d be right, too. Both would be a harder sell to the wider public, for less money. But there’s every chance that Warren, Top Rank and Riyadh Season (the Saudi promoters funding this), are all wildly overestimating Ngannou’s profile. Though we can be almost certain that if one was to – Family Fortunes style – ask 100 random people to name a heavyweight boxer, nobody would mention Sanchez or Makhmudov. But it’s just as likely that if you were to ask the same 100 people to identify Francis Ngannou’s occupation, only a handful would even be able to hazard a guess. Conor McGregor, he certainly isn’t.
Ultimately, this is a fight that Fury wants. He can be the A-side without having to squabble over contracts and purse splits and rematch clauses. He can add more millions to the millions upon millions he already has by putting in considerably less effort than would be required to face a worthwhile foe. It’s hard to blame him for that. This is merely a lucrative way to pass the time.
How much time he has left, however, nobody knows.
One wonders if this is a contest he’ll be proud of in years to come. When the novelty of pocketing another fortune has long worn off. When he’s staring into his empty glass and wondering why his name isn’t rolling off the tongue like those of Louis, Marciano, Ali and Lewis do when the greatest heavyweights in history are discussed. Fury will soon be 35, something of a full stop when it comes to the fighting peaks of heavyweights, and though he’s achieved plenty, the truth remains that only Wladimir Klitschko, Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte could claim to be in the top five when he defeated them. Ngannou is so far removed from the top five it’s ridiculous that this bout is being allowed to take place.
I must admit, however, I’m yet to even roll an eye. This matchup is no surprise at all. It will come and go soon enough. We’ll wait and see what transpires before declaring it a disaster for boxing even though, without question, it’s another event that does little for the image of the sport.
What does trigger some eye-rolling – and a little chuckle here and there – is the shameless hyperbole, even if I do understand hyperbole, and plenty of it, is required to disguise this nonsense as anything like a competitive fight. For Fury’s last outing, a third encounter with the decrepit Derek Chisora, we were told that Del was the highest ranked challenger available if one were to look at the BoxRec rankings. Given there are 1,385 active heavyweights below the ‘Gypsy King’ in those rankings, and all of whom have done more to deserve a boxing match with Fury than Ngannou, that’s not a line that can be rolled out here. Instead, in a big sell straight from the Victorian age, we’re told that Ngannou is the orchestrator of the hardest punch on record. Roll up! Roll up! Come and see if Tyson Fury can withstand the most lethal punches ever known to mankind!
A big event it might well be but, whichever way you spin it, it’s far from game-changing progress.