SIX YEARS after Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor provided evidence as to why putting boxers and mixed martial artists in a ring together is a ridiculous idea, albeit a lucrative one, we prepare for more of the same this Saturday (October 28) in Saudi Arabia.
This time we will go through the same ordeal but do so up at heavyweight, a key aspect in terms of selling it. After all, although six years ago we saw how dull and pointless it was having a boxer and mixed martial artist in a ring together, the fact that Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou takes place at heavyweight gives it an advantage Mayweather vs. McGregor never had and, moreover, one final reason for fans to suspend their disbelief.
This advantage, of course, is the “puncher’s chance”. That’s something we are told Francis Ngannou, being a heavyweight and all, will carry with him for as long as he is vertical on Saturday night and something that means Tyson Fury, also a heavyweight, is in danger for every second the fight is ongoing. In other words, if a fight like Mayweather vs. McGregor became too predictable after the first few rounds, don’t, whatever you do, take your eyes off Fury vs. Ngannou, not even if Ngannou struggles to correctly throw a punch, let alone land one. Because one punch is all it takes, remember. And these are heavyweights, don’t forget.
If that’s indeed the selling point this weekend, we must, to maintain the delusion, try to now figure out how Ngannou will (a) make things interesting and (b) get close to landing this single blow. To attempt to do both he has enlisted the help of Mike Tyson, he has been sparring Carlos Takam, and he has been learning how to set his feet, throw a jab, and follow that jab with other shots; ideally, each of them powerful and potentially fight-ending. He will also no doubt be looking at Conor McGregor’s one-night stand with boxing in 2017, not only to avoid making the same mistakes but to also recognise and appreciate that in the end the result of an event like this is, to these men, largely immaterial. Losing against Mayweather in the 10th round, for example, did McGregor’s reputation no harm whatsoever, and the same will apply here. Which in turn begs the question: Does anyone win in a situation like this?
In order to find the answer to that question, here are five things Francis Ngannou, 0-0 (0), can learn from Conor McGregor, 0-1 (0), ahead of his professional boxing debut on Saturday night.
1) You cannot win
Unfortunately, as much as it was tempting to drag out the suspense, impatience, alas, got the better of me. It’s true, though, Francis Ngannou, with all things being right in the world, cannot and will not beat Tyson Fury in a boxing match this coming weekend in Riyadh. A strong and powerful man though he undoubtedly is, the Cameroonian possesses neither the boxing skills, the acumen, nor the speed to come even close to humiliating the “Gypsy King” in what should, barring injury or catastrophe, be the easiest payday of his career to date.
2) You cannot win
Although this point probably needs to be stressed again, the intention of repeating it here is not to double down on Ngannou’s inability to beat Fury. Instead, what is meant by “cannot win” this time around is that Ngannou, even if by some miracle he lands his one shot, will receive none of the credit he deserves for causing such an enormous upset. Likely, in place of credit, he will find the fight is treated in the aftermath the way it has mostly been treated pre-fight – like a joke, or a pantomime, or a bit of fun. There will be mention of it not being a “real fight”, which is true, and an implication that because of this Fury, a real fighter by all accounts, wasn’t taking it seriously, both in training and then on the night. Which is to ultimately say, Ngannou, if able to do the unthinkable on Saturday, will be the architect of an aberration rather than one of the most shocking events in modern-day sport.
3) Punching in boxing is not the same as punching in MMA
It’s all well and good having a “puncher’s chance” and supposedly punching harder than any human being who has ever walked the earth – scientifically proven, go check – but what if you can’t actually land any punches?
That may sound incongruous given what is about to happen is a fist fight in which fists, by definition, will be flying, yet there is every chance Ngannou leaves the ring on Saturday night having landed not a single clean blow. It won’t be for the want of trying, no, but it’s more than likely he will soon understand that trying, in boxing, is not enough. Nor is it simply enough to possess big fists and big power.
Because boxing requires more than that, you see, as Conor McGregor discovered in 2017. It is a combination of things, boxing, with pure power often the last of these things to really matter. What is more, whereas in MMA punches are thrown with a constant acknowledgement that an opponent could shoot for a takedown at any point, there is no such concern when in a boxing ring. This means that rather than train to throw punches off balance, or from unique angles, or on the move, much of what makes a boxer’s punches so hard, so true and so effective is the ability they have – almost a luxury – to set their feet and ensure the weight is transferred perfectly from one leg to the other. In short, it’s just different. Completely different.
4) Even your success is not success
It’s very easy to listen to Conor McGregor reminisce about his 2017 fight with Floyd Mayweather and be under the impression he landed big punches, won exchanges, and even swept rounds. If you’re Irish, too, as well as sufficiently lubricated, you may even start to believe he was in fact winning the fight at the time of the stoppage in round 10.
And yet, if you know what you are looking at, and if you know what it looks like when a boxer, in this case Mayweather, essentially “carries” an opponent in order to make getting out of bed worthwhile, you will know McGregor’s version of events is not quite the same as the truth. In fact, the truth is, for all McGregor’s huffing and puffing that night, and for as good as that one left uppercut looked in all the replays, he was controlled for the most part; controlled the way a child is controlled by an uncle they haven’t seen for some time; palm of the hand against the forehead, kept at arm’s length, and told, “Come on, try to hit me. I dare you.”
5) Taking part is the true victory
If the definition of insanity isn’t watching Mayweather vs. McGregor in 2017 and then, with nothing learned, gormlessly going through it all again six years later with Fury vs. Ngannou, perhaps the definition of insanity is this: taking the time to write about it, treating it as some sort of “fight”, and talking about it in those terms. Because in the end this is no more of a fight than it is a tennis match. It is instead, rather than a fight, merely the latest example of famous faces doing things for money and there being enough people willing to pay to see famous people doing things for money for it to make financial sense. In this instance, we don’t even have faces as famous as those of Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, yet still it makes sense, financially, for Fury and Ngannou to take a trip to Saudi Arabia and exploit the public’s shortening attention span, hunger for content, and growing inability to differentiate what is real from what is not.