Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou are in the desert this weekend (hope they don’t say that to a referee, though) to compete in the biggest boxer vs. other spectacle since Floyd Mayweather toyed with, and ultimately stopped, Conor McGregor in 2017. The pair will be throwing down in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s latest chapter in sportswashing.
The fight, which exists in some liminal space between exhibition and pro bout, isn’t expected to be competitive. But it may very well be interesting. Before strapping in for the event on Saturday, here are some numbers that tell the tale of this match-up and what we might see happen in the ring.
Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou: By The Numbers
One of the most significant numbers related to Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou is a big fat zero. And yes, zero is a number, I checked.
Zero is the number of pro boxing fights Ngannou has under his belt as he heads into a fight with his generation’s greatest heavyweight pugilist. The only other time a boxing neophyte took on someone of this talent level was when Conor McGregor took on Floyd Mayweather. And after McGregor’s snot was punched into the second row, I think it’s hard to view this kind of match-up as anything but a squash match.
We don’t even need that case study to tell us this. A simple thought experiment is sufficient. An expert in one field will always be better in said field than someone whose only experience in that field is tangential and based on something that is parallel to the field, but very much not it. And MMA is not boxing.
Yes, Ngannou first wanted to be a boxer when he made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean desperate for a better life. And yes, Ngannou’s MMA reputation is based on devastating power punches. But we’ve heard something like this before. McGregor started his fighting life at Crumlin Boxing Club and he’s known for MMA striking, too.
We need to face the facts here. No amount of highlight reel KOs inside a cage or ‘MMA angles’ can cancel out the fact that Ngannou is doing something for the very first time against a man who has put in his 10,000 hours and deserves the title of master.
Zero is a very small number. Again, it’s a number, look it up. But when it comes to Fury vs. Ngannou it might be the most significant number of all.
Five centimetres doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re going toe-to-toe against someone who knows how to utilize range, that small distance can feel like a chasm.
Francis Ngannou’s reach is listed as 211 cm. Tyson Fury’s is 216 cm.
Fury is a master of range and expert with his jab. He’s used it to break down foes and set up KO blows for years. In his trilogy fight with Deontay Wilder in 2021, which he won by 11th round KO, Fury landed 36 of the 117 jabs he threw (30.8%), according to CompuBox. Wilder landed just 9 of his 102 jabs thrown (8.8%).
Those numbers show that Fury is excellent at maintaining the distance he wants to fight at, one where he can land his jab, but his opponent can’t. The 6’9″ Fury also has height advantage over most opponents, including Ngannou, and that only helps him find a home for his jab, which he uses to strike down and over the top of his opponent’s guards.
See what happens when he starts stringing them together.
Thanks to his reach and height, Fury is adept at evading shots. But he’s also got marvellous footwork and ungodly head movement. And it hasn’t seemed to fall off much despite his age creeping towards 40.
In his last pro bout, against Derek Chisora in December 2022, Fury was hit with just 58 power punches over 10 rounds (per CompuBox). 44 of those were to the body. Chisora threw 152 power punches, so he landed just under forty percent of them.
Fury landed 142 of 255 of his power punches (55.7%), which lead to a 10th round stoppage. Only 24 of his power punches targeted Chisora’s body.
Chisora has gotten up there in age, but he’s a better boxer than Ngannou will ever be. If Ngannou lands 58 power punches on Fury on Saturday, it would be a miracle.
It’s been 644 days since Francis Ngannou last fought. That was his UFC heavyweight title defence against former teammate Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 on January 22, 2022. He won that fight, which went the distance, despite carrying a significant knee injury.
A lot has happened since then.
After his fight with Gane, Ngannou was finally able to get free of his cumbersome UFC contract. He had wanted to amend the contract to allow a fight like this with Fury, but with the UFC not allowing him the same courtesy they gave McGregor, he and his high-powered CAA agent were able to get him out from under Dana White’s thumb for good.
After that there was a long period of wondering where Ngannou would land, until eventually news broke that he had signed a ‘sweetheart deal‘ (as our own John S. Nash calls it) with PFL MMA. That rich contract allows Ngannou to compete in boxing whenever he feels like it.
644 days is nowhere near enough time to learn how to be a boxer able to hang with a WBC champion. But is it also too long a time to be spent out of action that ring rust might creep in?
If he’s coming off a bad injury, Ngannou may not have been able to spent all that time training. I don’t feel great about him going straight off a walking-wounded performance in a UFC title fight to his first ever boxing match with one of the world’s best punchers.
Perhaps Ngannou should have taken a warm-up fight (against a carefully selected opponent) first, to regain his fighting shape and also aid in promoting his abilities as a boxer.
5,892 seconds encompasses the entirety of Francis Ngannou’s Octagon career. That’s almost 100 minutes of fighting across seven years and 12 fights. Half of that time was spent in just two fights.
The vast majority of his fights have been quick events. He’s only gone the distance four times in his MMA career. And he’s only won one of those. His first pro loss was a unanimous decision defeat in his second ever MMA fight. His next two decisions were losses to Stipe Miocic (five rounds) and Derrick Lewis (three rounds), both in 2018.
After those losses Ngannou went on a historic tear. He beat Curtis Blaydes in 45 seconds, Cain Celasquez in 26 seconds, Junior Dos Santos in 71 seconds and Jairzinho Rozenstruik in 20 seconds. He then took his time to beat Stipe Miocic, taking out the champion at the 52 second mark of the second round.
After a long lay-off he beat Ciryl Gane by unanimous decision in only the second time he had ever gone past three rounds and only the third time he had ever gone past two rounds.
He’s scheduled to go ten three minute rounds with Fury.
And Fury (who has fought 220 rounds in his career) can fight that distance in his sleep.
This is what this is all about really, isn’t it? $10,000,000. That’s what Tyson Fury says Francis Ngannou will make with this fight. And though there’s not been any hard evidence presented to support that number, it’s not unthinkable that the Saudi-bank-rolled spectacle could land the former UFC champion that kind of scratch. Our own analysis suggests the total number Ngannou could earn from the fight could be upwards of $18,000,000.
Regardless what the real number is, it’s assured that this fight/exhibition/whatever it may be, will earn Ngannou the biggest payday of his life.
Given where Ngannou comes from, a sand mining village in Cameroon, and what he’s been through, deathtrap migrant boats, Spanish prison and sleeping on the Paris streets, it’s a remarkable turn of events for the 37-year-old.
It’s easy for me to call this money from the House of Saud ‘blood money’ and recognize it as something designed to further distract from their fanatical patriarchal society that is deadly to women and queer folks. But I don’t have Ngannou’s past and I didn’t toil for years fighting in a cage for a pittance compared to what the promotion made off my name, face and efforts.
I’ll judge Ngannou on what he does after he receives his big giant cheque in the desert, instead of judging him for taking it. Win or lose (and he’s going to lose), I hope he makes some good decisions with his new found wealth. Given some of the charity initiatives he’s founded so far, I’m choosing to be optimistic.
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