For as long as I can remember, I have loved boxing. I was a child and my father took me to what turned out to be the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson’s final bout at what was then known as the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. I idolized Muhammad Ali. Every time a boxer was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I’d cut the photo out and place it on my bedroom door.
To be able to write about boxing for a living has been the thrill of a lifetime.
On days like today, though, boxing absolutely reeks. It’s embarrassing to be a boxing fan on days like today.
News broke the morning of Tuesday, July 11 2023 that Tyson Fury, the WBC and lineal heavyweight champion, will meet former UFC champion Francis Ngannou in a boxing match on Oct. 28 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Contrary to rumors that were swirling the last few days that no knockdowns would be allowed or other such nonsense, this is a full-on match.
And therein lies the problem. History has shown us that MMA fighters have very little chance in these types of fights. While related, boxing and MMA are different sports with different requirements. A guy like Fury was born into boxing. His father, John, was a boxer. He had a full-fledged amateur career. Fury’s been a pro since 2008 and won his first heavyweight title in 2015.
Ngannou has a great backstory, and he dreamed one day of being another Mike Tyson. He was living on the streets of Paris, France, when he was introduced to Fernand Lopez, the coach at the MMA Factory. Ngannou told Lopez he was a fan of Tyson and wanted to learn to box. Lopez convinced him to try MMA and the rest is history.
He’s always wanted to box, though, and that itch is one of many reasons that he ultimately split with the UFC.
Ngannou has zero boxing matches but wasn’t interested in taking a fight against someone similarly experienced. No, he wanted to fight the best — or at least, that’s what he said.
Combat sports are dangerous at their best, when matches are made evenly and the best medical attention is given to the fighters, before, during and after the bout. That’s unlikely to happen in this case. First, it’s a mismatch of epic proportions, a world champion who is high on the pound-for-pound list meeting a guy with zero boxing matches, amateur or pro.
Let’s be honest: This is being done for the money. And while I have no problem with that, because the fighters deserve to make as much as they can given the risks they take, this is a bit different. These aren’t two evenly-matched professionals who know how to take care of themselves in the ring. This is a guy in Ngannou who has wanted to box but has never done it going up against arguably the best heavyweight of this generation.
This bout seems a lot like matching a prime Tiger Woods versus a prime Roger Federer on a golf course. Federer is one of the greatest tennis players ever, but he has little chance of touching Woods on a golf course. And vice versa.
There is no danger in Federer playing golf with Woods, but that’s not true when you pit a world champion boxer against someone with zero fights.
In a news release, Fury spewed a bunch of nonsense trying to sell the fight, which is being billed to find out who the baddest man on the planet is. There is no chance this match will decide that.
Fury, though, is insulting the intelligence of fight fans when he called the matchup, “a fight for the ages.” We’ve seen in repeated instances of these boxer-versus-MMA fighter bouts now and what we’ve learned — and what we knew when the first one occurred between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor — is that the MMA fighter has little chance.
The boxer would have little chance if the reverse were true and it was scheduled for an MMA bout, but no boxer has been dumb enough to take a fight against an elite MMA fighter. When talk arose about an MMA fight with UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Fury made it clear that he’d only box Jones.
He’s boxing Ngannou in what amounts to a pointless exhibition, but Fury tried to act as if it were the second coming of Ali-Frazier.
“As soon as that bell goes, it’ll be bombs away,” Fury said. “This guy is supposed to be the hardest puncher in the world, but let’s see how he reacts when he gets hit by [me]. I can’t wait to get back out there under the lights. I’m looking forward to showing the world that ‘The Gypsy King’ is the greatest fighter of his generation in an epic battle with another master of his craft.”
He could have proven that by fighting Oleksandr Usyk, who holds the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles, but instead he’s challenging an MMA fighter in a bout that will not help either sport one bit and will do nothing other than to line the pockets of Fury, Ngannou and the others involved.
It makes MMA look bad because, for the many boxing fans who don’t follow MMA, the fighters appear inept. That’s far from the truth and Ngannou would destroy Fury in an MMA match. But when the fight is stopped and Ngannou is in big trouble — remember what Fury did to Deontay Wilder, remember that Wilder was a one-time heavyweight champion and one of the greatest punchers in boxing history and remember that Ngannou is making his pro boxing debut — no one is going to care about that.
Fury will act as if he made a great accomplishment, which I guess he did given he’s going to make an eight-figure payday, and pretend this was a substantive bout.
I’m not at all interested and wouldn’t be even if the fight were in the U.S.
You can have Fury-Ngannou and all of these other nonsensical bouts. I’ll take Naoya Inoue against Stephen Fulton and Terence Crawford versus Errol Spence any day of the week.