For more than a year, Francis Ngannou and Tyson Fury publicly postured about facing one another in a boxing match. But when Ngannou became a free agent at the beginning of this year, that talk seemed to die down. Fury instead targeted a title unification match with Oleksandr Usyk, while Ngannou appeared to be nearing a matchup with Deontay Wilder.
It came as a bit of a surprise this past week when new broke that Ngannou will face Fury in a boxing match on Oct. 28 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And according to Ngannou, the announcement felt sudden because the negotiations all happened very quickly.
“It really started one month ago, five weeks ago,” Ngannou explained on The MMA Hour. “And then I received a call from [a representative] in Saudi and he was like, ‘They want to do this fight. Let’s meet in New York.’ At that time, I wasn’t very excited. I was like, OK, let’s find out what’s going on. ... We get to New York, we start to meet people, and we start to talk.
“It was quick. The negotiation went on and off less than two weeks.”
There have been conflicting reports about details surrounding the fight. But what is confirmed at the moment is that the bout will be 10 rounds and contested under traditional boxing rules. No four-ounce gloves or MMA-adjacent stipulations, as had previously been bandied about, will apply.
Ngannou confirmed MMA Fighting’s report that the bout is a recognized professional matchup that will go on both fighters’ records, however Fury’s WBC heavyweight title will not be at stake.
“It’s a real fight,” Ngannou said. “It’s going to be a fight. The only difference is there’s not going to be a title on the line. But it’s a real fight, it’s going on our records.
“The title is not on the line. That’s another discussion, which is going to take a lot inside the WBC. In order to make this fight happen, there would be a lot parties involved and this fight wouldn’t happen. So it was like, ‘OK, we have to get this quick and done.’ So it was about making this fight happen first. I wouldn’t have any guarantee if there would be a title and all of this, and then you’ve got to get all those people involved at that moment. From now on, we can have that discussion, because the fight is on. Then we can have another discussion and see if that’s something to be considered. But if not, what matters is the fight. I was going for the fight, I wasn’t going for the title. So for me, personally, nothing changes.
“I don’t even care. I just want the fight. I want the fight, I got the fight. I will put everything out there on Oct. 28. I will take everything with me in that octagon and leave it in there, and that will be my title.”
Whether or not the title is up for grabs could very well be a moot point. Ngannou is a substantial betting underdog to Fury, and with good reason: Fury is widely regarded as one of the best boxers of his generation and the top heavyweight in the world today, while this will be Ngannou’s first professional boxing match. Even Ngannou himself recognizes why many in the boxing community are disdainful of the matchup.
“In this case, I will not say it’s haters,” Ngannou said. “I think they are right. They have the guy on the other side that is the top of the sport and on [my] side, they have this guy that they’ve never seen in a boxing match. Some of them, those boxing fans, they might never have even watched my fights. So for them it’s like, ‘What’s going on? Who is this guy?’ Which makes sense. I would be asking the same questions.
“And of course, some people in the boxing world will be upset because it’s the position that they wanted to get and they expected to be in line, and they have this guy who is climbing in another tree and suddenly he jumps and gets to the top of the tree that they want to get on top [of]. ‘He didn’t even stand in line!’ So of course that would frustrate them.”
Either way, come October, Ngannou intends to frustrate Fury as well. Because while most are only giving Ngannou a puncher’s chance of pulling off the upset, MMA’s lineal heavyweight champion said he’s preparing for every eventuality in the ring.
“It can play out different ways, but I think he’s going to try to play me on the distance, and maybe drag him to decision,” Ngannou said. “I know a lot of people are just giving me a chance if I randomly connect or something, but I’m also working in case we go to a decision. Obviously, I would have to break his distance, because he’s pretty good at controlling the distance and everything. I will constantly try to break that and have to expose myself and get in.
“It’s a tough one, but I really want to win this, even if it goes to decision. I don’t want to give him space to make him feel comfortable. He’s pretty good when he’s comfortable, when he’s there, relaxing. He’s pretty good, but let’s see how he reacts when you apply pressure, not just trying to land some big punch, but keep pushing. I think that will be my approach.”
But even if that doesn’t work for Ngannou and he gets summarily beaten by Fury, that doesn’t really matter, because he already won just by booking the fight.
“I stayed patient, I kept my mouth shut, because walk in silence and let the result make the noise for you,” Ngannou said. “The result is making the noise, and at the end of the day, I get the win.”