Tyson Fury continues treading offbeat career path with fight against former UFC star Francis Ngannou

Being the best heavyweight boxer in the world isn’t enough for Tyson Fury

Steve Douglas
Wednesday 25 October 2023 12:10 BST

Being the best heavyweight boxer in the world isn’t enough for Tyson Fury.

Now is the time for the charismatic Brit with a personality as big as his punch to make the most of his ascent to the top of the sport, build his brand and rake in the cash.

Appearances in WWE? Sure.

A Netflix reality series documenting his home life? Of course.

Heading to the Middle East to fight a former UFC star in the latest in a growing number of crossover bouts? Oh, yes, especially if it brings in a reported $50 million paycheck.

For Fury, the chance to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion this century can wait, even if that’s a source of frustration for the boxing world and plenty outside it.

First of all, he has a lucrative itch to scratch by taking on Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia on Saturday in a fight that opens Riyadh Season, the kingdom's festival of entertainment through the winter months.

It’s a 10-round fight and will count as an official bout according to the WBC, for whom Fury is the heavyweight champion. Fury’s belt will not be at stake, though, on the off-chance he is beaten.

Few are giving Ngannou any hope, despite his one-time status as the standout fighter in UFC before an acrimonious departure in January that led to him signing with the Professional Fighters League on an MMA deal only.

Ngannou hasn’t fought in nearly two years, since defeating Ciryl Gane in UFC 270 in January 2022. Then there’s the small matter of him taking on the reigning world heavyweight champion and never having boxed before.

Fury’s promoter, Frank Warren, is calling the occasion a “game-changer.” Others might call it a money-grab holding up the heavily trailed unification fight between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk — the WBA, WBO and IBF champion from Ukraine — for which a deal has been signed, even if a date has not been announced.

“What I’m seeing at the moment,” Warren said, “is people going crazy for guys who have not had any amateur background, YouTuber guys, and they’re buying into it big time. If it’s there, people will buy into it.”

The 2.09-meter (6-foot-9) Fury has always been unconventional. The self-proclaimed “Gypsy King,” who comes from a bloodline of bare-knuckle champions and was named after Mike Tyson, became heavyweight champion by bringing an end to Wladimir Klitschko’s decade-long reign in a huge upset in the Ukrainian’s boxing backyard of Duesseldorf in 2015.

Fury's career — and life — then spiraled out of control amid drug use and depression that led to him vacating his titles and attempting to kill himself.

After a 3½-year break, he returned to boxing in a blaze of publicity, championing himself as a mental-health advocate while still dishing out nasty abuse to most of his rivals. His prowess in the ring remained unquestionable as he completed a sensational trilogy of fights with Deontay Wilder with a victory in Las Vegas in October 2021 to bring the WBC title back to Britain, since when he has sold out huge soccer stadiums in London with victories over journeymen Brits Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora — on either side of reversing a decision to retire.

With that back-story, no wonder his offbeat career path wound its way to WWE, where he turns up intermittently in main events to, for example, defeat Braun Strowman or KO Austin Theory.

He has released a line of energy drinks and, in August, “At Home with the Furys” was aired on the Netflix streaming service, opening the door to his family life in northwest England in those months when he claimed to be retired.

And now this fight against Ngannou, to be labeled “The Baddest Man on the Planet.”

“Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and think I’m an absolute genius," Fury said upon arriving in Riyadh late Tuesday. "When everyone thought it was all over for the Gypsy King, he comes and totally redeems himself and pulls this out of the hat.

"Only six months ago, I didn’t know if I ever was going to box again. Now, here we go.”

For Ngannou, it’s an entry into the world of boxing that he has been eager to try out.

For Fury, it's a money-maker that allows him to shake off some rust before the planned fight with Usyk.

Boxing traditionalists will simply hope Fury emerges unscathed so a first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999 can be crowned in the coming months.

“I need to be on my ‘A’ game because there’s more on the line now than a boxing fight," Fury has said. “If I lost to an MMA guy, I’m never going to be able to show my face in public again. There’s going to be ridicule and people are going to chuck it in my face forever. There’s more riding on this than there ever has been before."


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