Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou was everything I hoped it would be. Short of a Biblical purging of everyone there-- with lightning bolts, people turning into pillars of salt, and the walls of the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia crumbing down, swallowed by the angry earth-- I felt boxing got what it deserved from this cynical affair.
Fury, who sported the love-handled dad bod shared by most on press row, fought less like a top dog and more like a lap dog who had over-indulged in treats and belly rubs and now lacked the fire to snap at an intruder. Dropped in the third round by a sloppy Ngannou left hook, Fury was also bloodied in the forehead and battered around the left eye en route to an embarrassingly close split decision win.
And “embarrassing” was definitely the operative word on Saturday.
On a scale of 1 to Adrien Broner, Fury-- the WBC heavyweight champ, regarded as lineal champ by boxing nerds everywhere-- registered, perhaps, an all-time high on the "Embarrassing Boxing" scale in his near-loss to a novice, first-time boxer. All things considered, I can’t remember the last time boxing got depantsed so publicly-- and that’s a bold statement to make when it comes to a sport that routinely wears its trousers around its ankles, skid marks on its tighty whities for the world to see.
I’m not just talking about Fury and the fight itself. As I’ve said many times before, I have no issue whatsoever with fighters taking the occasional fluff fight to pad their bank accounts. Fury’s decision to pause his WBC title reign, mid-stream, to make his money grab was less than ideal, but, whatever.
No, the embarrassment was all around, for everyone involved and everyone who took even a minimal part in the event and its coverage. If you have even a smidgen of awareness-tinged decency, this was extreme cringe time. Watching boxing luminaries flown in on the Saudi royal family’s dime and infomercial-gush over the awesomeness of everybody and everything there was like being a 7-year-old kid sneaking out of bed on Christmas morning, watching Santa Claus jerk off and jizz all over the Christmas tree. It was a truly surreal and disgustingly off-putting indelible moment. Needless to say, there are several “legends” who now rank considerably lower on my “respectable, good guy” scale.
Not that it matters to any of them what I (or we) think, right? I mean, honestly, if I got a fat six or seven-figure bank deposit to humiliate myself for a weekend, playing the role of living puppet, I might be tempted to rent out my soul as well. Just being honest here. Helping a brutally murderous regime sportswash the blood off its hands might take a back seat to “Hey, they put a bottle of champagne in my room!”
And make no mistake about it, the same people in charge of producing this Fury-Ngannou event also produce mass beheadings, mass human rights violations, and many of the world atrocity greatest hits. Hell, just this past July, a man was sentenced to death for tweeting his criticisms of the Saudi royal family-- to his ten Twitter followers.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who holds ultimate authority in the nation since his rise to the thrown in 2017, likes to be regarded as a reformer because he’s letting women drive now (sometimes). Many would argue that the few “reforms” he HAS enacted are merely for show, with the sole purpose of improving his nation’s reputation in the world market. Aimed at turning oil rich Saudi Arabia into a tourist destination, he’s been using sports and entertainment to generate positive press and gushing praise from rentable celebrities/athletes/media who serve to draw attention away from his still heavy-handed and blood-soaked ways.
He’s not apologetic about the strategy, either.
“If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by 1%, then we will continue doing sportswashing,” the Saudi leader said in an interview with Fox News this past September. “I don’t care. I have 1% growth in GDP from sport, and I am aiming for another 1.5%. Call it whatever you want.”
As a matter of fact, in a 2018 interview, Prince Mohammed called his brutal crackdowns on freedom of speech a “small price” to pay for his end goals.
But, I get it. This is boxing. And boxing people are needy as fuck.
The boxing media’s choice to cover the event with glorious fawning praise was a question of personal integrity, although we all knew which side of the moral/ethical divide-- money and ritzy treatment vs. decency-- they would choose. These people will show up and show out anywhere, for anyone with loose change, a free meal, and a pat on the head.
The only noble soul in this entire promotion was probably former UFC heavyweight champ Francis Ngannou, who worked his way through hell and the UFC slave labor business model to make the most out of this big payout.
Contrary to the ultra-silly post-fight bluster from media and fans, he did NOT turn in a masterful performance against Fury, though. The native of Cameroon boxed better than anticipated against a Tyson Fury who fought significantly worse than expected.
My cynical boxing brain tells me that the “Gypsy King” was trying to carry Ngannou for a few rounds, but then got clipped and dropped in the third. From there, plans went sideways and the fight morphed from a clown show into a real fight-- a real fight that Fury was ill-prepared to engage in.
People also got carried away with “Ngannou was robbed” nonsense. No, he didn’t win this fight. It was a reasonable 96-93 for Fury after factoring in the knockdown. Ngannou didn’t do a whole lot outside of that knockdown.
But, still, it was way closer than it should’ve been and it gave plenty of fuel to the UFC/MMA knuckleheads to come out with their “boxing sucks” bullshit. Notably, combat sports media gadfly (or is it fruit fly?) Ariel Helwani, who’s been cashing some sizable boxing checks recently, would chime in via social media about the “smug boxing public” and how Ngannou “would beat Wilder, Chisora, Whyte or anyone else” shitty boxing fans suggest he fight. Oh no. So...all this time he was just...pretending...to like us boxing people? [Insert Sad Face Emoji].
As for Tyson Fury-- you’d hope that nearly losing to a boxing novice would be a sobering moment. Maybe it will inspire him to get back into the gym and start taking this sport-- one that has made him fabulously wealthy-- serious again. It’s much more likely that he’ll shovel around some bullshit en route to another sizable personal implosion.
One thing is pretty much for sure, though. That Usyk unification fight is off the table for the reported December 23 date. This was all but confirmed by Fury and co-promoter Frank Warren immediately after Saturday’s big, giant fail. Not a surprise. I’ve been saying the “Usyk fight is signed” stuff was typical bait-and-switch right from the very first moment the boxing media corps started with the “it’s finally happening” dimwittery. If Fury-Usyk happens, it’ll be closer to springtime...IF it happens.
More likely, however, will be a rematch with Ngannou. Don’t be surprised if drums start being beaten for a return bout in the next few days/weeks.
And, you know what? A rematch would serve us right.
Got something for Magno? Send it here: email@example.com