Fury vs. Ngannou The Ultimate Boxing vs. MMA Showdown
The perennial debate between boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) always simmers beneath the surface of combat sports discussions. Which sport’s fighters would triumph in a street fight? Who possesses more talent? Which sport handles matchmaking better? Who has the superior business model, benefiting both the executives and the warriors inside the ring or cage?
In the broader sports community, and occasionally within the boxing realm, MMA is often invoked as a yardstick to gauge the popularity of the Sweet Science. Whenever dissatisfaction arises in the world of boxing, the refrain, “This is why boxing is losing fans to the UFC!” is readily on the lips of those voicing their discontent, whether it holds quantifiable truth or not. Conversely, ardent supporters of boxing argue that the business model of the UFC, MMA’s leading organization, is exploitative toward its athletes, utilizing its market dominance to suppress earnings and keep profits soaring.
These ongoing debates, along with the economic realities, have given rise to a genre of crossover boxing matches over the past six years. These contests have proven as financially lucrative as they have been one-sided in terms of competition. Conor McGregor suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of Floyd Mayweather in 2017, in what became the biggest pay-per-view event in history, paving the way for McGregor’s foray into the world of whiskey and business. Subsequently, Jake Paul entered the boxing scene and bested several MMA luminaries, including Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, Anderson Silva, and Nate Diaz. In each instance, the MMA legends pocketed career-high paydays, or came close to it (in the case of Silva), but came up short in the fights.
One might have assumed that the public’s fascination with these experiments had waned, their questions about the viability of MMA fighters crossing over to another sport and winning a boxing match against dedicated boxers had been answered. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
This Saturday brings perhaps the most extraordinary bout of this genre to date, as the reigning heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, squares off against former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. Ngannou left the UFC without losing his title due to disputes over compensation, health insurance, and the right to have a “fighter advocate” present at company board meetings. Following his departure, Ngannou signed with a rival organization, the PFL, and embraced his love for boxing by securing a bout with Fury, which, according to his opponent, will earn him a career-high payday of $10 million.
To promote the fight, several factors have been heavily emphasized. Ngannou, renowned as MMA’s most devastating knockout artist, claims to hold the “world record for the strongest punch ever recorded.” In a test using a PowerCube machine in 2018, Ngannou’s right hand registered a staggering “129,161 units,” equivalent to 92.84 horsepower. This anecdote has played a pivotal role in selling the fight. While both the public and optimistic fans are aware of the challenges faced by non-specialists in specialized environments, as demonstrated in previous crossover bouts, Ngannou’s scientifically measured power has led fans and even media outlets to suggest that his punching power may surpass that of Deontay Wilder, Fury’s chief rival, who managed to hurt and knock down Fury. However, even if that were true, the raw force and the ability to effectively deploy and land powerful punches are entirely distinct skills. Nevertheless, this narrative has led to better odds for Ngannou on most sportsbooks compared to what a full-time professional boxer like Tom Schwarz was given in 2019. It’s important to remember that odds are a blend of what sportsbooks want the public to believe to create more losing bets and generate more profits, as well as what the public genuinely believes and how they’re investing their money on these sportsbooks.
The promotion has also benefited from another enduring myth that continues to captivate sports fans: the legend of Mike Tyson. No athlete has retained a hold on the public’s imagination long after their competitive days have ended quite like Tyson. Some genuinely believe that he could still compete in the heavyweight division, a misconception not alleviated by Tyson’s impressive physique and his better-than-expected performance against Roy Jones Jr. in their 2020 exhibition bout. For this weekend’s fight, Tyson has been enlisted as Ngannou’s trainer, a partnership that may appear orchestrated as a marketing tactic but is nonetheless effective. Clips of Tyson, clad in a beanie and tracksuit, imparting his signature bob-and-weave technique to Ngannou have become social media sensations. It’s a union of two mythical punchers, ready to astonish the sporting world through sheer brute force.
In a recent GQ profile of Tyson’s transition to a trainer for this bout, Tyson revealed the primary lesson he’s been imparting to Ngannou in preparation for the fight. His advice could just as well serve as an instruction on how to promote a fight of this kind.
“You build it by fantasizing. Daydreaming,” Tyson shared. “That’s working the muscle. People think daydreaming’s a waste of time, but it’s making the muscle stronger.”
It remains to be seen whether this extraordinary crossover match will live up to the hype and whether Ngannou, an MMA powerhouse, can overcome the challenges presented by a world-class boxer like Tyson Fury. The spectacle promises to captivate sports enthusiasts, combining the worlds of boxing and MMA in an unprecedented clash of titans.