Looking At Francis Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury

The fight business, as much as it is about competition, is still the entertainment business.

Earlier this week, it was announced that WBC Heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury will clash with former UFC Heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou on October 28 in Saudi Arabia. On the heels of the very controversial LIV/PGA merger, the oil money once again bought more propaganda material for the country with the novelty of the UFC’s most powerful puncher in a boxing match against the current era’s dominate heavyweight champion.

But, this isn’t necessarily a blatant sideshow fight.

Ngannou, who successfully defended his UFC Heavyweight championship in January of 2022 via unanimous decision against Ciryl Gane, couldn’t reach an agreement with the UFC for a new contract after more than a year of red tape so he was stripped of the belt earlier this year, making him a free agent. According to reports, the Cameroon native wanted health insurance, the ability to secure his own sponsors, and bigger paydays for his fights inside the octagon. It’s doubtful that the UFC will offer health insurance to its fighters, and the Rebook deal that pays the athletes a minimum fee prevents outside sponsorships so the only common ground the two sides might’ve found was an increase in compensation for his fights. The debate over pay has existed between promoters and fighters as long as the fight business has existed so it’s nothing new. That said, the options within the modern era allow fighters more negotiating power than in the past.

Purists from both sides of the boxing and MMA aisle have already scoffed at the event, which is to be expected as neither of those parties are getting their usual piece of the pie. Boxing mainstays like Las Vegas or New York don’t get the economic benefits of hosting a major card in their city. The UFC, which is still under the hefty ESPN deal that pays the organization a guaranteed fee, doesn’t get to tout the success of a massive gate for a heavyweight title fight or brag about pay-per-view numbers.

But, Francis Ngannou, who grew up in extreme poverty, working a a salt mine in his home country during his youth, is set to make the biggest payday of his career. That’s not only a remarkable story, but the narrative of how these two heavyweights will share a ring is a major selling point. Tyson Fury struggled with mental health problems and addiction before he cleaned his life up to reclaim the heavyweight championship. Ngannou was homeless and living on the streets in Paris, but ascended to the top of mixed martial arts with incredible punching power.

Now, they will both make staggering money in Saudi Arabia and if they can get that deal then good for them, that’s capitalism.

The UFC and the WWE are set to complete their merger later this year, with the new corporation estimated to be worth $21.9 billion after all the paper work is completed. Clearly, Ngannou thought that he could make some extra cash from the UFC without any damage to the company’s bottom line, and he was right, but obviously, the organization didn’t want to set a precedent so they allowed the reigning champion to exit. It didn’t take long for company favorite, Jon Jones, who despite never fighting at heavyweight before and a laundry list of legal issues, to get a shot at the vacated title. Jones, who beat Ciryl Gane via submission in March, is scheduled to defend the title against former champion, Stipe Miocic at UFC 295 in November.

Instead, Ngannou signed with the Professional Fighters League and the PFL reportedly offered him very favorable terms for the contract, including the ability to accept the fight with Tyson Fury. The WBC champion defeated Derek Chisora via TKO last December. The 34-year-old Fury has discussed retirement before so prehaps this “super fight” is a way for him to cash out before he hangs up the gloves.

It’s ironic that the controversial Conor McGregor, who still hasn’t applied for the USADA testing pool to be eligible to fight in the UFC, more or less put together a blue print for MMA fighters to make the massive paydays. Make your name in the UFC then take that promotional push and exposure to boxing to make the biggest money possible. Make no mistake about it, the UFC could pay its roster more, but given boxing has more of an international following because of its extended history, promoters have more flexibility to offer the paydays that the UFC simply won’t. Keep in mind, the UFC has only been around thirty years and about half of that time is when the sport was in the main stream, while boxing has been around for decades so it makes sense that it’s the more established sport.

The UFC promoted Conor McGregor as its top star and then he took that fame and made $100 million to fight Floyd Mayweather. While I don’t expect the payouts for Ngannou/Fury to be quite that hefty, the concept is the same. The former UFC heavyweight champion will fight the current WBC champion. and as mentioned, this isn’t quite the novelty that some critics will claim.

The margin of error is naturally much thinner with heavyweights. The fact that Ngannou was measured as the UFC’s most powerful puncher is where the intrigue is in this boxing match. Make no mistake about it, Floyd/Conor set pay-per-view records because of the spectacle, nobody expected McGregor to get the better of Mayweather in a striking exchange. The paying audience knew that at best, the Irishman had a puncher’s chance, but the spectacle of the two athletes in the ring would be worth the entertainment value. On the flip side, if Ngannou connects with a punch, he undoubtedly has the power to drop Tyson Fury. While Fury has a granite chin, the selling point is that while he should be able to win a boxing match rather easily, the legitimate threat of a KO punch from the MMA fighter will be there throughout the fight.

Again, Tyson Fury should be able to win striking exchanges with the former UFC champion easily, but assuming this two are there to fight rather than participate in a lucrative sparring session, there’s a reason for fans to tune into the contest. Can the eccentric and iron-chinned Tyson Fury take a right hook from the most powerful puncher in the UFC? That legitimate question is what prevents this from being a sideshow, assuming the two fighters aren’t there just for an exhibition. Floyd Mayweather “boxing” John Gotti III last month was such a circus that most people didn’t know it took place until after it happened because the press had no reason to cover it except for the post-fight brawl. The nature of sideshow fights yield diminishing returns, and Floyd’s track record of exhibitions proves that. Conor/Mayweather set pay-per-view records five years ago, Floyd/Gotti III wasn’t even on the radar.

In terms of competition, there’s not much on the line for Ngannou or Fury. Since the MMA fighter isn’t ranked in the WBC, the belt can’t be on the line, and if Tyson Fury wins, it was expected. However, the Saudi government is looking for publicity, not profit so they were able to offer each fighter more money than they were going to get elsewhere. This isn’t a Youtube star masquerading as an athlete, while an aging legend agrees to be in the ring for a massive payoff. There are two top notch heavyweights from different sports that will compete in a bout that will bring them major cash. The UFC didn’t want to pay Ngannou his asking price so he went elsewhere to land that type of money and you can’t blame him for that.

As mentioned, UFC management and boxing brass might balk at this match-up because neither side is making money from it, but the Saudi government gets publicity and the two fighters get some of the biggest payoffs of their careers so it’s a win-win for everyone.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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