Timothy Bradley Jr.’ s take: There’s a path for Francis Ngannou to upset Tyson Fury

Boxing

We’ve seen this before … but this time is different.

Boxing heavyweight champion Tyson Fury will face former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in a 10-round boxing match on Saturday (ESPN+ PPV, 2 p.m. ET). An MMA champion challenging a boxing champion — in the ring. Sounds familiar?

A little more than six years ago the world witnessed a monumental clash between two giants in two entirely different combat sports inside a boxing ring: Floyd Mayweather, widely regarded as one of the greatest fighters ever to lace a pair of gloves, and Conor McGregor, the ruthless, hard-hitting and highly skilled UFC former two-division champion and legend.

The matchup was foreseen by many as a mockery of boxing, as a mixed martial arts fighter didn’t belong in a boxing ring. The same can be said about a boxer entering a cage.

McGregor was venturing into the boxing ring for the first time to challenge the undeniable king of this generation. Despite the overwhelming favoritism toward Mayweather, McGregor defied expectations and performed remarkably well, and left spectators questioning Mayweather’s dominance in what was a very entertaining bout.

McGregor’s size, athleticism, determination, tenacity and skill resulted in numerous successful punches landed and rounds won against Mayweather (official scorecards were 89-81, 89-82 and 87-83 when the fight was stopped).

Although It was a small faction, a few rounds are better than none. McGregor landed an impressive 111 punches more than the legendary Manny Pacquiao managed against Mayweather two years earlier, a mere 81, according to Compubox.

McGregor’s fighting spirit and extensive combat knowledge brought the competition to unimaginable levels. Despite the fight being stopped in the 10th round because of Mayweather’s wear-down strategy, McGregor demonstrated his talent and determination in the boxing world. Their immense popularity ensured no boundaries to their fan base as they all supported the two combatants’ in the first crossover event, generating hundreds of millions of dollars.

Transport yourself six years into the present. We have been immersed in Jake Paul vs. the MMA world in the boxing ring. So it’s only suitable for a mainstream champion to participate in the cash-grab era of boxing. A few divisions have unified all the belts. However, the heavyweight division still awaits an undisputed champion, as Fury and Usyk have yet to fight.

But on Saturday, the stage is set for another historic crossover (boxing and UFC) collaboration extravaganza. This time, it’s with the always unpredictable, outspoken, and ultra-flamboyant Fury, stepping into the square circle with Ngannou, a fearless, naturally born fighter renowned for his bone-shattering knockout power inside the Octagon. The dream-seeking Ngannou will attempt to detach Fury from his senses and write his own history into boxing glory.

Nevertheless, in the depths of history, where Mayweather once rose to break Rocky Marciano’s long-standing 49-0 record, we find ourselves again at the doorstep of witnessing another extraordinary battle.

Fury, a master boxer gifted with exceptional reflexes plus skill, facing Ngannou, a knockout artist whose every touch is like that of King Midas. But instead of turning everything to gold, Ngannou puts everything he touches to sleep. As we patiently await this encounter, some perceive it as a mismatch. And I do, too, share these feelings heartily. Yet, I must think about the unpredictable nature of sporting spectacles. Just as Mayweather and McGregor exceeded expectations, casting a spell of excitement upon the world, Fury vs. Ngannou can also produce unexpected narratives that transcend the boundaries of the public imagination.

Standing at 6-foot-9 and weighing about 273 pounds, “The Gypsy King” Fury — the reigning, undefeated, WBC heavyweight boxing champion of the world will test his skill in what is best called a fantasy fight. In the other corner, standing at 6-4 and roughly 263 pounds, is “The Predator” Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion. Ngannous is making his boxing debut and is a tenacious competitor known for his devastating power and determination.

This matchup became a reality once negotiations for a fight between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight title fell through earlier this year. Months before that, a promise was made by Fury to Ngannou shortly after Fury knocked out Dylian Whyte in April 2022. Ngannou stepped into the ring to set an official challenge from a king to a king. And now this fight is happening.

It’s far from simple to analyze a fight between someone who has been among boxing’s elite all his life and a powerhouse puncher who thrives in MMA, but let’s take a look at how the two heavyweights actually match up.


What Fury brings vs. what Ngannou brings

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What to look out for ahead of Fury vs. Ngannou

Timothy Bradley and Mike Coppinger preview the Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou fight.

Fury is the reigning king of heavyweight boxing, a dominant force with a record of 33 wins, 0 losses, and one draw. Ngannou is the challenger, the outsider who has risen from obscurity with his raw punching power, strength and undeterred determination. He too has an outstanding record, one full of knockouts — just in a different sport. Born into a family of bare-knuckle fighters, Fury has boxing in his DNA. He rose from the grips of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts, to reclaim his throne as the king of the heavyweight division.

Fury uses his superior height, reach and technical skill to control fights and dismantle opponents with surgical precision. He can also inflict pain as a stone-cold bully, using roughhousing tactics like hand pins, under hooks and head control set up by a missed jab to break his adversary’s posture and positioning to gain complete control of the ring.

Ngannou’s journey hasn’t been easy, either. Hailing from the sand mines of Cameroon, Ngannou was forged from his humble beginnings and pressed into a new environment. Ngannou journeyed from Cameroon to Paris, then the United States, seeking a better life. His fighting style is raw — choppy-like, brutal and powerful — making him one of the most feared strikers in the history of the UFC. Considering both fighting styles, Fury is systematic, technical and witty. He uses his jab like a whip, controlling the distance, setting the pace, and wearing down his opponents. He’s a master tactician, a switch-hitter capable of changing his game plan on the fly. Despite his size, Fury’s coordination is that of a 15-year-old boxing pugilist displaying supreme agility and footwork with a perfect boxing stance foot placed slightly past his shoulders.

Ngannou, on the other hand, is all about raw power. Every punch he throws carries the potential to end the fight. Ngannou’s destructive and natural fighting instincts make him an explosive force with both hands throwing punches from unusual angles who is at his most dangerous when he’s on the offensive, forcing the tempo. Watching him move his hands in the UFC Octagon, he seems to have chin-traceable lasers attached to his gloves, catching his opposition off guard. However, despite his power, Ngannou’s boxing technique is untested and novice-like.


Power, confidence and preparation

In a recent chapter of Fury’s journey, he engaged in an epic trilogy bout with power puncher Deontay Wilder. Wilder, standing tall at 6-foot-7 and weighing around 240 pounds for the fight, unleashed his raw punching power and sent Fury to the canvas four times — twice in their first battle and twice in the third. But Fury showcased his resiliency by rising every time, demonstrating his heart and fighting spirit. Upon closer examination, one can draw striking parallels between Wilder and Ngannou. Both fighters possess similar physical attributes, standing around the same height.

Additionally, they both have ferocious knockout power that can turn the tide of a fight in an instant. Ngannou embodies the proper measurements of Fury’s most dangerous and difficult opponent, Wilder. However, he comes with 20 extra pounds and the untold power of unorthodox boxing.

Fury and Mayweather are both incredibly famous in the world of boxing. They are known not just for their skills but also for their confidence and belief in themselves. This confidence is a big part of what makes them so entertaining to watch when they fight. The Mayweather-McGregor fight was exhilarating for a few reasons. One reason could be that Mayweather didn’t take McGregor as seriously as he did his other opponents, which means he may not have trained as hard. This gave McGregor a chance to show what he could do against one of the greatest fighters of his time. Another reason the fight was entertaining is that Mayweather took more risks than usual. He put himself in situations where he could get hit more, which made the fight more intense and suspenseful. People love to see fighters take risks and push themselves to the limit.

We could see the same thing here.

During the news conference, Fury’s physical appearance indicated that he was not in the best shape and perhaps not taking the upcoming fight as seriously as he should. On the other hand, Ngannou appeared to be in excellent form and displayed a focused demeanor, aided by training under the guidance of the legendary “Iron” Mike Tyson. While there is a significant disparity in boxing experience between Fury and Ngannou, it is worth considering that Fury may opt to employ a strategy that involves more brawling than traditional boxing, similar to Mayweather’s approach against McGregor. This approach could create an opportunity for Ngannou to land a significant punch that could get the “Gypsy King” into trouble. What matters is what form of Fury we are going to see on fight night, because if he’s not focused and is not careful, a tune-up fight can quickly turn into a nightmare.


Ngannou wins — or have a chance — if he does this…

Ngannou’s winning strategy should incorporate the effective use of in and outside head slips, just as trainer Mike Tyson famously employed during his prime. These slips would enable Ngannou to maneuver past the longer reach of his opponent — Fury currently enjoys a 3-inch advantage over Ngannou. Getting inside Fury’s reach is crucial for Ngannou’s success in the fight. If achieved, Ngannou must focus on working Fury’s body. This tactic serves a dual purpose: it slows down Fury’s movements and keeps him relatively stationary, creating openings for Ngannou’s attacks.

In close range, it is common for Fury to attempt to clinch or grab onto one of Ngannou’s arms. During this moment, there exists a small but significant window of opportunity for Ngannou to launch a surprise uppercut from the inside, catching Fury off guard and potentially hurting him.

I must acknowledge that attempting to outbox Fury is doubtful, as he is a masterful boxer. Therefore, Ngannou’s best action is to adopt an aggressive and relentless fighting style and fight like a bat out of hell. By relentlessly pressing forward, Ngannou can create chaos and disrupt Fury’s rhythm while increasing his chances of victory.


Fury wins if he does this…

Novices (in this case Ngannou) often struggle to manage their energy effectively, especially over 10 rounds. They typically start strong and fast, but fade by the fourth or fifth round. Fury must exercise patience — a virtue of his — inside the ring. By remaining composed and calm in the early stages, Fury can anticipate and react to Ngannou’s moves more effectively while allowing Ngannou’s energy to deplete gradually. There is no need for Fury to rush or put himself in unnecessary danger.

Drawing from his vast experience, Fury should be able to identify the signs of exhaustion in Ngannou, who carries the burden of his big, strong muscles that require more oxygen. As Ngannou begins to tire, Fury can seize the opportunity to take control. This process involves skillfully pushing Ngannou onto his heels, which disrupts his balance. It is worth noting that punchers rely on a solid footing to generate maximum power and leverage. Fury understands this tactical approach well, and he successfully employed it against Deontay Wilder. Ngannou, being a heavy hitter, thrives on forward momentum, channeling his weight into each explosive blow. To counter this, Fury will likely employ his strategic methods, cleverly nullifying Ngannou’s strength. I anticipate that Fury will enter the ring armed with his “sleeping powder,” metaphorically speaking. I predict a well-executed left hook followed by a powerful right-hand combination could send Ngannou crashing to the canvas.


And the winner is…

In boxing handbook 101, we are taught to respect any man who stands in the opposite corner, especially one with one-punch knockout power. But I ultimately believe Fury will stand alone as the king of the heavyweights. Fury once again will prove that there isn’t a man who can beat him inside of a boxing ring.

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