Tyson Fury, his massive paymasters, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the best laid plans of world heavyweight boxing were shaken to the roots before the Gypsy King staged the narrowest of escapes from the sensational loss of his unbeaten record.
A single point on the third card of a split decision saved the hundreds of millions of dollars in waiting for Fury to dispute with Oleksandr Usyk.
The honour of becoming the first undisputed world heavyweight champion for more than a decade.
The Ukrainian holder of the other title belts not in the fiefdom of the Gypsy King was sitting at ringside and how he must have been wishing this had been his night in the ring with a Fury as sluggish and disjointed as this.
And to think that this source of screaming alarm was a UFC fighter crossing over for his first official boxing match,
Francis Ngannou sent Tyson Fury to the canvas with a thunderous left hook in round three
Fury got back to his feet to box his way into the fight and won narrowly on points
Fury just did enough to hold onto his heavyweight title, but Ngannou pushed him closer than many expected
Francis Ngannou gave such a magnificent account of himself that non-one would have begrudged him the triumph of his life. Except the financiers with plenty to lose.
Has there ever been a boxing debut this remarkable.
In the end he missed out by one score of 95-94 but by two by 94-95 and 96-93 in favour of Fury. Technically I have to agree with the King keeping his crown but it was a closer call than any of us truly imagined.
An exhibition match? This was a war.
Fury lives to make another mint and fight another day. Whether that day against Fury will be December 25 remains to be see by how quickly recovers from being flattened in the third round – he got up from a knock down as he usually does – and being banged about quite a bit by supposedly cleverly chosen opponent.
Whatever Iron Mike Tyson taught Ngannou in recent weeks came close to paying enormous dividends.
Ngannou grew in confidence throughout the fight, and even tried a ‘Superman’ punch in the final round
Dawn had broken over the desert to confirmation that the big fight had been sanctioned as on official boxing match by the British Boxing Board of Control.
The organisers had been pressing for this recognition for weeks. With Fury’s encouragement even though this put him at risk of losing his cherished status as undefeated. So this fight suddenly materialised on his official record, awaiting only the result.
That would be a while coming on this long night.
It all began in the so-called Undercard Arena, an understatement in massive contrast to the concerted advertising of the main event.
This was situated in the mild outdoors in front of the vaulted stage and monster screens which had been the setting for the star-studded events of fight week. Many a world title fight has been disputed in far less salubrious surroundings.
But this was not good enough for the Battle of the Baddest. So in Saudi Arabia you get two arenas for the price of one.
A few steps away, the Boulevard Yard Hall awaited Fury and Ngannou. A 20,000 seater venue which had been constructed on virgin soil in only 90 days, in astonishing contrast to the three years it would have taken to build in London or Las Vegas. And just in time.
They were still putting the finishing touches to Riyadh’s latest sporting mecca as the first supporting bout began outside. Unlike many an Olympic venue, this complex will not go to rot after its first big night. The Undercard Arena will be busy again before Fury fights Usyk on December 23. With more of its ilk to come.
The big hall is designed not only so it can keep putting on the mega-fights and big bands but also to be transformed into an indoor football stadium for the Saudi League team in which Neymar now plays. First match next week.
On opening night it was a cathedral fit for a king. The Gypsy King.
The Undercard Arena had been a hive of excitement and when the last bell sounded the full crowd of some 3,000 went charging over to join the biggest collection of all-time greats principally from boxing but also from show-biz and other sports ever gathered in one place.
Riyadh put on a spectacular opening ceremony prior to the main event
That arena was already heaving in anticipation of the electrifying song, dance ,fire and light show which opened the Riyadh season, a festival packed with concerts, art, culture and multiple sports which runs well into the New Year all across the capital.
Here was emergent Saudi Arabia revealing its new self to the world.
The show was a stunning spectacle of thunderous noise and pounding dancers and it came to a crescendo as the ring rose through the floor to greet the gladiators.
But if there is a single sportsman on earth with the raging charisma to make himself the star of a night such as this it is Tyson Fury. At well past one in the morning it was his turn to take the stage. Rising from a golden throne shedding the robes and crown of a monarch and jogging to confront Ngannou.
JEFF POWELL’S scorecard
1 – Fury was stripped and itching to go while Michael Buffer was still getting us Ready to Rumble. Then he told Ngannou: ‘I’m gonna bash you up.’ The first bash, a right, came from Ngannou but after some fending Fury imposed his left jab and took the round with a hefty right. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
2 – Ngannou was showing better ringcraft than expected and Fury switched to southpaw to try to confuse. It worked to some extent but not enough to save the round. Fury 9-10 Ngannou
3 – No exhibition this. A serious fight. Tyson was rocked back by a heavy left. Then a monster of the same variety and here was the first sensation. Delivered by the UFC. Down went Tyson and although he rose from adversity as usual, the shock was as palpable in the crowd as in the ring. Fury 8-10 Ngannou
4 – Caught again by the heavy handed Ngannou, Fury was having to clinch at times to keep him at bay. Although he edged the fourth with a late burst of action. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
5 – Fortunes and a career were in jeopardy and Fury responded in the fifth with two huge rights which rocked Ngannou. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
6 – Fury went into hit and dance mode but this was now about winning somehow no matter how it looked. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
7 – There were cheers for Mike Tyson when his face went up on the screen and whatever the iron man had taught Ngannou had turned this from a show into a war. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
8 – Ngannou was back in business with two massive left hooks which sent Fury reeling and then a flurry of punches which had the Gypsy King close to being floored again.. Fury 9-10 Ngannou
9 – Was disaster pending? Fury kept the left jab working to keep the points mounting….and stay of trouble. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
10 – To the last and Fury boxed it through with his left. Presumably believing he had done just about enough. Fury 10-9 Ngannou
Final scorecard: Fury 96-93 Ngannou