Kamaru Usman: Boxing world now sees what Francis Ngannou brings to the table

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – It’d be hard to blame most combat sports observers for presuming they knew the eventual outcome to Francis Ngannou’s boxing debut.

They likely figured the former UFC heavyweight champion would take his career-best payday for a boxing match with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, maybe throw some punches for a few rounds, eventually get put away by the 6-foot-9 “Gypsy King,” then head back to his new MMA home, the PFL, to play once again in his own sandbox.

But Saturday in Saudi Arabia, Ngannou put on the kind of performance that often made him look like the longtime boxer and Fury the one crossing over to a new sport. Ngannou landed the fight’s only knockdown courtesy of an overhand left in the third round. That helped him get a 95-94 score from one of the three judges in the 10-round non-title showcase fight. But the two others had the fight for Fury, who kept his unbeaten record intact with a split decision.

In the aftermath of Ngannou’s close loss, many in the combat sports world opined he may actually have won the fight. Regardless, a new respect for Ngannou in the boxing world was virtually universal.

Kamaru Usman, who like Ngannou is a former UFC champion who was born in Africa, was ringside to watch his longtime friend’s boxing debut. He seemed to think Ngannou fell victim to the differences between judging in boxing and MMA.

“(Ngannou) landed the harder shots, the cleaner shots – but it’s boxing,” Usman told MMA Junkie on his way out of Kingdom Arena in Riyadh. “(The judges) are going to do what they’re going to do. Of course I’m proud – yes, very proud. I knew this: I said if Francis touches you, either hand, it’s going to be a problem. I (thought) Tyson Fury felt that, and that’s why he just decided to point fight (and play safe).”

Usman thinks Ngannou can call his shots now. The reported plan was for him to make his PFL debut in MMA in 2024, likely as part of a pay-per-view. But he availed himself so well in the boxing ring his first time out that new potential options opened up the minute the bell rang to wrap up his 10 rounds with Fury.

Usman said he’d like to see Ngannou either rematch Fury, who already had signed a heavyweight title unification fight deal with WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk for a December fight prior to his bout with Ngannou, or fight one of the sport’s other stars.

“Either (the rematch or a new opponent) – it doesn’t matter,” Usman said. “Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, all those other guys, the big big-name heavyweights – I think now they see what Francis Ngannou has to offer.”

For more on the matchup, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Fury vs. Ngannou.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie