The Fury-Ngannou circus rolls into London

I don’t really know what I just watched.

Okay, that’s a lie, I know exactly what I just watched but what I watched was not what I was expecting.

I went to a press conference. Only it was not a press conference. Not really. It was a pantomime in the middle of summer. Harmless, funny in places, a little inappropriate in others, with a nice set and a solid cast.

It was actually the formal declaration that Tyson Fury, the world heavyweight champion, will fight former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia in October. It’s not a title fight, although the WBC, wholly unsurprisingly, have launched some sort of green and gold trinket at it for the winner.

The masses assembled in central London, and for a press conference, the ‘press’ contingent seemed to be somewhat lacking. But I digress. 

What went on was entertainment. It wasn’t a press conference. Just like the show on October 28 is an event and not a fight.

But that’s my narrative and it was not shared by those on the top table, of course. And I admired Fury for the sincerity in which he informed us – the collective – how he was training for Ngannou.

He said he’d trained six weeks for the third Deontay Wilder fight but he’s training 12 for Ngannou. He said he will be ridiculed if he loses, and that’s correct, so the stakes are high. Now it sounds like I’m doing my bit to hype it. So let’s steady on. But if Ngannou lands… Shhh.

Maybe I need to open my mind a little more. Maybe I was destined to be disappointed once security confiscated my beef jerky and protein bar at the entrance. Maybe I should have tried to explain it was a Grenade bar and not an actual grenade. Still, no one saw fit to remove David Adeleye and Fabio Wardley’s handbags. They were apparently due to announce a fight on the undercard but an impulsive display of petulance on the red carpet outside saw Wardley pick up a cut.

Still, by the time the top table protagonists arrived, I knew that my protein heavy snacks were not being matched by the amuse-bouches on offer…. A pea mouse in a weird miniature cone… Beef tartar with burger sauce on something crunchy…. A taco thing, a salmon nibble, a cheese item that looked eerily similar to a salmon sandwich I get the dogs from the pick n’ mix at the petshop, but that tasted delightful. The cheese thing. I’ve never tried the salmon sandwich.

Still, on the top table from right to left were Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin, Ngannou himself, Hall of Fame promoters Bob Arum and Frank Warren, Fury and announcer Dev Sahni, the most unashamed company man in the sport today. 

Sahni kicked it off in typical Shani fashion calling Ngannou ‘arguably the most powerful athlete in the history of combat sports’. 

Love that about Dev. Make a huge statement, but add an ‘arguably’ for the infamous back pedal. That’s the gig.

Fury thanked people for coming and said if you wanted some balls you should try his new flavoured energy drink. It is not the most convincing sales pitch I’ve heard, but also I’m no salesman. He’s written at least a couple of bestsellers and is the most watched thing on Netflix at the minute, or right up there, so maybe you should sign me up for a crate.

Still, I’ve digressed again. This event kicks off the prestigious – well, the fourth – Riyadh Season on October 28 and we were told many times how important that was. In fact, the serious spectre of Saudi Arabia’s increasingly hefty footprint on the sporting landscape loomed large over the press conference. Fury reckoned that in five to 10 years all major sport will be in Saudi. Arum agreed with similar enthusiasm, 

“We are seeing history made,” said the veteran promoter. “Riyadh is about to become the entertainment capital in the area and maybe one of the capitals of entertainment in the world.”

Fury actually had to temper one of his own jokes about going for a beer with Ngannou afterwards, insisting they would be alcohol free beverages. Let’s move on. No room for party-poopers.

As Dev proceeded, billing it “the most anticipated combat sports event of the year” – technically correct given that it’s not an MMA fight and the boxing consiglieres aren’t calling it boxing – Fury and Ngannou made their separate cases as to who might win ‘The Battle of the Baddest.’

Warren reiterated that, “This is a massive event. This is the biggest event I’ve ever been involved in… This is going to be something special…. it’s a blockbuster event.”

There were more lines about Fury being the most fun and entertaining heavyweight since Muhammad Ali, about how Fury can box, bang, fight in the trenches and how fire will meet fire.

“While it lasts, it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be one of the most exciting events you’ve ever seen. I promise you,” said the promoter.

The chatter was similar from both sides, in some respects, in that both sides felt compelled to talk up Ngannou.

“I believe in this man,” Martin said of his client. “I have all the respect for Tyson but there’s not a man alive who can take this man [Ngannou]’s punch to the chin.”

Arum insisted the fight will be: “A hell of a lot better than some of the writers are predicting” explaining his reasoning as such: “I’ve watched these UFC tapes and I’ve never seen anyone hit with the power Francis has.”

Ngannou spoke about his dreams, how he’d hoped for a day like this since he was a child.

“This thing is so big I can’t stop thinking about it,” the ‘challenger’ said. “It’s more about history about to be made in Riyadh. I didn’t see it coming even though my dream was always there… Nobody knows what’s going to happen but I know I will be out there hunting for that guy’s head.”

He talked about working with Mike Tyson, and working on his ‘delivery system’, in less formal terms, how he plans on actually having this punch that apparently connects with the power of a small car collision (Dev’s line, not mine) land on Fury.

Ngannou is being trained by Mike Tyson, who Tyson Fury was named after. It’s a neat little wrinkle in the story.

For his part, Fury congratulated Ngannou for achieving financial independence away from the UFC – “Francis is going to make that bag. [He’s going to be] Rich” and added of how he saw the fight for himself: “It’s something different for me.” 

Fury was on his feet and had many in the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Many were wearing Gypsy King merchandise. They cheered, laughed and hollered in support. Press conferences have changed. In fact, there were no questions from the press. 

“It’s bigger than a fight,” Ngannou added. “[It’s a] Cultural event and [will] make history and I’m going to fight the best boxer in the world for my first boxing fight.”

Yes, Ngannou has been thinking that if he beats the No. 1 heavyweight boxer, he becomes the No. 1 heavyweight boxer. “Take him out and figure the rest of it out afterwards,” he said.

Fury gave Ngannou his props as a “warrior, man and world champion.”

He also pointed out for those who say they compete in two different sports that Ngannou is a fighter, that he doesn’t play other sports, such as tennis. This is two fighting men going to have a fight. Talking of which, Fury then said he would also beat Ngannou if they fought in a cage.

“If I lose to an MMA guy, I’m never going to be able to show my face again,” Fury explained. “Tyson Fury will leave no stone unturned. Only an idiot wouldn’t train their bollocks off for someone like Francis… I’m expecting a war and if it’s not a war I’ll be disappointed.” 

“I’m going for everything,” Ngannou countered. 

“You will be No. 1 in the division,” Fury replied. 

Talking about this car-crash power, Ngannou said: “If it does land, good night. Lights off.” 

“I can’t comment until I’ve felt his power,” Fury responded. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like. Will it bounce off me? Probably so because I’m bulletproof… Bring your A game and let’s have a fucking fight. He’s a fighting world champion, I’m a fighting world champion.” 

And that was about it. MMA v Boxing, Saudi, Fury, Ngannou, my beef jerky, the beef tartar things, it was gone. 

“What a brilliant press conference we’ve had,” said Dev.

Fury took his top off for the head-to-head and asked Ngannou to do the same. He didn’t. Ngannou said he liked his suit too much. 

They went through the formalities for phtographers, head-to-head, side by side, shaking hands, Tyson pointing out that he doesn’t have a ripped physique, Ngannou admitting looks could be deceptive. 

They have respect for one another and their journeys, that was clear. Oh yes it was, I thought with my panto hat on.

And just like that, the presser was over. 


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