Monday, September 25, 2023  |


Tyson Fury says Saudi Arabia will soon take over sports ahead of Francis Ngannou event

Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou hype up their October showdown in Riyadh during a recent London press conference. Photo / @TRBoxing
Fighters Network

For all of the attempts of Tyson Fury, Frank Warren and Bob Arum to pretend that the fight, on October 28 in Riyadh, between Fury and Francis Ngannou is anything other than a glorified exhibition, Fury made one prediction that may yet prove true.

That the undisputed heavyweight title fight between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk has become more essential than ever was entirely overlooked when on Thursday in London, Fury and Ngannou – complemented by two hall-of-fame promoters – came face to face.

One is widely recognized as the world’s leading heavyweight – potentially as one of the finest of all time – and the other is a mixed martial artist in his late 30s making his professional boxing debut, and yet Fury, Warren and Arum – all admirers of their sport’s rich history – consistently kept a straight face, even if Fury was alone in seeming to believe some of what he was saying and in speaking with a spark.

There is little question that Fury, Warren, Arum and Ngannou – perhaps the only one of the four unaware of how little chance he has of victory – have been seduced by the many millions on offer in Saudi Arabia, the country that in recent years bought the rematches between Usyk and Anthony Joshua, and Joshua and Andy Ruiz. There is also little question that the moral dilemma in accepting those many millions is doing little to prevent them from threatening to change the face of another sport.

Beginning with the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz rematch in December 2019, Saudi Arabia has had its eye on the elite players of boxing’s heavyweight division. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

It has long been widely accepted that should the sought-after fight between Usyk and Fury ever take place it will be Saudi Arabia that funds and stages it. For similarly long it has been hoped that Joshua and Deontay Wilder will also agree terms to fight there – potentially even on the same bill.

In 2019, Fury was involved in a WWE contest in the same location. Some of the world’s highest profile and best-paid athletes have since also been tempted there from La Liga and the Premier League. Grands prix – Formula One is another sport with a storied history that can be bought – continue to be staged there; golf continues to suffer reputational damage and to be divided by the LIV Golf Tour.

At a time when Cristiano Ronaldo, who remains the world’s most marketable footballer, represents Al Nassr, Newcastle United – of the Premier and Champions Leagues – are owned by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, and Liverpool’s Mo Salah, one of the Premier League’s most admired players, is reportedly the subject of interest from Al-Ittihad that could lead to a world-record bid, Fury predicted yet more is to come.

“It’s a very special event for me, and a very special time in sports, where a powerhouse like Saudi Arabia are coming in,” said the WBC titleholder and former two-time Ring Magazine champion, aware that the biggest and richest fights have long typically been staged in Las Vegas. “They’re taking over the game; they’re taking over football; boxing; whatever you want.

“Within five years, 10 years, they’re going to be the powerhouse of all sports. All of the big sporting events will be in Saudi Arabia somewhere. I’ve topped bills in Vegas, London – all over the place. You name it, I’ve done it, and now I get to do the world’s biggest stage.

“[It’s a] colossal, colossal event. You’ve got me and Francis Ngannou here. Everyone said he was an idiot walking away from the UFC, and now he’s a genius – the guy’s about to make $10 million.”

Even Mike Tyson, who Fury was named after, is participating, aware that – like Ngannou, whose preparations he is assisting – he can earn a quick and substantial pay day by contributing to the propaganda move of a country perhaps best known for its reputation for consistently violating human rights.

“There’s more on the line now than a boxing fight,” continued the 35-year-old Fury, by then mid-soliloquy. “If I lose to another contender or another champion, it’s like, ‘Well he lost to a champion – whatever’. If I lose to an MMA guy, I’m never going to be able to show my face in public again. It’s going to be ridiculed; they’re going to chuck it at me forever, so there’s more riding on this than there has been before.

“If I get knocked out I want you all to laugh at me, because I’ll deserve it. Only an idiot wouldn’t train their bollocks off for somebody like Francis.”

Five weeks into a 12-week training camp, Fury, regardless, looked considerably above his fighting weight. He also made the curious claim that he is “the most elusive world champion in history” – those around Usyk were likely alone in agreeing – but had also done so after, even more bafflingly, the press conference host had said of Ngannou: “They measured his punch, and he hits as hard as a small family car.”

Even after losing to Zhilei Zhang, Joe Joyce – sat in the audience – can only have felt as bemused as everyone else with knowledge of his sport that a 37 year old preparing for his debut was being given the nature of opportunity he had worked for his entire career.

“Riyadh is about to become the entertainment capital in the area and maybe one of the capitals of entertainment in the world,” said the Vegas-based Arum, as on message as Fury, Warren and Ngannou, who had played his role by promising to “hunt for that guy’s head.”

Arum, previously, had said: “If we care about this sport and want to see it grow then the [proposed] fight should take place either in the United States or in the UK. We owe it to our fans to do that.

“I don’t mind and I don’t fault Eddie [Hearn] for going to Saudi Arabia with the Joshua-Ruiz fight. He made a good buck, that was okay, but you can’t keep doing it or you’re going to kill the sport.”


The Canelo-Charlo clash is the cover story to the September 2023 issue of The Ring. Art by Richard T. Slone