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Francis Ngannou believes he's already won ahead of boxing debut vs. Tyson Fury

The best that can be said for the Tyson Fury-Francis Ngannou boxing match Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is that at least it's not one of the celebrity matches that have been so omnipresent these days.

Let's be as clear as possible: The celebrity boxing you see presented by Misfits Boxing on DAZN is pure, unadulterated garbage. It's not so much about boxing as it is about telling raunchy jokes, sexual innuendo and demeaning groups of people. It's worse than you could imagine, and the boxing skill is non-existent.

Thankfully, Fury versus Ngannou is not that. Fury is one of the best heavyweights of all time and is unbeaten in 34 fights, with only a questionable split draw with Deontay Wilder marring his record. Ngannou is a former UFC heavyweight champion who, as Fury will remind you at every turn, is a huge puncher. But Ngannou is also boxing for the first time in his life.

Fury told Yahoo Sports last week that he was taking Ngannou seriously and that the one-time UFC champion was a threat because of his power. But upon arriving in Riyadh on Tuesday, Fury said that his diet in camp consisted of "marshmallows, Big Macs and McDonald's," and said he'd sparred "maybe five minutes," for the bout.

In all of his public appearances at the arrival, Fury was laughing it up, joking, smiling and enjoying the scene. The Saudis are throwing big money around and it's a lavish party, and no one is making nearly what Fury will. Several sources have said he could make as much as $60 million for fighting Ngannou, though that's not confirmed. Additionally, he has a fight for the undisputed heavyweight title pending in December against unified champion Oleksandr Usyk in which he can make upward of $100 million.

Ngannou, in turn, was deadly serious at the arrival. He has also told anyone who would listen that he's already won simply by getting the fight. He wanted to box for a long time, and his relationship with the UFC and its CEO, Dana White, soured when White wouldn't permit a boxing match. Fury is a -1400 favorite, but some might take Ngannou more seriously if he pushed the narrative that he believes he's naturally gifted and is good enough to, as Cassius Clay said after he upset Sonny Liston, "shock the world."

Former US boxer Mike Tyson (L) and Francis Ngannou pose for a photo after a training session at Ngannou's gym in Las Vegas, Nevada, on  September 26, 2023. Mixed martial arts star Francis Ngannou will have heavyweight legend Mike Tyson in his corner when he faces World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in the boxing ring in Saudi Arabia on October 28. (Photo by Ian Maule / AFP) (Photo by IAN MAULE/AFP via Getty Images)
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson will work Francis Ngannou's corner Saturday when Ngannou boxes Tyson Fury in a pay-per-view card from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Ian Maule/Getty Images) (IAN MAULE via Getty Images)

We're not hearing that from Ngannou. Instead, we're hearing him talk about getting away from the UFC, which was his right under his contract. Free agency exists in modern sports so the athletes have a say in where they work. The system worked the way it's supposed to for Ngannou, who not only got the right to box but landed what he said was the contract of his dreams when he signed with the Professional Fighters League.

If he's satisfied with just that, well, let's say his chances of defeating Fury look even worse in retrospect.

He's making out as if he's going to prove he's the No. 1 boxer in the world. He may not have heard of Usyk, but rest assured, Usyk would box rings around him.

"I've been waiting on Tyson Fury for four years," Ngannou said. "At the time, I didn't know about Oleksandr Usyk. When the opportunity came, I wanted Tyson Fury. He's the guy."

Much has been made of Ngannou's power, and, indeed, Ngannou is probably the hardest hitting fighter in MMA history. But while they're related, MMA and boxing aren't the same sports.

Ngannou will wear 10-ounce gloves to box Fury instead of the four-ounce gloves worn in MMA. The boxing gloves are two-and-a-half times bigger and will take some of the sting out of his shots.

Fury has a line that he uses on occasion that he trotted out again Tuesday for Ngannou, when he said Ngannou couldn't hit him if he threw a handful of rice at him. He once said that about heavyweight contender Joe Joyce when Joyce was being talked up as a potential Fury opponent.

It's unlikely Ngannou lands that big shot, and if he does, Fury has proven repeatedly against Wilder, a massive puncher who ranks among the hardest hitters in boxing history, that he can take it. We've seen crazy one-punch knockouts before, but there's that whole getting hit by a grain of rice thing to think about in this one.

Francis Ngannou during a press conference at HERE at Outernet, London. Picture date: Thursday September 7, 2023. (Photo by James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)
Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is a +800 underdog against Tyson Fury. (James Manning/Getty Images) (James Manning - PA Images via Getty Images)

No one expects Ngannou to outbox Fury, not even the most ardent Ngannou supporter. His best chance of winning might be if Fury twists a knee and gets injured and can't get up and continue.

But one wonders how this helps build Ngannou's brand as he transitions to the PFL after Saturday's bout. It's not a stretch to say he's going to lose Saturday since bookmakers have installed Fury as a -1400 favorite, so he'll likely go into his PFL career coming off a bad loss.

Not that it should because it's a different sport, but some people will view him differently in MMA if he loses to Fury. And then there's the matter of whom he'll fight. The PFL doesn't have a lot of notable names in its heavyweight division that will make fans excited to see them face Ngannou.

After Ngannou signed with PFL, there was talk that the PFL might pursue UFC KO king Derrick Lewis. But Lewis put an end to that by signing an eight-fight contract extension with the UFC.

Ngannou wanted the opportunity to box, and he got it. He wanted the opportunity to make what he claims is the best money of his life, and he got that, too.

But is he going to look back in a year or two and question the choices he made? Quite possibly.

If he does, though, he'll only need to look in the mirror to know who to blame.