It was the former UFC champion who dominated the crossover bout in Riyadh, dropping Fury in the third round and appearing to be the much stronger, and more comfortable, fighter in the ring over a barely believable ten rounds.
Fury suffered a graze to his forehead in the early stages and swelling began to appear below his left eye as the fight went on, Ngannou able to overpower the WBC champion on the inside and boxing superbly at range in his first ever boxing bout.
It meant Fury seemingly needed a stoppage in the final round to avoid what would have been the biggest shock in boxing history, and one that would have left plans for an undisputed showdown between Fury and Oleksandr Usyk at the end of the year in ruins.
Whether a bruised Fury is ready for that proposed December 23 date remains to be seen, but that it is even an option is down to a very debatable set of scorecards. Fury seemed to be well behind as the final bell sounded, Ngannou celebrating with far more vigour, yet it was the Gypsy King who earned a split-decision win to boos around the arena, as one judge scored it 95-94 to Ngannou and the other two went 96-93 and 95-94 for Fury.
"That definitely wasn't in the script," Fury told TNT Sports. "Francis is a hell of a fighter, a strong, great puncher.
"He's a very awkward man, a great puncher and I respect him a lot. He wasn't coming forward, he was standing back and waiting for me. He's given me probably my toughest fight in 10 years."
— Boxing on TNT Sports (@boxingontnt) October 28, 2023
Many expected Ngannou, on his professional boxing debut and in his first fight of any kind since January 2022, to fly out of the blocks and try and catch Fury early, but instead it was a patient, measured display.
It was announced ahead of the fight that that the result would go on the pair's professional records, something Fury might have been regretting as the rounds ticked on. He would certainly have been relieved his WBC world title was not on the line in the third round, when he lunged forward and was dropped to the canvas as Ngannou caught him on the top of the head with a left hook.
Fury gathered himself and rose to his feet, but that did not particularly rally him into action. Ngannou briefly appeared to tire as the fight ticked past the halfway stage, but he rallied and enjoyed a brilliant eighth round. Fury, cutting an unusually timid figure having been shoved around the ring earlier in the fight, was reduced to trying to hold as Ngannou marched forward, landing a succession of right hands and threatening to push for a stoppage.
Fury survived that, but there was still no change of pace in the final two rounds despite worried looks from ringside and in his corner. Ngannou attempted a Superman punch in the closing seconds, so comfortable was he in the ring, but the result he deserved was not forthcoming.
"We can run it back again and I'm sure I'm going to get better," Ngannou said. "This was my first boxing fight and it was a great experience.
"At first, I was a little bit nervous. New sport that I never did. Now I know I can do this s***. Get ready."
Earlier in the night, Fabio Wardley retained his British heavyweight title as he stopped David Adeleye in the seventh round. The build-up to the bout had been ill-tempered, Wardley entering the ring with a cut on the chin from when the pair clashes at a press conference last month, and both went into the 12-round fight having never previously been beyond six.
That changed as the fight ticked into a seventh round here, with Wardley increasingly taking control and he cemented that by dropping his rival. Adeleye just about beat the count, but with Wardley letting his hands go and tagging him at will, the referee jumped in to wave it off.
There were much more routine wins on the undercard for Moses Itauma and Arslanbek Makhmudov, both getting the job done in the opening round, while Joseph Parker stopped Simon Kean in the third after landing two huge uppercuts.