World-renowned boxing trainer and analyst Teddy Atlas believes Francis Ngannou has a chance to shock the world when he faces Tyson Fury, though it won’t be easy.
To be clear, Atlas isn’t predicting an upset. In fact, he “doesn’t expect one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of a generation to go down,” as he wrote in an ESPN opinion piece discussing how he would prepare Ngannou for the matchup, which takes place Saturday at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
One thing that may be to Ngannou’s advantage, per Atlas, is the experience the former UFC heavyweight champion brings using an MMA-style clinch could be helpful should Ngannou wisely find his openings.
“Distance is important for Ngannou,” Atlas said. “He doesn’t want to get to Fury with the ‘give something to get something’ mindset. He doesn’t need to give up those opportunities to get close, or end up overextending and leaving himself open to a professional who knows how to counterpunch. He should have been working on his footwork, taking steps and not trying to be in Fury’s face all at once.
“Fury will look to time him, so feinting will be key. Maybe Fury throws that counter a second too soon and Ngannou gets the danger out of the way and goes to where he wants to go. Little feints to make him think he’s coming, then with Fury off-stride, Ngannou can come in safely. And if Ngannou is able to land some offense, he has the potential to shock the world.”
Depending on where you look, Fury is as high as a -1400 favorite to defeat the new PFL heavyweight in Saturday’s 10-round contest. Fury also is targeted to face Oleksandr Usyk in a heavyweight championship unification bout that could happen as early as Dec. 23, though a date for the highly-anticipated fight has not been officially announced.
Because of Fury having such a massive fight to focus on following Saturday’s contest, and with Ngannou stepping in as the novice in the boxing ring, there are some who believe Fury may not be taking Ngannou seriously.
According to Atlas, should Fury look at Ngannou as the passport to a big bag of money with very little danger attached, that is a possible recipe for disaster with someone who punches with the power that Ngannou does.
“A lot of people will look at this fight as a money grab, but I think it’s a dangerous money grab — and more dangerous for the guy who is supposedly going to win easily,” Atlas said. “Fury is of course expected to have his way in this fight. He’s an elite boxer, the heavyweight champion of the world. But what if Fury doesn’t take him seriously?
“I find it intriguing in that way. You have one guy who doesn’t seem to be taking this fight seriously, and it’s hard to all of a sudden change gears in that ring if things don’t go his way. Will he be able to adjust? I think that 75 percent of a fight is mental. Will he be able to re-focus if Ngannou exceeds expectations early on?
“Punchers are born, they are not made. And Ngannou can punch. He can take your lights out. If he can put his hands on the chin on Fury, he can hurt Fury, and there’s no doubt about it.”