World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury beat mixed martial arts fighter Francis Ngannou in a split decision after their boxing bout went the distance in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Ngannou knocked Fury down in round three but the 35-year-old British fighter, though shaken, was able to continue.
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The undefeated Fury earlier this week laughed off his opponent as a “big fat sausage” but afterwards acknowledged that the 37-year-old Cameroonian had effectively kept him off-balance.
“He’s a very awkward man, and he’s a good puncher and I respect him a lot,” Fury said of Ngannou, adding that it was “probably one of the toughest” fights he has had in a decade.
Fury was the overwhelming favourite against boxing novice Ngannou.
“This was my first boxing match, great experience –- I’m not giving any excuse,” Ngannou said in a ringside interview.
“I know I come up short, I’m going to come back and work harder… now I know I can do this.”
Fury’s WBC heavyweight belt was not on the line in the “Battle of the Baddest” in the Saudi capital Riyadh, but Saudi officials nevertheless hoped it would further boost the Gulf kingdom’s reputation as a top-flight boxing destination.
With all parties desperate to lend the contest some sporting legitimacy, the WBC had fashioned a “Riyadh Champion” belt to allow the winner to strut around the ring at the end with something other than a big, fat pay cheque.
Fury has been linked with a £50 million ($60.6 million) payout from Sunday’s exhibition bout, while he has said in the British press that Ngannou will earn £10 million.