Tyson’s role in Ngannou’s corner isn’t so easy to define
Originally found on CBS Sports:
Francis Ngannou and Mike Tyson are a blockbuster pairing: MMA’s “Baddest Man on the Planet” and the boxing legend who coined the phrase. It’s on brand with the spectacle that is to come this weekend when Ngannou meets Tyson Fury in the boxing ring. But ahead of Saturday’s pageantry, people wonder how practical it is having Tyson coach Ngannou.
There is no doubt about the wealth of knowledge the former undisputed heavyweight champion wields, but great fighters are rarely great coaches and the best coaches often aren’t the best fighters. Tyson and Ngannou’s partnership, like most relationships, is complicated. It’s primarily promotional, somewhat spiritual, and a touch technical.
Tethering Tyson to Ngannou is a significant part of the promotion for Saturday’s boxing match in Riyadh. Combat sports journalist Kevin Iole recently reported that “Iron” Mike was paid “very handsomely” by Saudi Arabia to “act” as Ngannou’s trainer.
Even Ngannou’s team has confirmed Tyson as a promotional device for the fight. That does not mean that Ngannou is not benefitting from the presence of the living legend. Ngannou has never lacked motivation, but Xtreme Couture coach Eric Nicksick says Tyson’s presence has spurred new levels of commitment from the former UFC heavyweight champ.
“It’s more of a promotional angle but anytime you get Mike involved it’s good to have…” Nicksick told CBS Sports. “Usually in areas I feel like Francis will say, ‘Hey, I’m alright. I’m good. I’m tired. I’m done,’ he would push through these workouts. I knew he didn’t want to disappoint Mike.
“Every time I felt like Francis had met his breaking point, he would look over at Mike Tyson and be like, ‘No, I have to do it. I have to get one more. I have to get through it.’ And I just love that mentality. Mike is really pulling the best out of Francis every time he’s around.”
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Ngannou’s preparation for Fury is being handled primarily by Dewey Cooper. The accomplished striking coach has 25 professional boxing bouts under his record, including two fights against future IBF cruiserweight champion Arthur Williams. He is also a K-1 Grand Prix kickboxing finalist. Cooper contextualized why Tyson’s involvement matters and also credited Tyson for his technical expertise.
“There are several nuances in the way punches are delivered and things of that nature. Mike Tyson has definitely added in that component and the psychological motivation,” the Team Combat League president told CBS Sports. “There is an intangible that Mike can bring that very few people can bring.
“Especially when the fighter who Mike comes to train with happens to be such a huge fan and is so motivated by Mike Tyson. If you know the Francis Ngannou story, watching the video of Mike Tyson back in Cameroon is what really sparked him to want to become a fighter. Watching that video of Mike Tyson motivated him to make that journey and become the man he’s become in the fight world.”
Check out the full interview with Dewey Cooper below.
Ngannou echoed his coaches’ sentiments but gave Tyson even more credit for his wealth of knowledge.
“It’s something so important and interesting to have one of the greatest — if he’s not the greatest heavyweight of all time — being part of it and being in your corner and believing in you,” Ngannou told CBS Sports. “Just that one thing itself is everything. Then you have to talk about his technique, his fundamentals, his footwork and his skills. Everything you can learn from him.
“Everything from Mike Tyson you can learn and will make you better.”
Cooper has been actively involved in MMA and boxing for a long time. He’s worked with former lightweight contender Kevin Lee, two-time Bellator champion Daniel Strauss and rising UFC flyweight Amir Albazi. Cooper is also the president of Team Combat League, a team-based boxing organization that features groups comprised of six weight classes competing in one-on-one intervals.
“You have fighters fighting one round each and you switch to the next weight class…” Cooper said. “It gives you a shorter, more explosive [version of] today’s era [of boxing].
“The young fighters are getting a lot of experience. They’re getting a platform weekly to perform and build a fanbase and get that fight experience in. There’s nothing like fight experience. We talked about Ngannou and Fury earlier. This is Ngannou’s first fight in boxing. Imagine him going through a Team Combat League season. In a four-month season, he would have had 20 fights with a total of 14-20 rounds.”
The odds are stacked heavily against Ngannou making his pro boxing debut against arguably the best heavyweight boxer today. The general expectation is that Ngannou’s best, obstacle-littered path to victory is through chaos and explosiveness. But Ngannou says he and his team are preparing for the long haul. Stamina has often failed UFC fighters transitioning to boxing, most notably Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather. Ngannou and his hulking frame are determined to avoid such perils.
“I’ve been very focused on my cardio and my endurance,” Ngannou said. “That’s why I do believe if this fight goes to the distance I still have my chance. That was my main focus, in fact, because cardio carries everything. Cardio helps you to carry your power for as long as the fight goes.”
Check out the full interview with Francis Ngannou below.
Tyson is not the driving force behind Ngannou’s efforts to overcome a nearly insurmountable challenge but his aura and intensity are impossible to resist. Ultimately, there is some value in having the encouragement of your idols. Tyson, on the surface, has unwavering faith in arguably the hardest hitter that MMA has produced.
“It is no secret I back Ngannou, 100%, in this faceoff of champions,” Tyson told Saudi media. “He has one hard punch and when it lands, it’s game over.”