Tyson Fury has turned his attention to the highly-anticipated unification bout with fellow heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk after surviving a huge scare against mixed martial arts fighter Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Fury, the unbeaten WBC belt holder, faced former UFC heavyweight king Ngannou in a lucrative and glamorous crossover bout in Riyadh which attracted some serious star power; in addition to scores of boxing legends in attendance, the likes of football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and music icons Eminem and Kante West were ringside to witness two combat sports giants go toe-to-toe.
However, what was expected to be an easy night's work for Fury against boxing novice Ngannou transpired to be anything but as the British fighter climbed off the canvas in the third round to secure a contentious split decision victory.
"He's a very awkward man, and he's a good puncher and I respect him a lot," Fury, 35, said of Ngannou, adding that it was "probably my toughest fight in 10 years".
Fury was the overwhelming favourite against Ngannou, with the Cameroonian competing in a professional boxing bout for the first time. But the 37-year-old Ngannou defied all expectations, not only taking the fight to Fury and landing several significant punches but also by going the full distance.
"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 came out swinging in the first round with a hard right hand but sustained a cut to the forehead in the second round and looked especially sluggish after hitting the mat in the third.
The final rounds dragged as both men tired, neither able to land a decisive blow.
"I don't know how close it was, but I got the win and that's how it was," Fury said. "Fair play to Francis, he cut my head here. It was a good fight."
Fury's WBC heavyweight belt was not on the line in the "Battle of the Baddest" in Riyadh, but Saudi officials nevertheless hoped it would further boost the Gulf kingdom's reputation as a top-flight boxing destination.
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.
Fury has a far more serious bout lined up in Riyadh against the Ukrainian Usyk, who currently holds the other three world titles.
"I'm going to go home, I've been in training camp for 12 weeks," Fury said on Sunday. "I'll take a long hard rest and see what's next for us."
Fury and Usyk briefly went head-to-head inside the ring after the fight as both fighters stated their desires to face each other next.
"Let's go," Fury said, with Usyk saying the same in reply before adding: "I’m going to be fighting him, amazing."
Fury then declared: "Let’s go now if you want. It’ll be our next fight guaranteed."
The bout had originally been targeted for December 23, but Fury's promoter Frank Warren says the punishment he took against Ngannou means it is more likely to take place in early 2024.
"We were going to do it on 23 December. I doubt that will happen now," Warren told the 5 Live boxing podcast.
"Tyson can't be going into a camp after a tough fight like that. That's eight weeks away.
"He needs at least a bit of time to get himself, his body, back into shape. Let it heal. Then get into a camp. It will be on early next year."
Saudi Arabia has hosted a series of high-profile fights in recent years including the 2019 "Clash on the Dunes", in which Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world heavyweight crown from Andy Ruiz, and last year's "Rage on the Red Sea" in Jeddah, in which Joshua lost in a split decision to Usyk.
Saudi officials say there has been a surge of domestic interest in boxing in recent years.
Their goal is to have 500,000 boxers in the kingdom by 2030 as part of a broader sports push under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform agenda.