Francis Ngannou defied the odds, the doubters, and the majority of the sporting world as he produced a remarkable performance against Tyson Fury in their huge boxing bout in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Ngannou sensationally dropped Fury in the third round with a left hook and proved to be Fury’s match through the 10-round duration. But the judges stepped in to save a stunned Fury as “The Gypsy King” ran out the split-decision winner, with scores of 94-95, 96-93, 95-94.

Ngannou and Fury faced off in “The Battle of the Baddest,” as the former UFC heavyweight champion, who never lost his belt inside the Octagon, stepped into the boxing ring to face WBC heavyweight champion of the world Fury in a fight between the two men widely believed to be the best heavyweights in their respective sports.

Heading into the matchup, the odds appeared to be stacked in Fury’s favor. He was fighting under boxing rules, in a boxing ring, in boxing gloves. He was undefeated as a professional, and the lineal heavyweight champion of the world. Ngannou, meanwhile, stepped across the MMA-boxing divide to compete in his very first professional boxing bout.

To put it mildly, the boxing world gave Ngannou no chance of victory. Even though the promotional narrative latched on to “The Predator’s” prodigious knockout power as a potential difference-maker, most journalists, analysts and pros who shared their views tended to share the view that Fury’s seasoned boxing ability would be too much for Ngannou to overcome.

However, on the night, Ngannou proved those doubters wrong as he produced a performance of patience, composure and tactical astuteness to leave Fury confused, and the big Cameroonian provided the jaw-dropping exclamation point with a stunning third-round knockdown of Fury, courtesy of a counter left hook.

Ngannou looked comfortable and composed throughout the matchup, switching between orthodox and southpaw, and working from the outside – a tactic that ran counter to many analysts’ pre-fight assertion that his best chance would be to close the distance and rough up Fury on the inside.

Ngannou fought at a steady pace that saw him last the full 10 rounds without looking seriously gassed at any point. Indeed, he seemed to control his gas tank better than Fury, who looked to be struggling at points through the second half of the contest. And, while Fury’s seasoned jab was undoubtedly his best weapon through the fight, Ngannou’s ability to take whatever Fury could land on him with seemingly no problem whatsoever left the WBC champion looking a little frustrated as the bout wore on.

As the bout entered the final few rounds, talk on social media turned to the final outcome, with many suggesting that Ngannou was close to a historic win. And, as the final bell sounded at the end of the 10th round, only one team was celebrating as Team Ngannou raised their main aloft while Fury sheepishly returned to his corner.

Fury clearly looked surprised at how the bout had turned out, while Ngannou looked completely at home with how the action had panned out. All of the surprised faces were in Fury’s team, with promoter Frank Warren’s panicked face during the final rounds seemingly betraying the concerns of a man who had already locked Fury into a title unification bout with Oleksandr Usyk. Defeat for Fury would have been unthinkable.

Thankfully for Fury, and frustratingly for Ngannou, two of the three judges scored the bout to Fury, who claimed the victory and preserved his undefeated record. But, while the record books may show that Fury took the win and Ngannou suffered the loss in his professional boxing debut, the bigger picture was very much the reverse. Fury’s stock took a huge hit, while Ngannou claimed the respect of the sporting world for a performance that few inside his inner circle saw coming.

And, following comments post-fight from WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman that Ngannou would be ranked in the body’s heavyweight top 10, “The Predator” now has a firm foothold in the heavyweight boxing world. The only question now is, who will he fight next?

Photos: Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images