Promoter Frank Warren insists that Tyson Fury’s shaky performance against Francis Ngannou hasn’t at all dented his confidence in his ace client ahead of a highly anticipated undisputed heavyweight championship.

England’s Fury is set to defend his WBC title against WBO, WBA, IBF, IBO heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk of Ukraine on May 18 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The winner of the 12-round bout will be the first fully unified champion in the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis did so more than two decades ago. The bout was initially set for February 17, before a cut sustained in training camp forced Fury to withdraw. 

The high-profile matchup was nearly derailed in October, when Fury turned in an iffy performance against former UFC champion Francis Ngannou in a “crossover” spectacle. What was regarded by most fans and observers as a blatant mismatch and cash grab turned out to be a surprisingly competitive affair, with the boxing novice in Ngannou even dropping Fury in the third round with a left hook. Fury would hold on to win narrowly by split decision. After the fight, public opinion seemed divided on the result, with a significant swath insisting that Ngannou deserved the nod on the scorecards.

In an interview, Warren admitted that Fury had an “off night” against Ngannou but refused to read into any more than that.

“No, no,” Warren told SecondsOut. “I’m a big believer in him. I think he’s the best heavyweight out there. I know obviously people feel that there are some question marks after the last fight against Ngannou. For me, he had an off night that he won a fight. I’ve seen fighters have an off night and get beat. He won the fight. We will see.”

Warren added, as a way of reminder, that Usyk himself has a few questions to answer as well.

Usyk is coming off a ninth-round stoppage of Daniel Dubois, who is also promoted by Warren, back in August in Poland. But, like Fury, Usyk did not come out of that fight unscathed. Dubois dropped Usyk in the fifth with a body punch, but it was deemed a low blow by the referee, who then allowed Usyk to recuperate for a few minutes.

Warren immediately filed a protest against the sanctioning body overseeing the fight (WBA) but it was eventually rejected.  

“You got to look at Usyk as well,” Warren said. “Usyk against Dubois. Now Dubois has shown that he (Usyk) can be hurt, [that he is] a little vulnerable to the body. Will Tyson exploit that or go a different way of going about it to win the fight? I don’t know. I fancy him, big time, Tyson. I’m not going to bet against him. If I thought he would lose the fight I would try and talk him out of having the fight.”

Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.