Anthony Joshua v Kubrat Pulev: Sparks fly as AJ aims to stick to the script

By Sports Desk December 11, 2020

Anthony Joshua is back on British soil aiming to avoid another untimely career setback when he defends his IBF, WBA and WBO titles against Kubrat Pulev. 

The unified heavyweight champion has Tyson Fury pencilled in for a fight in 2021 – provided he comes through Saturday's main event at Wembley Arena, which will see a 1,000-strong crowd present. 

Pulev has patiently waited his turn – this pair were initially due to meet back in 2017, only for the Bulgarian to have to pull out through injury – but finally gets his chance, this a second attempt to stage the contest in 2020 after a June date was scuppered by the coronavirus pandemic.

He certainly did not waste his opportunity at the weigh-in to get under Joshua's skin, as a lengthy exchange between the pair went on for several minutes as security watched on, just in case.

The challenger has a record to suggest there is reason to believe he can back up his words with meaningful actions. Pulev's only defeat in the paid ranks was to Wladimir Klitschko six years ago - and he's won eight on the spin since that setback.

Still, he is now 39 and has not fought anyone close to Joshua's level since being stopped inside five rounds by Klitschko.

In truth, though, this is all about Joshua. The Briton bounced back from a first career loss to regain his titles a year ago against an out-of-shape Andy Ruiz Jr, a considered approach allowing him to dictate terms over 12 rounds. 

His method paid off on that occasion, aided by his opponent's lack of thorough preparation, but will we see a return to the more aggressive, open style that helped his rise in popularity? 

A desire to impress somewhat caused his downfall in the first meeting with Ruiz, who climbed off the canvas to cause a monumental shock at the famous Madison Square Garden. Pulev's pre-fight words may well have tempted Joshua into a battle, but to do so is a risk for the home favourite when so much is at stake.

Fury - and boxing fans across the world - will watch on with great interest, knowing a win for the home favourite clears one of the major hurdles in the way of a huge unification showdown for next year.


RECENT HISTORY 

Joshua has not fought at home since September 2018, when he stopped Alexander Povetkin at a packed-out Wembley Stadium.

Since then, his two fights on the road have both been against Ruiz Jr, the last of them a rematch staged in Diriyah that went the distance.

Pulev, meanwhile, fought twice in 2019, beating Rydell Booker on points in a 10-rounder to follow on from a stoppage success against Bogdan Dinu earlier in the year.

He has two relatively recent bouts against British fighters on his career resume too, having beaten both Hughie Fury (October 2018) and Dereck Chisora (May 2016) on points. 


TALE OF THE TAPE 

ANTHONY JOSHUA

Age: 31
Height: 6ft 6ins (198cm) 
Weight: 241lbs 
Reach: 82ins  
Professional record: 23-1 (21 KOs) 
Major career titles: IBF, WBA, WBO heavyweight

KUBRAT PULEV

Age: 39
Height: 6ft 4.5ins (194cm) 
Weight: 239lbs 
Reach: 79.5ins  
Professional record: 28-1 (14 KOs) 
Major career titles: European heavyweight


THE UNDERCARD 

Lawrence Okolie takes on late stand-in Nikodem Jezewski in a cruiserweight contest as chief support. Originally, the plan had been to fight for the vacant WBO title against Krzysztof Glowacki, who was forced to withdraw from the card after testing positive for COVID-19.

Hughie Fury - a former Pulev foe - is in action against the experienced Mariusz Wach, while there is an intriguing heavyweight clash involving Martin Bakole and Sergey Kuzmin.

Unbeaten welterweight Florian Marku makes his Matchroom debut, taking on Jamie Stewart over eight rounds. However, the former nearly came to blows long before the first bell after becoming involved in a Twitter spat with another boxer inside the bubble.

Macaulay McGowan, who is up against Kieron Conway on Saturday, made clear in an interview he wants to take on Marku in the future, leading to an exchange of messages on social media and a meeting in a hotel corridor that required the presence of security to diffuse the situation.

WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY... 

Joshua on the weigh-in confrontation: "I know what's he like. He thinks he's a warrior. I said, 'Don't let the guys you've fought gas you up - you're in against a real one now'."

Pulev after the verbal exchange: "I respect him - he's an Olympic champion, a world champion. I respect him so much, but I am the better boxer. Tomorrow (Saturday) I will show him."

Trainer Rob McCracken on Joshua's mindset: "He doesn't underestimate anybody, takes everybody seriously. But he's not unified champion twice for no reason - he's a fantastic fighter and will only get better."

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    The rivals have a deal in place to face each other twice in 2021, though a venue and date had yet to be agreed for the first meeting.

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    "All I will tell you – which I haven't said to anyone yet – is that both sides have approved the site offer they want to go with. Now we are just finalising the site deal and we are in a great place.

    "I saw Tyson yesterday. We had five or 10 minutes together – and it was good.

    "I don't represent Tyson, so I don't know what is in his mind. What he basically cemented in my mind is that this is the only fight he wants. I know that is the same with AJ.

    "We've got the offer, we all approve and we are moving forward now. We're good. I'm not going to go into where it is going to be held, but it has been agreed by both sides over the option we will take. You will get the date very soon, plus the official announcement."

    Hearn also made clear that the original plan still remains in place, meaning a bout midway through 2021 will be followed by a rematch before the end of the year.

    "There is no option for this fight to go at the back end of the year," Hearn said.

    "That's been the hardest thing about securing the site deal ... in this world we live in today, most people would like to kick it to November or December. That's not available. It was never available.

    "What was available was a summer fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship. That is what you’re going to get.

    "Both guys want two fights this year – one will be in the summer, one will be in December. That's the plan."

    Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said last week that the English capital is ready to host the lucrative fight, despite the restrictions in the country amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

    Fury's most recent three bouts have all been staged in Las Vegas while Joshua reclaimed his titles from Andy Ruiz Jr in a rematch held in Saudi Arabia in December 2019.

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