For the first time in six years Britain’s two best heavyweights are fighting within a week of each other, so it’s Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury, in a way, writes Danny Flexen
Back in November 2014, two highly talented British heavyweights, at different stages of their careers, fought within a week of each other. On the 22nd, Anthony Joshua, the London 2012 gold medallist who had quickly ascended to 9-0 as a professional, took just 86 seconds to blast out a faded former champ in Michael Sprott. At the Echo Arena in Liverpool, the match was on a pay-per-view show but not the main event - that ’honour’ belonged to the dull rematch between once-bitter rivals Tony Bellew and Nathan Cleverly.
A week later, at London’s Excel Arena, Tyson Fury, who had turned pro almost five years prior to Joshua, bided his time while waiting for the world title shot that would come just two fights later in Germany. In front of a half-empty venue, largely because the card had run late and travel back from that corner of east London is notoriously problematic, Fury moved, prodded and tortured old foe Dereck Chisora, until the latter’s corner sensible and compassionately withdrew their brave charge at the end of round 10. This allowed myself and the other hardcore remainers to belatedly exit into the freezing night and find a way home. By the time I got back around 4am, Fury had presumably completed his celebration, having taken Chisora’s European title and regained the (vacant) British championship live on BoxNation (remember them?). While Fury vs Chisora 2 was the nominal headliner, the vast majority of fan and press interest centred on another high-level domestic clash on the bill, although Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr delivered a thrilling and competitive affair earlier in the running order.
Six years down the line, and following myriad ups and downs, the two giants, now the only major world heavyweight rulers in the world, will once again compete just seven days apart. WBC king Fury goes first this time around, meeting an as-yet unnamed foe atop a Frank Warren and (most likely) BT Sport Box Office show on December 5. Joshua will be out on the 12th, at the O2 Arena, defending his unified belts against longtime IBF mandatory, Kubrat Pulev of Bulgaria on Sky Sports Box Office. The question is, who will make more of an impression as the pair continue down the long and winding road towards an inevitable showdown.
For Fury, much depends on the choice of opponent. Recent reports indicate we are down to a two-horse race between erratic stallion Carlos Takam and measured thoroughbred Agit Kabayel. Both represent creditable challengers but almost certainly wide outsiders with the bookmakers. Takam would, I feel, provide a more exciting clash for the fans. The Cameroon-born Frenchman is aggressive, tough and happy to land with whatever he can, whether fists, head or elbows. While Takam fell to Chisora just two years ago, he dominated for long periods before falling victim to the best shot of the Londoner’s career and, previous to that upset, gave Joshua problems at short notice, before finally succumbing in the 10th. He would likely rough Fury up, without winning, in a similar way to Otto Wallin, who boldly took the fight to Tyson, badly cutting him in the process, last year. Kabayel, on the other hand, might be a willing dance partner in more of a slow waltz, worse for the fans but perhaps better for Fury and his long-term plans. An unbeaten boxer with sound fundamentals, fast hands and good mobility, Kabayel is nothing special and his main qualities are mirrored, and to a greater extent, by the champion. Fury could, after a quiet few rounds, ultimately appear devestating against his former sparring partner.
Joshua should - and given the first Andy Ruiz fight, ’should’ is the operative word here - be able to quickly take advantage against Pulev. The veteran former European boss has fought undemanding opposition since securing his chance by clearly outscoring a cut Hughie Fury in 2018. A European champion and World bronze medallist in his amateur days, Pulev has excellent technical skills, is physically strong and can dig a bit. On the flip side, he is far from versatile and can often prove one-paced. At 39, he also seems to be ever so slightly over the hill and the long, Covid-induced layoff will likely have affected him more than Joshua. Watford’s AJ is hardly Willie Pep himself but is more explosive than Pulev and has shown he can fight both on the front foot and using lateral movement. Ruiz, a fast-handed roller, gave him fits in their first bout, while I’ve long felt Fury’s combination of deft movement and swift punching would be all wrong for him. Pulev, like a more robust but less skilful Alexander Povetkin - who gave Joshua trouble a couple of years ago - appears made to order. Joshua should open up spectatcularly once he has the Bulgarian’s measure and will have genuine hope of becoming only the second man to defeat, and stop, a very solid heavyweight.
We will then turn our attention to the respective winners meeting. No one wants to wait another six years for the pair to compete in such close proximity and, when they do, we only hope they are on the same bill, opposing each other in the biggest all-British fight ever.