Danny Flexen speaks to John Wirt of Team Pulev about Anthony Joshua next fight and finds the Bulgarian very much in pole position
Anthony Joshua likes to keep us guessing. The unified world heavyweight champion, knowing we are all wondering which of his two mandatory contenders he will face next, this week talked about reopening negotiations with WBC king Deontay Wilder, who first has the small matter of a Tyson Fury rematch to navigate, on February 22. We’re an impatient bunch here at Seconds Out, so reached out to the team behind Kubrat Pulev - IBF mandatory, with Oleksandr Usyk the WBO’s preferred challenger - to find out the latest. John Wirt, who with his Epic Sports partner Ivaylo Gotsev co-promotes Pulev alongside Bob Arum’s Top Rank, did not disappoint.
"We feel that we are very close," Wirt told me and indeed this is backed up by the parties extending the negotiating period to January 31. "Things got pushed back due to the holidays and vacations and the resulting delays in obtaining the information we need from the various sites to be able to compare offers. But things have been moving very quickly the last couple of weeks and we hope to be able to formally announce something by the end of the month.
"[We’ve had bids from] the UK, Las Vegas, New York, Nigeria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The favoured destination is the one that will be the most profitable."
Joshua often visits Nigeria, the nation of his parents, and bringing a big fight to Africa has long been an ambition of his. Pulev meanwhile recently indicated the showdown would go to Turkey.
The thorny issue of competing mandatory obligations is not a new one. Indeed, one of the consequences of Evander Holyfield’s lawsuit against the WBC in 1990 was that the ’big four’ sanctioning bodies would subsequently employ a rotational system for obligatory defences made by unified title-holders. Wirt is confident the IBF and, by association his man Pulev, is next in line for AJ.
"It is my understanding that the IBF mandatory is due next under the court-mandated rotation," Wirt, an accomplished attorney, stated. "While I have read reports that the WBO initially stated that it’s mandatory is due now too, under the Holyfield case, Joshua cannot be forced to give up either the IBF or the WBO title and if neither the IBF nor the WBO ultimately backs down, a judge would eventually have to decide which mandatory is due next under the rotation. That being said, it is my understanding that if Joshua decides to fight Pulev next, the WBO is not going to strip Joshua."
If negotiations for any reason do break down and the Joshua vs Pulev contest goes to purse bids, pitting behemoths Top Rank (and their broadcaster of choice, ESPN) and Matchroom/DAZN against each other, Pulev could be forced into fighting in a location the Bulgarian is uncomfortable with. Worse still, Joshua, not fancying a match in Istanbul for example, could vacate, leaving Pulev to meet unbeaten and dangerous Adam Kownacki for a vacant belt and presumably far less money. Wirt, however, does not believe purse bids will be necessary.
"Based on the current status of negotiations, we do not anticipate the need for a purse bid and because we are working closely with Matchroom and Top Rank to make a deal, it would not be appropriate to speculate on our chances if a purse bid were to occur or what Joshua would do if Epic and/or Top Rank were to win the purse bid," he insisted. "Our focus continues to be on making a deal for this fight."