We analyse the Anthony Joshua next fight dilemma and provide some insight into potential challengers Kubrat Pulev and Oleksandr Usyk
It is fortunate that most boxers refuse to dwell for too long on their accomplishments. On Saturday Anthony Joshua became only the fourth heavyweight in history to regain the world title in an immediate rematch, following luminaries Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis, when he gained vengeance over Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia. Despite the scale of the achievement, especially given Ruiz had destroyed him back in June, Joshua was afforded precious little time to celebrate before talk turned, almost immediately, to the future.
With unified status comes obligation and Joshua has both IBF and WBO mandatories to take care of in 2020. The IBF has ordered AJ to next face Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev who secured his mandatory status by outpointing Hughie Fury over a year ago now, and promoter Eddie Hearn has indicated the grizzled veteran could be next, back in the UK.
That being said, Oleksandr Usyk leapfrogged previous WBO No. 1 Dillian Whyte to become mandatory with that organisation, by virtue of his supreme status for them at cruiserweight. The WBO gave Joshua six months from the Ruiz rematch to defend against the Ukranian, although given he is also guided by Matchroom, perhaps there could be some leeway worked out; Pulev is with Top Rank. The Brit has stated his intention to face both mandatory challengers but he has not fought three times within seven months since 2015-16 (Whyte, Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale). We shall see how it all pans out but here is a snapshot of both potential next opponents.
The 38-year-old has only ever lost as a pro to a peak Wladimir Klitschko, who knocked him out in five rounds back in 2014. Rarely spectacular but with excellent fundamentals and ring generalship, Pulev is also physically strong and looked as effective as ever when beating Fury. That and his 2016 victory over Dereck Chisora – a split decision that should have been unanimous – are his best wins of the last five years. Add in an early-career triumph against Matt Skelton and the former amateur standout is 3-0 versus Brits, a marketing angle Matchroom and Sky can have for free.
An altogether different challenge for Joshua, not just from Pulev but arguably from anyone he has faced before. The unbeaten Ukranian, a World and Olympic amateur ruler, is all about mobility, accuracy and workrate and it is easy to envisage his style giving AJ fits. An undisputed champion at cruiser and winner of the World Boxing Super Series – beating all three quality victims on away turf, as he did Tony Bellew after the tournament – Usyk will not be fazed by taking on AJ at a football stadium in the UK. He did not looked overly impressive in his heavyweight debut win over Chazz Witherspoon in October, but the man who turns 33 in January had to deal with a late-notice change of opponent.