Danny Flexen presents some positives regarding the veteran Bulgarian as Anthony Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev is confirmed
We all knew it was coming. From the moment Anthony Joshua regained his unified world heavyweight titles from Andy Ruiz in December, it was clear the Brit’s next challenger would be one of his two mandatory contenders, either IBF selection Kubrat Pulev or Oleksandr Usyk, preferred option from the WBO. At least a month ago, that field had narrowed to just Pulev, with only the finer details to be confirmed.
Yesterday Joshua vs Pulev was announced for Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20 and the inevitability of the fight, along with fresh memories of Tyson Fury’s recent superb victory over Deontay Wilder, has left a large number of people underwhelmed by AJ’s return to the UK after nearly two years away.
Pulev, while not a household name, is however no pushover, and here are three reasons why.
The Bulgarian may not have an Olympic gold medal like his June opponent but was a significantly more experienced amateur, winning a European championship and World bronze. He began at 13 as a junior-flyweight but achieved his greatest successes as a super-heavy. As a pro his slow-burn progression has been in marked contrast to Joshua’s, despite only having competed in five more contests. Pulev has completed 196 paid rounds compared to AJ’s 81 and the latter has only gone the 12-round championship distance twice; his challenger has done so on five occasions. The 38-year-old has clearly beaten the likes of Dereck Chisora (despite a perplexing split decision), Hughie Fury and a near-peak Tony Thompson, only losing to a piping hot and uncharacteristically aggressive Wladimir Klitschko back in 2014.
All those fights against quality opposition across both codes have had a beneficial effect on Pulev. He is robust, composed and a textbook boxer. The man from Sofia has a fine jab, potent right hand and intelligent if not elaborate footwork. His defence is also sound with the ring generalship commensurate with a man of his pedigree. Hughie Fury is an awkward box of tricks but Pulev, admittedly aided by an early cut to his rival, comfortably outboxed and outworked the younger man in 2018. Kubrat can be one-paced and that should be his biggest concern against the explosive champion, but it is unlikely he will be outclassed from a technical perspective.
There has never been a world heavyweight champion from Bulgaria and Pulev was humiliated by Klitschko in his only previous shot at the gold. Felt by many to have a decent chance, Pulev was pummelled, dropped three times and finished in five rounds. This is his shot at redemption and boy has it been long awaited. Kubrat has been at the top of the IBF rankings for a lengthy period and forrmally secured this opportunity with the Fury triumph which took place over 18 months ago. He was first supposed to meet Joshua, as IBF mandatory, in October 2017, but suffered a shoulder injury, allowing Carlos Takam to step in and losing his own status in the process. Pulev will be incredibly hungry to finally take his chance.