It didn’t look like we would get to see boxing’s Big Man in 2020 but, like Santa, he’s making one spectacular appearance at the end of the year – and there will even be fans there to see it!
Anthony Joshua faces Kubrat Pulev this weekend at Wembley Arena in front of 1000 disciples, and the winner will be presented with gifts of belts from three major boxing organisations.
SATURDAY 10:30PM: ANTHONY JOSHUA V KUBRAT PULEV
Obviously, the fight everyone wants to see is Joshua versus Tyson Fury, and the good news is that the money for that super showdown is agreed and the respective parties have been dutifully antagonising each other on social media. All Joshua needs to do now is deal with Pulev.
The once-beaten Bulgarian has worked his way into a mandatory challenger spot for one of the trio of titles AJ holds, and rather than relinquish the strap Joshua is going to defend the belt and get involved in his first scrap for 12 months.
Pulev will be known to boxing buffs worldwide for forcing a smooch on a female reporter in a post-fight interview, but he’s also known for his contests with Dereck Chisora and Hughie Fury. ‘The Cobra’ only edged the decision against ‘Dell Boy’ but he was a clear winner on points against Fury, and those are probably his two best victories.
The 39-year-old from Sofia has only ever had one crack at the championship – a fifth-round stoppage loss to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014. Wlad was wobbled by a straight shot as Pulev jumped on him early doors, but the hammer-fisted Ukrainian scored three knockdowns with left hooks before his challenger was nailed to the canvas for a ten-count.
It’s understandable that AJ could be overlooking Pulev – he’s bigger, better and younger, and he has a potential mega match-up with Fury just around the corner.
Aside from pandemics, 2020 is also the year of the heavyweight underdog: Tyson Fury was odds-against in February before he demolished Deontay Wilder, Alexander Povetkin wasn’t fancied against Dillian Whyte but sparked him out in five rounds, and Joe Joyce upset the applecart by breaking down Daniel Dubois.
If you fancy huge odds and a Pulev win look no further than the Bulgarian in rounds 1-6. If the old campaigner has any chance of winning he has to make a mark while he is still fresh and take advantage before Joshua works out his ungainly style.
I think Kubrat will come in fast in the first session like he did against Klitschko. The away fighter won’t mind roughing it up, and he’s an old hand at the rabbit punch, the dig to the kidneys, and he’s not above hitting an opponent when they’re down – I am more than tempted to have a dabble on Pulev to have a point deducted.
Joshua has shown in his last few fights that he can vary his approach and often his weight is a tell-tale sign of what he’s going to do. At the start of his pro career, AJ weighed 230 pounds but by the time he faced Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz he was up at 250lbs or more, and he intended to walk through these opponents. For the Ruiz rematch, Josh tipped the scales at a lean 237lbs before he jabbed-and-danced his way to victory.
The Brit has promised to steamroller his challenger this Saturday but it doesn’t look like he’ll be checking-in around the 250-pound mark. The embarrassment from the shock defeat to Ruiz is too raw for the 2012 Olympic champ to go gung-ho early, and for his first fight in the UK for two years I expect his focus to be razor-sharp.
Pulev’s 50 per cent KO ratio suggests that he’s not the biggest banger but don’t think that a 6’4”, 18 stone boxer with Olympic pedigree can’t make his power felt. The thing is, Joshua has struggled most with opponents who throw fast, short combinations, but ‘The Cobra’ tends to stick to straight singles and doubles.
It could be a cautious couple of rounds of boxing-chess from a zoned-in AJ as Pulev wades forward, but the prime 31-year-old will find a gap for the left hook or right hand before long, and when he does, it won’t last much longer. Pulev has big Bulgarian “topki” and he might be able to haul himself up from one knockdown but I can’t see it going past the midway mark.
Bet of the bout: Joshua in rounds 1-6
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