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Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev preview: Unified heavyweight champ returns to action

Anthony Joshua’s first app

Anthony Joshua Media Access Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) defends his WBA, WBO and IBF titles against veteran top 10 heavyweight Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs) on Saturday at The SSE Arena in London.

Joshua won his first title when he took the IBF belt from Charles Martin in 2016 but became truly recognized as a champion when he won the 2017 fight of the year against Wladimir Klitschko. He made three defenses of his unified titles before losing them in the 2019 upset of the year when Andy Ruiz knocked him out in seven. He regained the titles with a disciplined (some would say conservative) performance in the rematch in December of last year. After the rematch, he seemed set for superfight with fellow top British heavyweight Tyson Fury in 2020 but the global pandemic threw a wrench in those plans and led him to this defense against his mandatory IBF challenger Pulev.

Pulev challenged Klitschko in 2014 for the undisputed heavyweight title but was knocked out in 5 rounds by the Ukrainian great. He is undefeated in 8 fights since but hasn’t faced truly elite competition since the Klitschko fight. His biggest wins in that stretch were a split decision win over Dereck Chisora and a unanimous decision over Hughie Fury in a rather forgettable fight.

Joshua is a superb athlete but he is pretty uncomfortable on the inside and has a tendency to bend at the waist and lower his head in those situations, as exposed in his fights with Ruiz and, to a lower extent, Alexander Povetkin. His size, good jab and punching power make him fearsome at range though and he showed in the Ruiz rematch that he’d learned the lessons from the first fight. He avoided dangerous exchanges and throughly outboxed Ruiz over 12 rounds. Pulev is unlikely to pose much threat on the inside anyway, as he is also a tall heavyweight relying very much on his 1-2. With a 50% KO rate he’s also a relatively light puncher for a heavyweight. The fight is likely to be contested at range where Joshua’s superior technique, power and speed should carry him to a rather comfortable win.

This should set up the much anticipated clash with Tyson Fury to crown an undisputed heavyweight champion and would be one of the biggest fights in modern heavyweight history.

In the co-main event, Fury’s cousin Hughie (24-3, 14KOs) will face Mariusz Wach (36-6, 19 KOs). Fury came short in his 3 cracks at top fighters so far (decision losses to Pulev, Povetkin and Joseph Parker) but still has some time to develop at 26. Wach is well past his prime at 40 years old and if he hopes to come close to the heights reached by his cousin, is someone Fury should get past without trouble.

Joshua vs Pulev airs on DAZN at 2:00pm ET/11:00am PT on Saturday December 12th.