Unified Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua gave his doubters an entertaining four-knockdown stoppage of IBF-mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev at The SSE Arena, Wembley in front of 1,000 fans
LONDON (December 12, 2020) — Only a couple of the few major names in boxing still needed to make appearances in 2020. Anthony Joshua, the Heavyweight IBF/WBA/WBO champion, capped of Matchroom Boxing’s residency at The SSE Arena, Wembley with an attempt at defense No. 1 of his second reign as the division’s lone unified champ.
The other marquee name, Pound-for-Pound performer Canelo Alvarez, faces WBA and Ring Super Middleweight champion Callum Smith December 19 in San Antonio, Texas live on DAZN.
Tonight on DAZN, one-loss 39-year old Kubrat Pulev finally got his mandatory opportunity, with the kicker of an upset placing him in an undisputed bout with WBC champion Tyson Fury in 2021. Pulev and Fury are both promoted by Top Rank in the United States.
Pulev’s chances for an undisputed fight started disappearing quickly. Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) showed a mixture of looks in dropping Pulev (28-2, 14 KOs) four times before closing the show in the ninth round. The champion’s guard was wide as he opened the fight. He confidently attacked Pulev, but remained poised in doing so. Joshua nullified the shorter Pulev’s right hand with a high use rate of his jab to the head and torso. Additionally, the champion fought tall and used his agility to step back out of range, when necessary.
Once Pulev’s offense became limited, Joshua began looking for his straight right hand, as well as his uppercut while mid-range and closer. The champion’s uppercut played a big role in a pair of knockdowns round three, as well as the two that came later in the ninth. Pulev was badly hurt following the first knockdown in Round 9, and Joshua changed up to land his power from long-range. He stepped to the impaired challenger and flashed a left jab that he pulled back quickly to land his best straight right hand of the fight. Pulev went down, got up near the end of the 10-count but referee Deon Dwarte quickly decided that he couldn’t continue to fight. The time was 2:58.
Joshua lingered around in front of Pulev for a long period of time to open the fight. His guard was surprisingly wide, as the two stood nearly toe-to-toe. Few power shots were thrown. At times Joshua stood almost totally still. The champion started throwing his jab both up top and underneath. Pulev’s hands were active enough to keep Joshua from taking any early risk. The challenger countered Joshua with a good right hand towards the end.
Joshua still didn’t resemble the challenger we saw at Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia a year ago. Joshua fired a heavier combination midway through the second frame. He attempted to finish it with a right uppercut. Most of it missed. The action picked up throughout the balance of the round.
Pulev inched forward in Round 3. The affair exploded midway through as Joshua dropped a right hand, a counter punch, on the challenger’s chin. Pulev retreated, and after getting several steps away, he completely turned away and showed his back to the champion. Referee Deon Dwarte stopped the fight and started his count for Pulev.
The fight continued and Joshua’s attack remained fierce. Moments later Pulev was on the canvas for a second time – hurt badly by a right uppercut. The challenger got up for a second time, and made it through the round. Joshua got a little reckless at times, and he exerted a great deal of energy going for the stoppage.
Both men basically regrouped in Round 4.
The fight in each fighter returned in Round 5. Joshua’s guard was loose, his hands often lowered. He landed a left jab that knocked Pulev’s head back, but the challenger was too far away for the right hand that followed. Pulev responded with a big right hand, at about the :33 mark, to the champion’s chin.
Pulev inched toward the taller Joshua to open Round 6. Defensively, the champion showed some head movement and the good anticipation at other times, to avoid Pulev’s power. The two boxed the remainder of the round. Joshua mixed in some dancing center-ring to close the round.
As the fight moved into its second half, Joshua started Round 7 touching Pulev with jab to the head and body. With 90 seconds to go he followed up a 1-2 combination and repositioned his feet, while inside, to shoot a series of right uppercuts. Pulev appeared to be in trouble briefly. Pulev continued to struggle with finding the champion, cleanly, with his right hand.
In Round 8 Pulev started to attack with signs of either frustration or desperation. He was likely several rounds down on the cards – plus the two knockdowns. This time, again near the round’s midpoint, the champion shoved four jabs into the challenger’s midsection.
The champion worked from outside behind his jab for the first half of the ninth round. Joshua dropped Pulev with a combination with multiple uppercuts. Pulev battled to fight on and got back up again. Once the action resumed Joshua stepped to Pulev, and finished off the challenger with a booming right hand set up by a throwaway left jab. Pulev laid flat on his back before making a late push to get to his feet. Unfortunately, Dwarte stopped the fight at 2:58.
Once Pulev was straightened out medically and his safety was addressed, Joshua exited the ring to exchange some words with Floyd Mayweather. The 31-year old Watford native reentered the ring for the official decision before conducting a post-fight interview with the media.
Joshua told Sky Sports afterwards: “I started this game in 2013. I’ve been chasing all the belts. I’ve been dealing with mandatories. “Of course I want the challenge. It’s not about the opponent, it’s about the legacy and the belt. Whoever has got the belt, I would love to compete with them. If that is Tyson Fury, let it be Tyson Fury. It’s no big deal.
“It’s one fight at a time, picking them off one by one. That’s all it’s about for me. I’ve got to stay focused.”
“There’s been a lot of talk,” Eddie Hearn told Sky Sports. “As he said, it’s less talk, more action. Since he came into the office, he wanted to be the Undisputed Champion of the World.
“We’re going to be friendly, we’re going to be nice. We know what we have to do. Starting from tomorrow, we make the Tyson Fury fight straight away.
“It’s the only fight to be made in boxing. It’s the biggest fight in boxing. It’s the biggest fight in British boxing history.”
All photos by Mark Robinson/Matchroom