BBN Writer Jordan Bright breaks down Anthony Joshua's first defence as a two-time world champion
The WBA ‘Super’, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles will be up for grabs once again this summer when Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21KO) defends against IBF mandatory challenger and world title contender Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14KO).
The heavyweight pair will entertain a substantial audience at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20, but with the recent issues with the coronavirus pandemic, the date is set to be postponed to a later time, promoter Eddie Hearn already confirming there’s a back-up date earmarked for July.
The brand-new, state of the art sporting arena has played host to the NFL as well as it’s resident football team since opening its doors last April. The 62,000+ capacity will be significantly increased for the boxing event, set to take place on the same day in history that Floyd Patterson KO’d Ingemar Johansson in five rounds for the heavyweight world title.
However, this current pandemic shows that nothing is certain when it comes to sporting events right now, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics already pushed back.
Both heavyweights are still in training for a June meeting, but it’s hard to envisage a scene where over 60,000 fans are allowed to gather together any time soon.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at the soon to be warring heavyweights:
The poster boy for British boxing showed an evolution to his game in his previous ring encounter against Andy Ruiz Jr (33-2) last December.
He looked like a more traditional boxer, sticking and moving to comprehensively out-point the Mexican-American, which led to a unanimous decision victory in Saudi Arabia. It was obvious he was wary of his sole conqueror’s power, but his game plan was effective, and he stuck to it perfectly to win back his trophy hoard. He boxed like an amateur, bouncing on his toes and staying out of harm’s way to rack up the rounds against a dangerous puncher.
Prior to that fight, AJ was typically the bullying sort against his opponents, aggressively looking to get close and land his brisk and devastating right hand for the knockout victory.
However, that typical method also put him in danger of getting into fire fights, which is what led him to getting knocked out in the first bout with Ruiz in June 2019. His come-forward, stand-up tall approach to fights where he let his hands go freely also saw him cop a few in return, most famously being wobbled for the first time in his career by a Dillian Whyte left hand in 2015. That was the first time we saw a vulnerability in the formidable figure who had defeated all his opponents within three rounds up to that point.
Since the early scares against Alexander Povetkin in September 2018, followed by the demolition job Ruiz pulled off nine months later in AJ’s US debut, he doesn’t seem to be the same destructive, gung-ho heavyweight he was once known to be and looks to be more vulnerable lately.
His feeling of invincibility has now been shattered and his confidence knocked down a level or two, so it’s interesting to see what version will come out of the red corner in this next fight.
Trained by Otto Ramin, Beijing 2008 Olympian Kubrat Pulev showed world title contender Hughie Fury (21-2) he still has what it takes at the top when he cut his left eye badly and bullied him around the ring in their October 2018 fight.
Previously, he has held the IBF International heavyweight title for a long time during 2011 to 2014, the European belt twice, and most recently the WBA Inter-Continental.
Pulev does not possess the destructive punching power of Joshua, but his attacks are accurate and stinging. He has a sharp jab and his one-two’s are ultra-successful. He also has a good engine and continues to throw shots right up to the final round when his opponents are looking worn.
The Bulgarian works well behind his jab and keeps busy but has to be in close proximity to fully unleash his power. The 38-year-old’s fluent combinations, both to the body and head, are a valuable asset to his game, but the damage they cause is more distracting than destructive.
Defensively, he succeeds in tying up his opponents when they attempt to engage with him and he covers up well when anticipating an offensive, however he doesn’t seem to move his upper body much or counter when on the defensive. This could be an issue against AJ.
It’s also worth noting that the only time he has stepped up to world title level, he failed terribly, knocked down four times in five rounds against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014. It remains his only loss in a 10-year career.
AJ is eight and a half years Pulev’s junior, who will be 39 when they finally meet. He has over two inches in height advantage and around the same in reach advantage.
The Londoner will tower over the Bulgarian when then go to head to head. Pulev has double the experience in the professional ranks with 203 rounds boxed compared to Joshua’s 103, but that’s because two-thirds of his fights have been finished inside three rounds.
Joshua’s 88% KO ratio will be his biggest asset against Pulev’s far lesser figure of 48%.
AJ’s power far exceeds Pulev’s, so we should see a more aggressive, incentivised strategy from the defending champion.
‘The Cobra’ commands respect, so there should be a feeling out process for the opening rounds at east.
After Joshua’s cautious tactics in his last fight, you could imagine he will want to make a statement against a man who isn’t known for his power.
Against Klitschko, Pulev was down several times before the fifth-round stoppage, and it was the lead left hand of the Ukrainian that most of the damage. That was the same shot that AJ attempted to land several times in his last bout. He leapt in with the lead left hook then instantly held after it landed or missed the target. It’s a punch/tactic that will likely be seen from AJ in this next fight.
I believe that AJ will be back to his devastating self again and will knock Pulev out very early on in the fight.
The Briton hasn’t knocked anyone out in close to two years by the time he gets back in the ring and will be hellbent on getting no.22 in his first fight back on home soil.
AJ to retain his titles and stop the Bulgarian in the seventh round, but could be even sooner than that.