Joshua vs Pulev: One Final Step On The Road To Undisputed
Anthony Joshua probably more than anything craves to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. This Saturday night Joshua can move within touching distance of having the opportunity to do exactly that.
Joshua is only missing the WBC version of the heavyweight belts to complete the set of the more widely recognised governing bodies, other governing bodies are sadly available. Tyson Fury poses a significant challenge, but there are many other hurdles to jump over before Fury and Joshua get to share a ring together.
Politics and promotional differences need to be overcome. But Joshua has a job to do inside the ring before any serious discussions can begin.
Joshua has been here before, talk of Deontay Wilder filled the air as Joshua went to America for the big stateside launch. That night in New York in 2019 ended in disaster, the fight with Andy Ruiz Jr left questions unanswered, wild conspiracy theories, everyone looking for an answer of why it went so wrong.
Joshua with a ring of doubt hanging over his career looked a forlorn figure as he looked deep within. An interview with Anna Woolhouse for Sky didn’t really convince. The former champion seemed to be in denial, a lack of acceptance on what happened, it was more worrying than encouraging.
But Joshua made subtle, rather than wholesale changes to his team, he lost muscle mass and travelled to Saudi Arabia looking for revenge, to get back what he had lost earlier in the year. The pain of the defeat to Ruiz could not be hidden, it was visible to all, you could sense his confidence was fragile, for the first time in his career there was real doubt.
Joshua boxed with caution, fear even, and despite Joshua seemingly cruising to victory, there was still real concern that at any moment he would start to unravel. But the Brit held it together physically and mentally, and once again was the heavyweight champion of the world. It wasn’t how he looked winning, it was a night he just had to win. On Saturday night he needs to show more.
All fighters go into every fight with doubt hanging over them, but when you have a profile as high as Joshua, everything is magnified. Because of what we saw in New York, and to a lesser extent, in previous fights with Dillian Whyte and Wladimir Klitschko, Joshua will always have some degree of vulnerability about him. Every future opponent will enter a fight with Joshua and feel they can replicate what Ruiz did to him first time around.
Despite the revenge win over Ruiz, does it really remove what happened previously. Ruiz partied long and hard after his life-changing win, did Ruiz beat himself as much as Joshua beat him. The doubt lingers on, Saturday night now carries a little more intrigue than maybe it should.
The Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev will get his opportunity this weekend. Pulev 39, a fighter almost from another era, and in many ways, a forgotten one. Like Ruiz, Pulev is unfancied and widely expected to lose. But this is no normal year, and in an atmosphere, that despite the return of some fans, isn’t what Joshua is use to. What we expect is more at risk in the unfamiliar.
But Pulev (28-1) on the surface poses far less threat than Ruiz, despite what those in search of buys try to tell you. Klitschko stopped him in 5 rounds in 2014, and we have only seen him a handful of times since. Pulev doesn’t inspire much confidence, he’s decent but nothing more, certainly at this stage of his career. The challenger says he feels dangerous, but in all probability there will be far more danger coming his way than he will be able to hand out. Victory looks remote but Pulev will draw strength and hope from what Ruiz did to Joshua. There is a feeling that Joshua does go over a little too easy, but does Pulev carry enough power to upset those lucrative future plans?
Joshua (23-1) should be able to deal with Pulev easily enough no matter what version we see on Saturday night. But there is still risk, carelessness, complacency or looking too far ahead can all conspire to repeat that awful and humbling night in America.
Joshua says he is a better fighter now having experienced the pain of his first loss. The champion has talked about honing his craft, but is that wishful thinking. In the heat of battle will the same fundamental flaws become all too visible again. Pulev might not be the one to bring those flaws to the surface, but after Ruiz, there is always a feeling, he might.
But Joshua wiser and stronger for that experience is highly unlikely to risk what he desperately wants. Joshua showed his mental toughness in coming out the other side, and deserves credit for the versatility he showed in the return with Ruiz.
Fury is the grand prize, but if Joshua lets it slip once more, it will not come around again. Joshua, while looking to send a defiant message to his domestic rival, will nevertheless box with one eye on caution in the early stages. But as the fight progresses Joshua will assert his authority to force the stoppage somewhere around the middle rounds. How he looks in doing so could be pivotal to what comes next.
Once the final bell rings a much tougher fight will begin. The great promotional divide, inflated ego’s and what ever else need to be left at the door as the undisputed negotiations get under way. Fury vs Joshua needs to happen and you get the feeling it is a case of now or never.
Photo Credit: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing