Sunday, December 13, 2020

Joshua Knocks Out Pulev In Nine To Retain Unified Heavyweight World Championship


Unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua successfully made the first defense since regaining his world championship in his rematch with Andy Ruiz in December of last year, by scoring a dominant ninth round knockout over IBF number one Heavyweight contender Kubrat Pulev on Saturday night at the Wembley Arena in London, England. After a somewhat tentative start where neither fighter was really able to execute much offense, Joshua suddenly burst with offense in round three when he opened up with a barrage of punches that began with a right hand to the head that put Pulev on the defensive. Although Pulev attempted to goad that he wasn’t hurt, moments later another barrage of offense from the champion highlighted by an uppercut to the head caused Pulev to turn his back in a neutral corner, while this usual is an indication of surrender and would be grounds for stopping a fight, Referee Deon Dwarte ruled a knockdown against the challenger, despite Pulev not physically going down and standing eight counts being rare in Professional Boxing.


As the fight continued, Joshua remained disciplined fighting behind a steady jab and looking for openings. Frankly, it seemed that Joshua did not miss with his jab over the course of the fight and this was due to Pulev’s defensive guard being high, but not tight in that Joshua could throw straight punches like the jab up the middle and right through Pulev’s guard. The challenger would be sent down legitimately seconds later with an uppercut for the second official knockdown of the fight seconds after what amounted to the standing eight count. Pulev showing his mettle got up from the canvas and the fight continued.


The uppercut became a weapon that Joshua would throw with increased regularity from this point in the fight on. An example of this came in round seven when the champion landed four consecutive uppercuts to the head of Pulev while the fighters were in close range before finishing the combination with a right hand to the head. It would be another uppercut to the head that would send Pulev down for the third official time midway through round nine. Although by this point the challenger appeared to be fighting fatigue, he once again got up and the fight continued. Seconds later however, Joshua would floor the challenger for the fourth and final time with an overhand right to the head that sent Pulev down on his back on the canvas. Pulev continued to be “Game” and tried to get to his feet, but this time he would be counted out. Official time of the stoppage was 2:58 of round nine. Anthony Joshua advances to 24-1, with 22 Knockouts. Kubrat Pulev falls to 28-2, with 14 Knockouts.


Also on this card:


Undefeated former European Cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie scored a second round knockout over previously undefeated Polish Cruiserweight champion Nikodem Jezewski. Okolie dropped Jezewski with a right hand  to the body in round one. Jezewski was able to get up from the knockdown, but was badly staggered by a right hand to the temple moments later. Despite appearing to be compromised Jezewski was able to survive the round. Jezewski however, had no answer for Okolie’s right hand and after being dropped for the third time in round two by another right hand to the head the bout was promptly stopped even though Jezewski was able to get to his feet. Official time of the stoppage was 1:45 of round two. Lawrence Okolie advances to 15-0, with 12 Knockouts. Nikodem Jezewski falls to 19-1-1, with 9 Knockouts.



Heavyweight contender Hughie Fury outworked former Heavyweight world title challenger Mariusz Wach to earn a ten round unanimous decision. Despite suffering a severe cut over his left eye in round four that came from an accidental clash of heads, Fury, the cousin of undefeated two-time Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury, used effective lateral movement, combination punching and ring generalship to get the better of Wach in most of the rounds and this was what allowed him to earn the unanimous decision victory. Official scores were: 100-90 (On two scorecards), and 99-91 in favor of Fury. Hughie Fury advances to 25-3, with 14 Knockouts. Mariusz Wach falls to 36-7, with 19 Knockouts.



Also in the Heavyweight division in a bout for higher positioning in the WBC Heavyweight ratings, Martin Bakole scored a ten round unanimous decision over Sergey Kuzmin. The early rounds saw several heavy exchanges of offense between the two fighters with Bakole generally getting the better of the action. As the fight progressed and the pace of the bout slowed Kuzmin did some effective work on the inside due largely to Bakole neglecting his jab and allowing Kuzmin to come in close. Although when the pace slowed Kuzmin appeared to be more effective, Bakole’s cleaner shots as well as his success in the early part of the fight was enough to secure a hard-fought decision victory. Official scores were: 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94 all in favor of Bakole. Martin Bakole advances to 16-1, with 12 Knockouts. Sergey Kuzmin falls to 15-2, with 11 Knockouts.


WBA number fifteen rated Middleweight contender Kieron Conway scored a ten round unanimous decision over a “Game “ Macaulay McGowan. Conway consistently picked his shots throughout, landed combinations and scored a knockdown with a left hook to the head of McGowan in round eight to earn the unanimous decision victory. Official scores were: 100-90, and 100-89 (On two scorecards) in favor of Conway. Kieron Conway advances to 16-1-1, with 6 Knockouts. Macaulay McGowan falls to 14-2-1, with 3 Knockouts.



A clash between unbeaten Welterweights saw Florian Marku and Jamie Stewart fight to a controversial eight round draw. Marku was extremely aggressive throughout and frequently gave Stewart problems by switching between an orthodox and southpaw stance and implementing a consistent body attack. It was a left hook to the body in the second round by Marku that scored a knockdown of Stewart. Despite Marku maintaining his pace, landing the harder blows, and maintaining aggression throughout, as well as Stewart remaining “Game” and trying to fight back with limited success,  with all non-title fights that do not impact world rankings or British championship level bouts in the UK are scored solely by the referee, Referee Marcus McDonnell scored the fight even 76-76. Florian Marku advances to 7-0-1, with 5 Knockouts. Jamie Stewart advances to 2-0-1, with 0 Knockouts.



In a Jr. Featherweight bout that began the evening, Qais Ashfaq scored two knockdowns of Ashley Lane, once in the first round and once in round three before stopping him in the fourth round. Official time of the stoppage was :20 of round four. Qais Ashfaq advances to 9-1, with 4 Knockouts. Ashley Lane falls to 14-10-2, with 1 Knockout.


This proved to be a statement making performance for two-time World Heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua as he successfully began his second reign as champion with what was a dominant showing against a longtime contender in Kubrat Pulev. While Joshua will still have to deal with criticism for a time due to his upset loss to Andy Ruiz in their first encounter in June of last year, what was impressive in this observer’s view about his performance in this fight was how he maintained the disciplined approach that allowed him to regain the title in December of last year while at the same time still displaying the punching power and instinct of a “Knockout Artist” that he built his reputation on prior to that lone career defeat against Ruiz. In some ways, Joshua’s performance here against a very “Game” Kubrat Pulev reminded yours truly of Lennox Lewis, another longtime Heavyweight world champion at his peak in terms of the disciplined chess player like approach he displayed in this title defense.


In terms of what may be ahead for Joshua, there are realistically only two immediate options. The first option of course would be a potential encounter with undefeated two-time Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury, currently holder of the WBC world championship in the Heavyweight division for what would be the Undisputed World Heavyweight championship and likely one of the biggest fights in British Boxing history as never before have two British fighters met to fully unify the Heavyweight championship of the world. While both Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn and Fury’s promoter Bob Arum, who also coincidentally promotes Kubrat Pulev appear egger to get the fight made and have shown a willingness to work together to make fights happen, despite separate broadcast agreements with DAZN and ESPN in the United States, and Sky Sports and BT Sport respectively in the United Kingdom respectively.


Perhaps potential hurdles that will likely stand in the way of that fight happening in the immediate future are undefeated former WBO Cruiserweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk is the current WBO number one Heavyweight contender and is due for his mandatory challengers of Joshua’s unified portion of the World Heavyweight championship per the rotation of mandatory challengers that a unified or undisputed world champion must face annually in order to keep their championship. While the possibility exists that Usyk might step aside to allow an undisputed world championship fight to take place under the stipulation that he would be mandated to face the winner, that is far from a certainty.


On the other side of the equation, Tyson Fury has a potential legal hurdle to clear in the form of former WBC world champion Deontay Wilder, who is attempting to force a third fight between himself and Fury after losing his world championship to Fury in their second encounter in February of this year. Finally, on the business side of the equation, you have four networks who will be involved in the process of whether or not a fight between Joshua and Fury will take place sooner than later. Although digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN recently increased its global reach by launching into two hundred different countries internationally including the United Kingdom, in addition to the nine countries that they were already available including the United States and would appear to have the resources to potentially outbid Sky Sports and BT Sport in the United Kingdom for the rights to broadcast the potential Joshua-Fury Unification clash on their platform, which would also keep such a fight off of pay-per-view in the United Kingdom as would hopefully, also be the case here in the United States if DAZN would be willing to work with ESPN and potentially also make the fight available on ESPN’s streaming network ESPN+ for existing subscribers if not also be in a position to bid for exclusive rights if it were to come to that point, existing contracts will likely be as much a hurdle as potential legal battles between champions and former champions and mandatory title defense obligations.


Although most Boxing fans would likely say “Oh, just make the fight already!”, the reality is Boxing is also a business and for better or worse, things like contractual obligations, mandatory title defense obligations, and legal disputes cannot simply be ignored or dismissed even from a fan’s perspective it might be in the best interest of the sport. As we have seen in recent years with the advent of digital streaming networks and more reasonable subscription-based models that have demonstrated to be of better value both in terms of price and amount of content offered to consumers, what is of benefit to the sport does have a way of occurring even if it takes time for it to come to fruition.


With both Eddie Hearn and Bob Arum speaking out against the inflated, overpriced, and undervalued pay-per-view model here  in the United States, DAZN increasing its global reach and soon to be in position to challenge similar models across the globe, one can only hope that the other pieces of the puzzle that need to fall in place for a fight like Joshua-Fury to happen occur sooner rather than later even if both world champions have to fulfill their obligations before turning their attention to each other. While the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic will likely also play a role in how soon a fight like that can occur with hopefully an opportunity for a sizable crowd to attend, with one thousand fans that were allowed to attend Joshua’s defense against Pulev while following COVID-19 restrictions, one can only hope that this is the first step towards both normalcy and continued progress for Boxing and sports overall.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.” 


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