The year 2020 began with Boxing’s Heavyweight division being front and center on the sport’s big stage. In many ways, picking up from where 2019 concluded with Anthony Joshua regaining his unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world championship in his rematch with Andy Ruiz, 2020 saw the rematch between WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder and undefeated former Heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury. An encounter that saw Fury become a two-time world champion by stopping Wilder in seven rounds. From there, 2020 was supposed to see a third encounter between Fury and Wilder with the winner ultimately facing Joshua to determine the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world.
As sometimes tends to happen however, life as well as unforeseen circumstances can have plans of its own and while 2020 was supposed to be a year of progress for the Heavyweight division as well as for the sport as a whole to be able to capitalize on significant momentum, the year will unfortunately be remembered for unprecedented and tragic circumstances. This observer of course is referring to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic that brought sports as well as everyday life for many to a standstill for much of the year. Along with shut downs across the globe and a significant stoppage for the sport of Boxing that has never been seen before, so too was the plans and hopes of being able to determine one World Heavyweight champion during the calendar year.
While Tyson Fury remains inactive with a potential third fight with Deontay Wilder still looming, Anthony Joshua has returned his attention to fulfilling his obligations as a unified world champion as he will face longtime Heavyweight contender and current IBF number one rated challenger Kubrat Pulev on December 12th at the Wembley Arena in London, England.
This fight not only represents Joshua’s first title defense since regaining his unified world championship one year ago, but it also will be the first World Heavyweight championship bout to take place since the COVID-19 epidemic spread globally. As such, the obvious question that will surround this fight as has been the case for virtually every world championship fight that has taken place throughout the sport since activity began to resume behind closed doors in June is what effect will the circumstances of the ongoing crisis have on the fighters.
For Joshua there will also obviously be the question that will surround him at least for a period of time regarding whether or not his knockout loss to Andy Ruiz in June of last year was merely a bad night at the office or a sign of flaws that had before then been unnoticed. Of course, when it comes to Boxing at the highest level, it is not unusual to see even the best of the best fighters lose a fight from time to time. While it may ultimately prove to be unfair for Joshua to be labeled as having a suspect chin or for questions to surround him regarding his ability to recover from being hurt and/or knocked down, the reality is skepticism will at least be present until he can answer those would be critics.
There is also the obvious stresses that are related to the ongoing epidemic that both fighters will contend with. Although obviously no one outside of the fighters and their respective camps know how their preparation has been in the lead up to this fight, we will likely find out very early on if ring rust perhaps due to a lack of sparring that would normally be available under circumstances when the sport is in its normal active state, as well as general inactivity caused by the epidemic will be a factor in this fight.
While some may dismiss this title defense as only a mandatory defense for
Joshua with the thinking that mandatory challengers do not always pose a threat, in Kubrat Pulev, Joshua will face a fighter who’s only loss came in his previous opportunity at a world championship against Wladimir Klitschko in November 2014. Since that loss where he was knocked out in five rounds by Klitschko, Pulev has been unbeaten in winning eight straight bouts.
Despite Pulev’s winning streak, stylistically, this fight figures to favor the champion Joshua. Although Joshua has a well established reputation as a “Knockout Artist “, in his rematch with Andy Ruiz, Joshua showed a willingness to adapt and showed a new wrinkle to his arsenal in showing he could box tactically and the end result proved to be a lopsided twelve round unanimous decision to regain his world championship.
In this fight, I believe we might see the champion attempt to implement a similar strategy. While Andy Ruiz had deceptive hand speed and that proved to be Joshua’s downfall in their first encounter, Kubrat Pulev does not have that type of hand speed and some might say that Pulev is slower than Ruiz in terms of lateral movement, what Pulev does have is the type of punching power that can do damage if one chooses to stand and exchange offense with him. Joshua will have a two inch height advantage and near three inch reach advantage over Pulev who stands 6’4 with a 79 ½ inch reach compared to Joshua’s 6’6 and 82 inch reach.
Based on this and how well Joshua was able to execute the adjustments he was able to make in his rematch with Ruiz, it is crucial that the champion continue to evolve his Boxing arsenal in this fight, in this observer’s eyes. Although the physics appear to favor Joshua, if the champion is not on his game, Pulev is certainly capable of pulling an upset if the opportunity presents itself.
In some ways, the circumstances in the lead up to this fight is similar to the lead up to Joshua’s first fight with Andy Ruiz. The obvious difference was Ruiz stepped into the fight on limited notice when Joshua’s originally opponent Jarrell Miller was removed from the fight after testing positive for a banned substance. Where there are similarities is like the first Ruiz fight, there are extenuating circumstances occurring outside of the ring, this time created by an ongoing global epidemic, which whether a fighter or his team will admit to it, can have an effect on a fighter’s preparation. Perhaps the most telling similarity however, is that like the first encounter with Ruiz, Joshua has a potential lucrative unification bout for what would be the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world should he get by Pulev. If Joshua is not focused in what cannot be an easy environment to prepare to defend his championship, it could have a similar outcome to his first fight with Ruiz because much like Ruiz, Kubrat Pulev has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Joshua vs. Pulev takes place on Saturday, December 12th at the Wembley Arena in London, England. The fight as well as its full undercard can be seen in the United States and globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning at 1PM ET/10AM PT (U.S. Time). For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, and to subscribe please visit: www.DAZN.com.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the card can be seen on a pay-per-view basis on Sky Box Office beginning at 7PM (Local UK time) for £24.95. For more information about Sky Sports, availability in your area, and to order please visit: https://www.sky.com/boxoffice/joshua-pulev.
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