Unified heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua floors a very game Kubrat Pulev several times before a devastating knockout in the 9th round
Anthony Joshua made his return to the ring tonight with a ninth-round stoppage win against Bulgarian heavyweight hopeful, Kubrat Pulev. It was Joshua's first fight since regaining his belts more than a year ago.
Under the lights of the SSE Arena, London, with 1000 fans in attendance (Matchroom's first live audience since March), the two-time world champion reminded the world just how he came across his belts in the first place.
Bringing together the best aspects of the Joshua that beat Klitschko and the Joshua that avenged his loss to Ruiz, AJ gave a dominant and measured performance that culminated in a brutal ninth-round KO.
After a cagey opening two rounds that saw each man trying to get a feel for the other, Joshua had a huge third round, with Pulev literally turning his back and running before being sent to the canvas. The badly hurt challenger managed to get to his feet though and was helped somewhat by the referee allowing a few extra seconds to tick away after the count and giving the fighters a talking to before the start of the fourth.
Showing incredible heart, Pulev managed to get his legs beneath him during the fourth and fifth rounds and even started to have a little success of his own as the fight approached its midway point. By the seventh, you'd never have known Pulev was moments away from being stopped just a few rounds before. Joshua was in control, but Pulev was still very much in the fight.
As the ninth round drew to a close and it was beginning to look like AJ might have to be content with coasting to another points win, the Champion landed several thudding uppercuts that sent Pulev to the canvas. Astonishingly, he beat the count again, but the moment the action resumed, AJ landed a monstrous right hand that put an end to the contest.
Pulev entered the fight with a record of 28 wins and just one defeat. That loss came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko back in 2014, in his first world title challenge.
Going up against AJ - a champion is his prime, 39-year-old Pulev was the clear underdog. But the Bulgarian is no has-been, coming in on the back of an eight-fight unbeaten streak that includes wins over the likes of Hughie Fury and Derek Chisora. Pulev is an experienced, tricky fighter, meaning that Joshua had to be on form to avoid another career setback. With a Tyson Fury Mega-fight mooted for next year, the champion had it all to lose.
The win was Joshua's seventh world title defence and tenth world title contest in just 25 professional fights. With long-time mandatory Kubrat Pulev now out of the way, all eyes will be on a 2021 mega-fight that would see AJ put his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts on the line against WBC and The Ring Champion, Tyson Fury. The all-British clash would see the heavyweight division crown its first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999.
After the fight, though, AJ was reluctant to commit to saying that he would be targeting Fury, and certainly didn't allow himself to be goaded into calling out the Gypsy King. Thankfully, Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn assured fans that Fury was the only fight they'd be chasing in the new year.
Elsewhere on the card -
Lawrence Okolie (15-0-0) vs Nikodem Jezewski (19-1-1)
Twelve rounds for the WBO International cruiserweight title
Winner - Okolie (TKO round 2)
Hughie Fury (25-3) vs Mariusz Wach (36-7)
Ten rounds at heavyweight
Winner - Fury (100 - 90, 100-90, 99-91)
Martin Bakole (16-1) vs Sergey Kuzmin (15-2)
Ten rounds for the WBC International heavyweight title
Winner - Bakole (98-92, 97-93, 96-94)
Kieran Conway (16-1-1) vs Macaulay McGowan (14-2-1)
Ten rounds at super-welterweight
Winner - Conway (100-90, 100-89, 100-89)
Florian Marku (7-0-1) vs Jamie Stewart (2-0-1)
Eight rounds at welterweight
Qais Ashfaq (9-1) vs Ashley Lane (14-10-2)
Eight rounds at super-bantamweight
Winner - Ashfaq (TKO round 4)