It's been a long time in the making, but with Matchroom finally announcing a date for Anthony Joshua's mandatory defence against IBF number one, Kubrat Pulev, we take a look at the 39-year-old from Bulgaria and consider what threat he poses to AJ's crown.
Joshua defends his WBA (super), WBO, IBF and IBO titles on the 12th of December - just over a year since winning those belts back from Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia. His opponent, Kubrat Pulev, will be little known to casual fans of the sport, but those aware of the Bulgarian will know not to look past him.
Pulev began his pro career in 2009 and has since racked up an impressive record of 28 wins and only one defeat. The loss came in 2014 when he challenged Wladimir Klitschko for the unified world championship.
Klitschko was able to stop Pulev within five rounds - flooring him several times - but while comprehensively beaten, Pulev at the very least showed a decent chin, getting up from some heavy knockdowns before a thundering left-hook closed the show.
Since then, Pulev has strung together eight consecutive wins, including victories over Derek Chisora, and Hughie Fury. So what can we take from these fights when considering the upcoming clash with AJ?
An obvious starting point would be to compare either man's encounter with Klitschko - while Pulev was unable to rise to the occasion, Joshua recorded one of his most impressive wins, overcoming early adversity to force a stoppage in the eleventh round. However, if history has taught us anything, it's that we shouldn't compare fighter's based on how each faired against a mutual opponent - styles make fights.
It was not too long ago that Andy Ruiz Jr. stepped in as a late replacement for AJ's American debut, following a failed drug test from Jarrell Miller. Little was know about Ruiz at the time other than that he had previously lost to Joseph Parker - a man that AJ had beaten. If you'd bet on Joshua based solely on the Joseph parker comparison, you would have been sorely disappointed.
If not directly comparing results against Klitschko, what can we take from those fights? The key takeaway is that Klitschko took Pulev apart from a distance with powerful left-hooks and straight right hands. AJ has practically made his career off of the straight right, and while he doesn't quite throw the Klitschko-esque leaping left-hook that was so effective against Pulev, he does throw a solid shorter left that could have Pulev in similar trouble.
Let's not dwell too much on Pulev's only loss though - everyone has had the occasional bad-night at the office - AJ included.
Two more recognisable names on Pulev's record - the previously mentioned Derek Chisora, and Hughie Fury - lost out via split decision and unanimous decision respectively. In both fights, Pulev scored consistently with the jab which he throws from a wide, floating guard. He uses his left hand as both a distraction and a range finder, letting it hover just in front of his opponent, always ready to extend into a stiff jab that prevents any rhythm from being established.
You'll also notice watching those fights that Pulev likes to hold, and he does it effectively! The moment an opponent gets anywhere near him, that same floating left hand that is key to his offence will wrap around the back of the neck, pulling them in close and denying them the room to work. This tactic means that anything the opponent tries to throw will find its way around the back of the head, and, in Chisora's case, prompt cautions from the ref. He is a tricky customer. Despite the ease with which Klitschko found the target, both Chisora and Fury found Pulev a difficult man to hit.
There is no doubting that Kubrat Pulev knows his way around a boxing ring. While he isn't the biggest puncher with just 14 KO's from his 28
wins, he certainly has the ability to steal rounds and drag Joshua into deep water if he can avoid the power shots early on. That's a big IF
though. Neither Chisora nor Fury has the power and accuracy of AJ - Pulev will have a far tougher job staying out of harm's way on December 12.
we speak of levels in boxing's current crop, Joshua sits amongst the
elite few at heavyweight - he has consistently delivered on the biggest
of stages, and immediately rectified his one slip-up. Pulev, however, is
yet to prove himself at the very highest level, and he isn't getting
The dynamic of the fight will likely depend on which version of AJ turns up. If he opts to box cautiosly and play it safe as he
did against Parker, and Ruiz the second time out, then he may find
himself in a very close scrap. If on the other hand, he backs himself to
blast through Pulev, then I believe he'll do just that.
Joshua at his best should do a similar job on Pulev as did Wlad. It may take him a few rounds to find his range through Pulev's awkward style,
but once he does, it should be game over. However, this is heavyweight boxing, and Pulev is no walkover. It would be unwise for fans to write him off - AJ certainly won't.