FIGHT PREVIEW: Anthony Joshua v Kubrat Pulev
Anthony Joshua defends his unified World Heavyweight titles against Kubrat Pulev on 12 December (PIC: Valery Sharifulin, Getty)

Unified World Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua returns to face Kubrat Pulev at Wembley Arena.

It's the second time Joshua has been scheduled to fight the Bulgarian, with the pair originally meant to have met in Cardiff in 2018. On that occasion, Pulev withdrew with an injury, but there has been no such misfortune this time around.

AJ steps back into the ring just over a year on from his decisive points victory in his rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia on 7 December 2019.

A gritty, technical performance on the Dunes in Riyadh re-took the WBA, IBF and WBO Heavyweight titles that were so famously wrestled from his grasp on that night  at Madison Square Garden. 

With adversity seemed to have been overcome, attention now turns to a mandatory situation forced by the IBF. What happens in the near future may well rest on the shoulders of Saturday's (12 December) outcome.

  • A Capital homecoming for the unified king

Matchroom's winter base of the SSE Arena in Wembley has the honour of hosting the Watford man's return to British shores.

Clocking up the miles with eventful trips to New York and the Middle East certainly wouldn't have been prominent on Joshua's radar.

However, he's somewhat rectified a mere blemish on his record and returns to fight in-front of a limited home audience for the first time since defeating Alexander Povetkin across the way at Wembley Stadium back in September 2018. 

In theory, this is AJ's first defence, albeit of his second stint as unified champion after a fork in the road that the overwhelming majority did not see coming in the slightest. 

Prior to the stunning Ruiz TKO loss, Joshua had continually shown a wide-ranging arsenal of components that enabled him to reach the summit of the division without hesitation.

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Trademark knockout power blitzed American Charles Martin to secure the inaugural IBF strap in 2016, as fellow transatlantic fighters Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina harnessed a similar brutal fate on Joshua's route to the top.

Arguably the biggest test to date was a monumental showdown with the one and only Wladimir Klitschko. There hadn't been such a feel surrounding a Heavyweight fight on that magnitude for decades, and for good reason.

Joshua showed that night he was made of stern stuff. Despite arguments of Klitschko ageing presence, AJ sprung from the canvas to produce an iconic TKO of a man who had firmly cemented his name amongst the greats of boxing folklore. In doing so, he added the WBA title to his collection, and would go on to secure further honours.

A duo of events across the border in Cardiff hinted at a different side to the former Olympic gold medalist's otherwise destructive nature.

The first Principality Stadium event was, of course, booked for the initial meeting with Pulev. Because of the latter's withdrawal, in stepped an opponent of superb resilience that was far from simple to remove.

Carlos Takam proved durable, lasting ten rounds before physically having to retire due to a gruesome injury sustained. Before leaving South Wales, it took a controlled unanimous decision verdict to earn the WBO Heavyweight title from Joseph Parker; the first time Joshua had ever gone the distance in his professional career.

Bulldozing Povetkin led him to the fight with Ruiz, although the opponent was originally supposed to be Jarrell Miller until the latter once again tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

Ever since Ruiz shocked the world, it led Joshua and his promotional team down a path of the unexpected to say the least. This weekend provides a sprinkling of respite and could pave the way for a potential super-fight with WBC Champion, and fellow Brit, Tyson Fury.

Talk of a meeting for undisputed Heavyweight supremacy has been at the forefront of the boxing agenda over the past months, and as the reality of fans being allowed into venues once again begins to dawn, the confirmation we're all desperate for may not be that far incoming.

  • A Bulgarian intent of spoiling the British plans

Before any touted showdowns can take place, Joshua has an important task that needs taking care of in the most dominant of fashions.

He goes toe-to-toe with a Bulgarian mandatory challenger in 29-1 Kubrat Pulev who is chomping at the bit for another shot at unified world glory.

The former European and WBA Continental champion, will come to test Joshua, and the champion will have to be aware of the 39 year old's power from the right-hand. 

Pulev's only venture into the world title scene, and only career defeat, ended in a KO defeat to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014, and Joshua will undoubtedly have confidence in repeating the same outcome. 

Since the Klitschko outing, Saturday's challenger has earned his spot as the IBF mandatory thanks to a run of eight consecutive victories, although he certainly hasn't set the world alight with some of his performances.

Among his list of opponents throughout that time include Dereck Chisora, a man he beat via split decision in Hamburg in 2016, and Hughie Fury, who fell short to a decision in Pulev's home city of Sofia.

Otherwise, his recent record contains the lowly ranked names of Kevin Johnson, Samuel Peter, George Arias, Bogdan Dinu and Rydell Booker.

Joshua will be a significant step up, and in order for the champ to stake his claim in the bid to meet Fury, he'll feel that he can make a bold statement against his challenger in the way of a typically renowned explosive stoppage.

  • Okolie tops undercard despite disappointment

The limelight was well and truly meant to shine for South London's Lawrence Okolie as chief support to the Joshua v Pulev main event.

But, as this year has so cruelly dictated in many regards, the The Sauce's dreams of becoming WBO Cruiserweight champion are put on hold as the original opponent, Kryzsztof Glowacki, tested positive for COVID-19, postponing the 200lbs world title bout to a later date.

Okolie will now face stand-in opponent Nikodem Jezewski for the WBO Continental version of the organisation's array of titles.

Following suit of the evening's showpiece, Heavyweight action trickles down an intriguing undercard bill.

Hughie Fury faces Poland's Mariusz Wach, a man who took Dillian Whyte all the way in Riyadh last December on the AJ-Ruiz 2 card.

Fury amended a defeat to Alexander Povetkin by coming through a tame encounter with Pavel Sour in Manchester last year. They meet over 10 rounds.

Martin Bakole faces Russia's Sergey Kuzmin, also over 10 rounds, for the WBC International title. Bakole, who is 16-1 with a loss only to Michael Hunter, will be looking to notch a fifth straight win by KO, whereas Kuzmin is out to bounce back from a decision loss in his last outing, also against Hunter.

A pair of exciting domestic encounters take centre stage, as Qais Ashfaq takes on Ashley Lane in an eight round Super Bantemweight contest, and Super Welterweights Kieron Conway and MacAuley McGowan meet.

Albanian welterweight Florian Marku makes his Matchroom debut on the night, taking on Ashley Fearon in an eight rounder.

 

Anthony Joshua v Kubrat Pulev for the WBA, IBF and WBO Heavyweight titles is live on Sky Sports Box Office from 18:00 GMT on Saturday 12 December

 

  • SCHEDULED BOUTS

  • Anthony Joshua v Kubrat Pulev (WBA, IBF & WBO Heavyweight titles)
  • Lawrence Okolie v Nikodem Jezewski (WBO Continental Cruiserweight title)
  • Hughie Fury v Mariusz Wach (10 rounds Heavyweight)
  • Martin Bakole v Sergey Kuzmin (10 rounds Heavyweight)
  • Qais Ashfaq v Ashley Lane (8 rounds Super Bantamweight)
  • Florian Marku v Ashley Fearon (8 rounds Welterweight)
  • Kieron Conway v MacAuley McGowan (10 rounds Super Welterweight)

 

 

 

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