The time for the big boys is approaching. On Saturday night at the famous Wembley Arena, local idol Anthony Joshua will put his WBA (Super), IBF and WBO heavyweight belts, as well as that of the IBO, a minor federation, up for grabs against Kubrat Pulev. The bout will be broadcast live on DAZN. A win of Joshua will certainly open the doors for the former London 2012 Olympic gold medalist to a historic world reunion with the WBC champion Tyson Fury.
A big favourite for bookmakers, who are paying seven times the stakes for his defeat, Anthony “AJ” Joshua (23-1-0, 21 KOs) has already found himself in a similar situation last 1 June 2009 and it did not end well. That time it was Andy Ruiz Jr’s excessive weight that caused a stir while this time it’s the age of Kubrat “The Cobra” Pulev (28-1-0, 14 KOs). We certainly hope that Anthony Joshua have learned his lesson first-hand and, despite Pulev is almost 40-year-old, Joshua knows he has to enter the ring with the maximum concentration. The stakes, after all, are even higher than they were a year and a half ago against Ruiz Jr.: the Englishman with Nigerian roots is not only fighting to keep his prestigious belts, but also to pave the way for what could turn out to be the most lucrative match in the history of boxing, a derby with his rival par excellence Tyson Fury which could fill (metaphorically) two football stadiums side by side. Having to win at all costs could therefore generate an overload of emotional tension, but in this sense, paradoxically, the defeat suffered against Ruiz Jr. seems to have been healthy: after having taken off the weight of his unbeaten record, Joshua appears more serene and self-confident and, on Saturday, he will have the opportunity to prove it.
Kubrat Pulev is a decent boxer with an excellent left jab, nothing more nothing less for this Bulgarian heavyweight fighter who in less than five months will cross the threshold of 40 years. In order not to do Kubrat Pulev an injustice, it is necessary to mention his wealth of experience, enriched above all during his amateur years, when he managed to win few prizes including a gold at the 2008 European Championship and a bronze medal at 2005 World Championship. However, the mobility of his legs and the speed in the inside-outside that had characterized the first part of his professional career, allowing him to get the better of static giants such as Alexander Dimitrenko, Alexander Ustinov and Tony Thompson, seem to have faded considerably over the years. Today, Pulev tends to station at medium distance to score his accurate left jabs before relying on his hand-to-hand skills, a strategy penalized by the absence of the knockout blow which has never been an integral part of his repertoire.
So, here it comes our crucial moment: the prediction. With the exception of Bob Arum, who as Pulev’s promoter is expressing an opinion tainted by an obvious conflict of interest, there are few who believe that the Bulgarian can make a hit. But assuming that Pulev is convinced that he can disprove the experts, it would be interesting to know how he intends to seal the upset. Judging from his belligerent declarations and those of the aforementioned Bob Arum, oriented towards the hypothesis of a resounding KO, it would seem that the Cobra wants to take advantage of the presumed fragility of Joshua to impose himself in a strong way. If this were the case, Pulev would be making the same mistake that cost him a devastating beating six years ago against the then world champion Wladimir Klitschko. In that circumstance, Kubrat Pulev faced his rival inside the ring with his guard down, determined to beat him to the punch and castigate his notoriously vulnerable jaw. It was an authentic disaster, four times on the canvass and the doctor rushing him to the hospital after the match, fortunately without serious consequences.
To propose a similar tactic now that the reflexes are no longer what they used to be, against an adversary capable of exalting himself in the combinations from the middle distance like Joshua, would therefore be an announced suicide for the challenger. Instead, a strategy based on prudence appears much wiser, which through the incessant use of the jab, a shrewd defense and a bit of obstructionism makes it more complex for Anthony Joshua to find the decisive blow. Even if Pulev were to display the necessary wisdom in the ring, however, it seems unlikely that he would get very far. The difference in athletic freshness and explosiveness is too great and therefore, even assuming that the challenger manages to get through the first few rounds unscathed by leveraging his experience, I predict a knockout victory for Anthony Joshua between the fifth and the eighth round.