We predicted it and we were right. There were no surprises in the highly anticipated main event of Matchroom Boxing night at Wembley Arena as Anthony “AJ” Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) brutally knocked out a gutsy Kubrat “The Cobra” Pulev (28-2, 14 KOs) after forcing a total of four counts over nine rounds. At the time of the stoppage, Joshua was firmly ahead in the scorecards and the success allowed him to remain the holder of the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight belts. Now everyone is hoping for the historic full title reunion British derby against WBC champion Tyson Fury.
The question many had been asking in the run-up to this fight was whether Pulev had learnt his lesson after being annihilated by Wladimir Klitschko in 2014. A similarly Garibaldian tactic would in fact have very probably generated a similar epilogue, but the Bulgarian, while renouncing the mobility of his legs that characterized him in the early stages of his career and which he could probably no longer have at his disposal today for purely age-related reasons, opted for a less suicidal approach. The distance over which the two boxers faced each other was medium, with a very tactical start and centered by both on the continuous and exclusive use of the jab.
Anthony Joshua, however, was just waiting for the right moment to reveal his cards and in the third round that moment arrived: a valuable dodge executed by moving his torso backwards allowed him to surprise his challenger with a very effective right hand which short-circuited him. Inundated with blows from all sides, Kubrat Pulev escaped catastrophe by turning his back on his opponent while he was in the corner, a gesture which, according to the rules, should have resulted in defeat by abandonment. However, referee Deon Dwarte did not feel like interrupting the show and, perhaps worried about the controversy that would follow a controversial stop, simply counted Pulev out, giving him the chance to continue. A new count came shortly after on an excellent uppercut, but Pulev incredibly managed to finish the round.
What happened in the ensuing rounds made it clear once again that Anthony Joshua’s team is working hard in the gym to give the youngster another tactical dimension. The old version of Joshua would have continued to harry his rival at the risk of expending precious energy and making potentially dangerous mistakes during exchanges. On the contrary, the world champion went back to his original plan, controlling the situation with the jab, dosing the forces and loading the blows only when it was safe. In various circumstances, moreover, he has demonstrated that what happened in the third round was not a casual episode: that of dodging the enemy’s jab to return immediately with a jab or an uppercut was a “play” tried and tested every time the opportunity arose.
Aware of being at a clear disadvantage on the scorecards and encouraged to come forward by the younger opponent’s wait-and-see strategy, Pulev tried to increase the pace during the middle rounds, also using his right hand, a blow which he usually tends to limit. The blows loaded too blatantly ended up empty, avoided by an unusually mobile Joshua on the trunk compared to his standards, but some rapid right hands of the Bulgarian, especially those delivered with the first intention, have instead found a breach in the champion’s guard, without however leaving their mark. On the other side, the Anthony Joshua’s attempts to force his way through his opponent’s tight gloves with violent uppercuts from close range became more and more frequent, an action which would prove decisive in the long run.
Going into the ninth round, Pulev could, with a little good will, have been awarded only two of the rounds he had fought so far, but what happened shortly afterwards made the usual debates about scoring purely academic. A series of five consecutive uppercuts forced the challenger to the mat once again, with the final push coming when he was groggy. Stoically getting back up, the Bulgarian only resisted for a few more seconds as a devastating right jab brought him down for the final count. The winner’s gesture after the triumph was unusual: before the announcement, Joshua walked to the front rows to greet Floyd Mayweather Jr. (50-0, 27 KOs), and have a few words with him, after which he returned to the square.
Not very edifying was the attitude of the two boxers after the announcement of the result by the ring announcer David Diamante: far from embracing each other to put an end to a long period of provocation and controversy, as usually happens in these cases at the end of the hostilities, they continued to bicker for a long time, demonstrating that theirs was not only a pretext and that there was really bad blood between the two. A large number of petty incidents during the fight, including several blows to the back of the head by both fighters, certified a certain animosity that evidently did not disappear after the knockout.
On the whole, Anthony Joshua‘s performance was very good: the boy of Nigerian origins shows, with each outing, significant steps forward in learning a tactical approach that was once not at all congenial to him. When a few years ago he tried to box well against Carlos Takam (39-5-1, 28 KOs) and Joseph Parker (27-2, 21 KOs), he committed a much higher number of mistakes and, also because of a body that was much more muscular in those days, he did not show the fluency in his movements and the agility that he has today. Anthony Joshua still makes mistakes and sometimes seems to make certain movements unnaturally, but he is undoubtedly a more complete boxer than he was in the past.