A small crowd at a mostly empty venue will make for an unusual experience for Anthony Joshua on Saturday — and the unified world heavyweight titlist hopes that will not be the only difference from his most recent fights.
Joshua has an alternative game plan to how he boxed against Andy Ruiz Jr. one year ago in their rematch, as he looks to secure the victory that would set up a bigger fight in the first half of 2021, either against rival world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury or former cruiserweight undisputed champion Oleksandr Usyk, the WBO mandatory challenger.
Joshua will defend his WBA, IBF and WBO belts against Kubrat Pulev in front of 1,000 fans at The SSE Arena in London, his first fight in his native England since 80,000 saw him knock out Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium in September 2018.
It will be the first time supporters have been allowed at a professional boxing event in the United Kingdom since March, because of government restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus, and the smallest crowd Joshua has boxed in front of since he was an amateur.
Since his previous U.K. performance, Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) has both lost his belts in a shocking seventh-round defeat to Ruiz at Madison Square Garden in New York in June 2019, and regained them in a rematch in Saudi Arabia six months later.
Joshua, 31, boxed neatly and carefully to earn an unanimous decision win over Ruiz, but he says he will adopt different tactics for Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs) in the first defense of his second reign. As has become commonplace for one of the biggest names in the heavyweight division, Joshua’s fight will be broadcast on DAZN.
For a multitude of reasons, Joshua said he intends for this fight to look considerably different from the pair of Ruiz bouts.
“I don’t think [it’ll take] the same tactics against Pulev,” Joshua told ESPN. “One, [Ruiz] is small and stocky, very grounded, looking for big countershots; the other is upright, rangy boxer and looks to go down the middle.
“I think me and Pulev are both technically good, but this is the matter of the mind — who is going to dominate the fight, who is going to crush the other’s style, because we are quite similar in style,” Joshua added. “Me and Ruiz were so different, it was a matter of tactics, our skill sets were so different. Me and Pulev are very evenly matched in tactics, so it’s about mindset, so it will be a different fight to Ruiz.”
Joshua-Pulev has been more than three years in the making. The two came face-to-face at a news conference in Cardiff, Wales, in 2017 to publicize a fight that was scheduled to happen in October of that year. But Pulev pulled out because of an injury two weeks before the bout. The Bulgarian will finally get his second world title shot after a further delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The second attempt at making Joshua vs. Pulev was initially set to be held in front of a 60,000-plus crowd at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, in June, before being pushed back to Saturday under drastically different conditions.
Anthony Joshua explains why he’s more likely to fight Oleksandr Usyk than Tyson Fury in 2021.
This is Pulev’s last chance at world-title glory, after Wladimir Klitschko knocked him out in five rounds in his first career title challenge six years ago. Pulev, 39, has compiled eight wins since, and Joshua is mindful of how older boxers have recently upset the odds against younger opponents. Povetkin, 41, revived his career with a knockout win over Dillian Whyte, 32, in August, while Joe Joyce, 35, stopped Daniel Dubois, 23, last month to put himself in title contention.
“The older you get, the more experienced you get,” Joshua said. “You get to know what you like, what you don’t like, how you spend your time. Klitschko and Povetkin were still very active at 40. We saw how experience mattered recently with Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois, so Pulev has had a lot of experience in the right sort of fights to get him here.”
Joshua also said he feels he will be better prepared for Pulev, after tailoring his training and sparring better, than he would have had if they’d met in 2017. Joshua was ranked No. 1 in the division back then, after beating Klitschko, but now trails WBC champion Fury in ESPN’s divisional rankings.
“For me it could have been potentially too early [if we met in 2017], but I couldn’t have said because I don’t know what would have happened,” Joshua said.
“He’s talented and he would have been a totally different challenge to what I had seen before, in terms of his style. Now I really understand his style, the difficulties and understand how to exploit them. At the time I thought of Pulev as just another target to go through. But would that have been the right mindset? What I’ve done now is got the right sparring partners in, I’ve trained properly, I’ve got fit to go the rounds, I feel like I’ve done everything I can to beat him, whereas before we were just training to beat everyone, small or tall sparring partners. Now it is about specific methods that lead me towards victory, so experience has been a blessing.” — Nick Parkinson
Courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, as of Friday morning
Anthony Joshua: -1,000
Kubrat Pulev: +650
Joshua by KO/TKO/DQ: -250
Joshua by decision: +275
Pulev by KO/TKO/DQ: +800
Pulev by decision: +2,000
Fight to go the distance: Yes +250 | No -350
Joshua might start cautiously and conservatively, similar to the Ruiz rematch, but I don’t expect this fight will end with him like that. AJ will become increasingly confident and let his hands go, landing more power shots than we saw against Ruiz a year ago. The accuracy and volume will take their toll on Pulev, and I expect a middle-rounds stoppage due to accumulation of punches, perhaps Round 7. — Parkinson
- Title fight: Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev, 12 rounds, for Joshua’s WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles
- Title fight: Lawrence Okolie vs. Nikodem Jezewski, 12 rounds, for the vacant WBO cruiserweight title
- Hughie Fury vs. Mariusz Wach, 10 rounds, heavyweights
- Martin Bakole vs. Sergey Kuzmin, 10 rounds, heavyweights
- Macaulay McGowan vs. Kieron Conway, 10 rounds, junior middleweights
- Florian Marku vs. Alex Fearon, eight rounds, welterweights
- Qais Ashfaq vs. Ashley Lane, TBA rounds, junior featherweights
By the numbers
Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information research
46 years, 169 days: George Foreman is the oldest boxing heavyweight champion of all time. Kubrat Pulev hopes to follow in his footsteps with a victory over Joshua on Saturday.
270: During his win vs. Andy Ruiz Jr., Joshua threw 270 jabs (72% of his total punches) and despite landing just 24%, the sheer volume was effective enough to keep Ruiz at distance. In the final round alone, Joshua threw 41 jabs, the most he’s thrown in a single round in his career. Entering the fight vs. Pulev, Joshua averages 20.6 jabs thrown per round (landing 29.6%), while Pulev averages 25.4 (landing 22%), according to CompuBox data.
6.8: Opponents land just 6.8 punches per round vs. Joshua, well below the heavyweight division average of 14.7, per CompuBox.
8: Consecutive wins for Pulev since suffering the lone loss of his professional career in a title challenge against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014.
795: Shakur Stevenson’s advantage in total punches landed. In 14 pro fights, Stevenson has outlanded his opponents 1,098-303.
Shakur Stevenson building toward big fights against southpaws in 2021
Shakur Stevenson chats with Cameron Wolfe and reveals who he is targeting to fight in 2021.
Shakur Stevenson’s eyes widen when he thinks about the marquee fights in his near future. That’s why he raised his hand high to step into a headlining spot when WBC junior lightweight world titlist Miguel Berchelt dropped out of his scheduled Dec. 12 fight with Oscar Valdez because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Valdez preferred to wait for Berchelt to heal instead of taking a short-notice bout against Stevenson and risking his title shot. So Top Rank instead gave Stevenson that Dec. 12 date, which makes him the headliner for both Top Rank’s first post-lockdown card in June, and its final boxing card of the year. Stevenson will face veteran Toka Kahn Clary (28-2, 19 KOs) Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET
It’s another mainstream opportunity for Stevenson, a future superstar who brought boxing back to U.S. airwaves with a sixth-round knockout over Felix Caraballo, to showcase his fast, technical skill set against what he described as a “solid opponent” in Kahn Clary.
The most interesting element of this fight is that it features Stevenson against a fellow southpaw — matchmaking that was intentional in order to prepare the 23-year-old former featherweight titlist for a big 2021. Stevenson and Top Rank hope the next 12 months features potential bouts against southpaws Jamel Herring — the WBO junior lightweight world titlist — and IBF junior lightweight world titleholder Joseph “JoJo” Diaz. Even bigger superfights with southpaws Vasiliy Lomachenko and Gervonta “Tank” Davis are also on the radar, a little further down the line.
“This is a teaser for what’s next. People just don’t know. The biggest fights I’m going to have down the line are against a southpaw,” Stevenson told ESPN. “This is like a southpaw for the other southpaws — JoJo, you got Tank, you got Lomachenko. It’s a treat for people to see what I’m going to do with this southpaw.
“I know people ain’t seen me against a southpaw yet, but I just think it’s going to be a whole different level. A lot of people don’t know how good I am and I can fight any style. I’m a southpaw myself. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a treat.”
Stevenson has sat back over the past six months watching young fighters such as Teofimo Lopez and Davis put on career-defining performances that raised their profiles. Stevenson is competitive, and he’s chasing them just as much as the belts he wants in the junior lightweight division he only recently moved up to fight in.
Shakur Stevenson talks with Cameron Wolfe about his upcoming fight against Toka Kahn Clary. He also discusses potential fights with Vasiliy Lomachenko and Joseph Diaz Jr.
“When I fight Lomachenko, I just want to be able to put on a better performance than Teo did against him,” Stevenson said. “I’m going to be a little bit competitive when it comes to that. After that fight, you can’t give Lomachenko any more excuses. They tried to say Teo was too big, but I don’t think that played a part in that fight at all.”
But first up for Stevenson is Kahn Clary, who isn’t some club fighter being fattened up for slaughter. Stevenson said he’s seen a couple of Kahn Clary’s fights, including a competitive 2018 decision loss to Kid Galahad.
“I’m in the prime of my career. He’s 23 years old. He’s still young,” Kahn Clary said. “I’m older, stronger and been through a little bit more than he has. I’m going to show that Dec. 12.”
Ultimately, this night is meant to be a showcase for Stevenson, who should take care of business Saturday as long as he’s sharp. He did his training camp in Las Vegas for this fight, and he’s eager to put on a show.
Stevenson already has his 2021 plans mapped out. First, he’s the WBO mandatory challenger scheduled to face the winner of the Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton title fight that is planned for early 2021. Stevenson predicts Herring’s size and reach will give him the edge against Frampton, and Top Rank plans for Stevenson to return to the ring against the winner in spring 2021.
Then Stevenson’s eyes will go toward the man he calls “his biggest rival” in the 130-pound division, Berchelt. Stevenson is planning to face the winner of the early 2021 rescheduled WBC title fight between Berchelt and Valdez in the summer, and he’s salivating about the potential of facing Berchelt in a “boxer vs. big puncher” matchup.
Finally, Stevenson hopes his 2021 will end with a bout against Diaz — one of the southpaws Top Rank had in mind when booking Kahn Clary for this fight. Stevenson believes his feet movement would be too much for Diaz, and by the end of next year he’s hopeful he can have his name up there with Lopez and Davis as the best younger fighter of this era.
“We are in one of the best eras ever,” Stevenson said. “When Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran had their era, it was one of the toughest eras to come up in because everybody can fight. With our era, I think it’s the same kind of way when you got Tank, Teo, Devin Haney, me, Ryan Garcia, Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis, there are so many of us and we are on a whole different level. This is hell of an era to be fighting in.” — Cameron Wolfe
Courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, as of Friday morning
Shakur Stevenson: -2,200
Toka Kahn Clary: +1,100
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- Shakur Stevenson vs. Toka Kahn Clary, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
- Felix Verdejo vs. Masayoshi Nakatani, 10 rounds, lightweights
- Edgar Berlanga vs. Ulises Sierra, eight rounds, super middleweights
- Elvis Rodriguez vs. Larry Fryers, six rounds, welterweights
- Clay Collard vs. Quincy LaVallais, eight rounds, middleweights
- Robeisy Ramirez vs. Brandon Valdes, eight rounds, featherweights
- Jesse Rodriguez vs. Saul Juarez, six or eight rounds, junior flyweights
- Haven Brady Jr. vs. Michael Land, four rounds, featherweights
- Kasir Goldston vs. Llewelyn McClamy, four rounds, welterweights
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