It has been over a year since Anthony Joshua stepped in the ring where he regained the titles that he lost to Andy Ruiz Jr. While he has been on a quest to be the undisputed champion, he does have to honor some mandatory obligations. The latest one was for the IBF title and Kubrat Pulev was the challenger. Pulev had waited for over three years for this bout as he was sidelined with a shoulder injury that prevented him from facing Joshua in October 2017.
Despite being in likely the best shape of his career, Pulev had no answer for Joshua’s jab and timely counterpunching over the course of Saturday’s fight in the SSE Arena. A counter right hand in the third round led to the first scored knockdown of the fight and Joshua emphatically ended it in the ninth round to win by knockout. He successfully defend the IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles with a crowd of 1,000 fans being able to attend the event.
Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) was calculated in his attack early and worked on a few elements of his game against the veteran Pulev (28-2, 14 KOs) plus did not take much damage as he controlled the distance from the outset. The jab from Joshua was consistent and effective as he was able to get it going late in the first round and Pulev was not able to keep up from a distance so he tried to do work on the inside. That didn’t have much effect as Joshua made adjustments to either block many of those punches or respond with punches of his own. In the second round Joshua threw and landed jabs to the head and the body of Pulev, while the Bulgarian threw slow shots that many could see coming. Joshua ducked a jab and landed the right hand to stun Pulev, then a combination of punches near the ropes forced Pulev to cover himself and he turned his back, forcing a count from Deon Dwarte in the red corner. After the 8 count was administered Joshua went into attack mode and scored another knockdown with the uppercut. Pulev got up from that and survived the round.
Pulev recovered and got in a few jabs of his own in the fourth round and connected to the body of the champion. He attempted to throw off Joshua’s timing in order to land a few jabs and was scoring fairly well during that round. Pulev was gaining some momentum in the fifth round by landed a jab to the body, but Joshua responded with jabs of his own and landed a right hand which forced Pulev to clinch. There was a good amount of clinching within the next two rounds, but the action picked up in the seventh as Joshua landed a series of uppercuts to have Pulev in some trouble. The jab to the body was also used again as it was effective in stalling the forward movement of Pulev.
The ninth round was marked by the uppercut of Joshua as it continued to land on the inside. After a clinch, he was able to connect on a few of them to put Pulev down once again with 35 seconds left in the round. Once Pulev was able to get up from that knockdown Joshua followed up with a big right hand to flatten Pulev and the full ten count was made to put an end to the bout.
Joshua felt like his performance was based on his fundamental skills which led to the knockout over Pulev. “I stuck to what I do best,” he said. “Picking my shots, putting it together and when that is successful I stick to it.”
He wasn’t really interested in talking about the fight that much, but did lean towards what may be in the future. An undisputed world title fight has been his goal, and his aim has been less talk more action. Right now Tyson Fury is the WBC champion, and Joshua knows how big that fight could be. He feels that he is ready for it.
“Of course I want the challenge,” he said. “It’s not about the opponent, it’s about the legacy and the belt. Whoever has got the belt, I would love to compete with them. If that is Tyson Fury, let it be Tyson Fury.”
Cover photo by Mark Robinson