Despite varying levels of teeth gnashing, there really might be only one weight class where having a singular, recognized champion really matters. For all the fun that comes with debating what might happen if flyweight A were the same size as welterweight B, there’s only one title signifying, genuinely, the peak of the boxing world.
Anthony Joshua, easily one of a handful of the biggest boxing stars in the world, hasn’t been that champion at heavyweight yet. He may be just a fight away from getting the chance. Tyson Fury, the man who beat Wladimir Klitschko first and the man who reminded everyone he was, well, THE man at heavyweight with his controversial draw and rematch drubbing of Deontay Wilder, looms.
First, there is the matter of IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev. Pulev has lost only once, challenging Klitschko for heavyweight honors, and been carefully managed since to get a second chance at a title. The stakes are there for him as well. Sharing a promoter with Fury, Pulev could line up an improbable opportunity at history’s throne.
Regardless of who wins, sanctioning body issues may prevent all four major alphabet straps being on the line next year. It won’t matter. The winner of Joshua-Pulev versus Fury will be for the heavyweight championship of the world, the real one.
The one, singular crown that matters most of all.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Current Titles: IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight (2019-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: IBF heavyweight (2016-19, 6 Defenses); WBA heavyweight (2017-19, 3 Defenses); WBO heavyweight (2018-19, 1 Defense)
Weight: 240 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Watford, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Record: 23-1, 21 KO, 1 KOBY?
Press Rankings: #1 (TBRB, Ring,) #2 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #3 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-1, 6 KO, 1 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 158-6-1 (.961)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Charles Martin KO2; Dominic Breazeale TKO7; Wladimir Klitschko TKO11; Carlos Takam TKO10; Joseph Parker UD12; Alexander Povetkin TKO7; Andy Ruiz TKO by 7, UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: None
Title/Previous Titles: None
Height: 6’4 ½
Weight: 239 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: Sofia, Bulgaria
Record: 28-1, 14 KO
Press Rankings: #8 (TBRB), #10 (ESPN, Boxing Monthly, Ring)
Record in Title Fights: 0-1, 1 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 131-16-1 (.889)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Alexander Dimitrenko KO11; Tony Thompson UD12; Wladimir Klitschko KO by 5
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Samuel Peter RTD3
The Case for Joshua: As alluded to in a piece about his weight for the Ruiz rematch, eyes were on the scale Friday and Joshua again showed up leaner and less massive than had been the case in recent years. It’s a good sign that Joshua is prioritizing the fighter over the brand and one can’t be fully realized with the other. How will it translate in the ring? Expect to see Joshua establish his jab early and seek to counter Pulev’s counters. The challenger is both a little shorter in stature and arm length so when Joshua presses he has to do so without giving Pulev range to take advantage of his aggression. Joshua has the power and speed but he has learned in fights with Dillian Whyte, Klitschko, and Ruiz about his own vulnerabilities. Pulev doesn’t have a lot of special effects. He’s a solid fundamentals guy with enough pop to keep Joshua honest but one who also has vulnerabilities. At 39, Pulev also has miles on him. Joshua is a better inside fighter than is often acknowledged and can do damage there if Pulev gets in range but it’s also a danger zone. If Joshua boxes and lets the fight come to him, he will have openings for knockout blows as the fight wears on.
The Case for Pulev: Joshua fought safely to win the Ruiz rematch. Pulev has to find a way to test whether any of that is apprehension. Using his own jab, if Pulev can catch Joshua coming in there is the potential to slow the bout down and make it a chess match. While Pulev was stopped by Klitschko, he has otherwise had decent whiskers and Klitschko was a tremendous puncher. Can he take Joshua’s power? That’s really the big question if Pulev doesn’t land something huge himself. Pot shotting and tying up before Joshua can get his offense off, making the fight muddy, may be the best chance Pulev has for an upset.
The Pick: A best chance isn’t necessarily a good chance. Pulev has been a solid, steady contender for most of a decade but he’s never really been more than that. While he’s shown flaws, Joshua has also been managed aggressively compared to most of the rest of the class with more wins over fighters who were rated in the top ten by TBRB and/or Ring when Joshua beat them than Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. Together, they have five. Joshua has seven. The thinking here is he makes it eight top ten wins inside eight rounds and then looks for Fury as number nine.
And that will be the one that matters.
Rold Picks 2020: 27-10
Additional Saturday Picks
Shakur Stevenson TKO Toka Kahn Clary
Chris Colbert UD Jaime Arboleda
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org