Anthony Joshua understands Kubrat Pulev’s reluctance to step aside and help allow a Joshua-Tyson Fury fight to take place.
Bulgaria’s Pulev, the mandatory challenger for Joshua’s IBF heavyweight title, is supposed to face Joshua next. Pulev and his handlers have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of accepting even a seven-figure step-aside fee to help clear the way for what would be the biggest fight in British boxing history.
“If I’m gonna be honest, if I was the same as Pulev, I wouldn’t step aside, either,” Joshua told IFL TV for an interview that appeared recently on its YouTube channel. “So, Pulev’s entitled to do exactly what he wants. He’s in position to fight me. So, if he wants the opportunity to fight, he sticks to his guns. But if he wants to see, you know, the two world champions in Great Britain clash, then step aside. But that’s the only options.
“If he wants to fight me and he’s confident, come get this work. Or if you would rather sit back and watch what happens with me and Tyson Fury, that option’s there as well. But if I’m honest with you, my negotiations with Pulev were a bit different. I think [Fury] has a lot of things he needs to sort out with Deontay Wilder.”
Primarily, Fury and his handlers would have to convince Wilder to accept what would need to be an eight-figure fee to step aside for Fury-Joshua to take place next. Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) is contractually obligated to a third fight with Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs), whom Fury stopped in the seventh round of their rematch February 22 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Neither Wilder nor Pulev have expressed any interest in stepping aside, which means Fury-Wilder III and Joshua-Pulev will be boxing’s next two heavyweight title fights, though not necessarily in that order.
The 30-year-old Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) and the 39-year-old Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs) were supposed to fight June 20 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Their mandated match has been delayed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joshua, who also owns the WBA, WBO and IBO titles, won’t relinquish his IBF belt so that he doesn’t have to oppose Pulev.
“Why am I hanging on with Pulev?,” Joshua responded to a question about why he just doesn’t skip the Pulev fight. “Yeah so, there’s five belts. IBO, IBF, WBA, WBO, they belong to me. Tyson Fury has the WBC. So, each of these governing bodies, so they have a ranking. So, let’s one to 10, one to 10, one to 10. And in the IBF, Pulev is number one, and that is the next belt I have to defend, the IBF. So, that’s why Pulev [is next].
“If I don’t defend it against Pulev, then the mandatory position will be removed from me and then Pulev fights [someone else for the IBF title]. And do you know who the next mandatory challenger is? Charles Martin. That’s the guy I actually won the belt from. So, if I don’t fight and defend my belt [against Pulev], then it will be Kubrat Pulev and Charles Martin that fight. And these are like obligations that you have to follow as a champion.”
Joshua was supposed to make a mandatory defense of his IBF belt versus Pulev in October 2017 at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
Pulev pulled out of that bout on less than two weeks’ notice after suffering a shoulder injury. Joshua instead stopped Cameroon’s Carlos Takam, Pulev’s late replacement, in the 10th round.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.