The race to stage Anthony Joshua’s next title defence has become a straight fight between two bitter North London football rivals, according to promoter Eddie Hearn.

Hearn says a deal has been agreed in principle for Joshua to defend his WBA, WBO, IBO and IBF heavyweight titles against Kubrat Pulev. With June 13 or 20 the target dates.

With Wembley Stadium unavailable, it had long been accepted that the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened last year at a cost of £1 billion and has already staged NFL games, would be the venue, but Hearn said that Arsenal have made a bit to take the fight.

Their ground, the Emirates Stadium, was opened in 2006 but it is about four miles closer to central London. Both have capacities of just over 60,000.

The Emirates Stadium has not had so many non-football events in recent years, but the US band The Killers are due to play there on June 5 and 6, so protection for the pitch will already be in place.

“It’s the North London race for this fight,” Hearn said. “Tottenham is our preference, but we’re talking to Arsenal and they’ve come in and said ‘how do we make this happen?’

“I get the feeling that Arsenal and the Emirates would quite like to nick this. It would be like a little one-upmanship for them.”

Arsenal and Spurs are each other’s biggest rivals and Hearn says competition often spurs others on, adding that after promoting in Saudi Arabia last year, interest was sparked in nearby Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

“Well now it’s like Spurs and Arsenal,” Hearn said. “It’s not been done before at Arsenal, but I don’t see why not.

“The Emirates was such a revolutionary stadium, but almost feels old now. It’s quite interesting.

“If you want to establish yourself as a sports entertainment destination, it’s a pretty big coup to get this fight.”

The fight with the Bulgarian has not been signed yet, but an agreement has been made with the IBF and WBO to allow the IBF mandatory to go first without Joshua risking losing his WBO title. The WBO mandatory, Oleksandr Usyk, is now expected to box Dereck Chisora in May.

“Terms are, I’d not say agreed, but we’re in a good position [with Pulev],” Hearn said. “We have an agreement in principle for a June fight.”

Joshua last boxed in the UK in September 2018, when he stopped Alexander Povetkin at Wembley. Since then he has boxed in the United States and Saudi Arabia, losing his titles and winning them back against Andy Ruiz Jr.

Hearn said he had plenty of offers to have this fight abroad, but Joshua wanted to box in London.

“Joshua taking a massive pay cut to fight here,” Hearn said. “We’ve had offers from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Middle East, from America and he said ‘no, I want to fight here’.

“It is a big difference fighting abroad. But he just said he’s boxed in the Middle East, he’s boxed in America, we should do this one here and he’s right.”