Once pressed with the hard choice between which mandatory title challenge to honor first, Anthony Joshua now has until the end of the month to confirm his next step.
A bilateral request to extend negotiations for Joshua’s ordered title defense versus Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev was approved by the International Boxing Federation (IBF), a representative from the New Jersey-based sanctioning body informed BoxingScene.com. The two sides now have until January 31—a full 20 days beyond the original January 11 deadline—to come to terms to avoid a scheduled purse bid hearing at IBF headquarters in Springfield, New Jersey.
“Both sides requested an extension because the intervening holidays and vacations delayed our getting the necessary information,” John Wirt, president of Epic Sports and Entertainment—Pulev’s co-promoter along with Top Rank, Inc.—told BoxingScene.com on Tuesday. “But we are making huge progress and are presently evaluating offers from a number of different sites.”
Epic Sports has represented Pulev in talks with England’s Joshua, who fights under promoter Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing banner.
Joshua (23-1, 21KOs) resumed his role as unified heavyweight titlist following a 12-round win over Andy Ruiz last December in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The bout avenged the lone loss of his career, suffering a shocking 7th round stoppage at the hands of Ruiz last June in New York City.
More so than landing as among the biggest upsets in heavyweight title fight history, it also threw off progress in honoring mandatory challenges which is always essential for any unified titlist hoping to avoid vacating belts. A win by Joshua would have paved the way for a fight with Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) likely by last fall, which in turn would have left room to proceed with a little more freedom in 2020.
Instead, Joshua and Ruiz had to get the IBF’s blessing to proceed with their rematch, on the condition that the winner next face Pulev by no later than May 31, 2020.
Both parties agreed, although Joshua—as the eventual victor—was faced with another dilemma. The World Boxing Organization (WBO) ordered the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and two-tour heavyweight titlist to next defend against its mandatory, former World cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13KOs). With the WBO’s order also came a deadline, as the title shot is due by June 4, 2020 according to the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body.
Hearn has spent the past several weeks in communication with both teams while also requesting that the sanctioning bodies talk amongst themselves to figure out who should be first in line. Unified titlists are benefited a rotation system to determine the order of mandatory challenges.
Prior to his loss to Ruiz, Joshua last defended his titles in a 7th round win over Alexander Povetkin. The September 2018 bout was ordered by the World Boxing Association (WBA), with the WBO—who had Povetkin as its number-one contender at the time—also recognizing the bout as a satisfied mandatory obligation.
That should place the IBF next in line, as Joshua last defended against its highest rated contender in an October 2017 knockout win over Carlos Takam—ironically, a replacement opponent for Pulev who was injured at the time and was forced to withdraw.
Pulev has since returned to the top of the IBF rankings following a 12-round win over Hughie Fury in their Oct. 2018 final eliminator between former title challengers. The feat is part of an eight-fight win streak for Pulev, a 2008 Olympian whose lone loss came in a Nov. 2014 failed title challenge of then-World champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The 38-year old contender picked up a pair of stay-busy wins in 2019, including a 10-round nod over Rydell Booker last November in Fresno, California. The bout followed a temporary suspension imposed by the California State Athletic Commission issued after his previous win, a 7th round knockout of Bogdan Dinu. Their March 23rd ESPN headliner became best known for his post-fight interaction with a female media member, whom he kissed without consent during their post-fight interview.
His license was reinstated over the summer, at which time his team set sights on blocking a planned rematch between Ruiz and Joshua. Instead came the conditionally approved order for Joshua-Ruiz II and, now, a granted extension for Joshua and Pulev to finalize terms for a fight they hope to stage sometime in the spring.
“We hope to be able to formally announce a deal by the end of the month,” noted Wirt.
An update on where Usyk stands in all of this has yet to be provided as this goes to publish. His team met with Hearn—who co-promotes the 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and unbeaten pound-for-pound entrant—to discuss plans for the new year, including the prospects of a shot at Joshua and the heavyweight crown.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox