Now that Anthony Joshua has regained control of the four versions of his heavyweight titles, he must defend them, and he has a pair of defenses already on the docket.
Standing in line are two mandatory challengers in Kubrat Pulev via the IBF, and Oleksandr Usyk via the WBO.
The question is who will get the first crack?
According to Matchroom Boxing head Eddie Hearn, it’s the Bulgarian boxer.
“I believe his next fight will be in April, and my gut feeling is it will be against Kubrat Pulev,” Hearn told BoxingScene.com. “Joshua doesn’t want to vacate the belts. He loves them. We need to have a conversation of common sense between the governing bodies. We’ve written to to the IBF and WBO. Who goes first? You can’t just hold Anthony to ransom and say you have to vacate one. There is a rotational system that chronologically tells you who goes first. It’s the IBF. But I also represent Usyk, so I have to push for him as well. It’s a bit of a messy situation, but Joshua will defend his titles against whoever he has to. But he really wants the undisputed fight, so we’ll so what happens on Feb. 22 between [Wilder and Fury].”
Pulev, promoted by Top Rank, is a longtime mandatory challenger who had originally been scheduled to face then-champion Joshua on Oct. 28, 2017.
The fight never materialized, however, because Pulev pulled out due to an injury, and Joshua ended up successfully defending his title soon after against Carlos Takam.
As the heavyweight picture further filled in, Pulev was on the outside looking in.
Pulev has since returned from injury with three consecutive wins in 2018 and 2019 and is now inching closer to his opportunity.
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist and member of the Boxing Writers Assn. of America since 2011. He has written for the likes of the Guardian, USA Today, Philadelphia Inquirer, Men’s Health and NFL.com and currently does TV commentary for combat sports programming that airs on Fox Sports and hosts his own radio show in Los Angeles. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan or via email at [email protected].