By Jake Donovan
It’s been 12 years since Kubrat Pulev last fought in the United States, that moment coming in the 2007 World Amateur Championships tournament in Chicago, Ill.
Armed with a contract deal with Top Rank and ESPN, Saturday’s stateside return figures to be the first of many in the near future for the veteran heavyweight contender.
“It’s very exciting to be back in the United States,” Pulev (26-1, 13KOs) told BoxingScene.com ahead of his upcoming clash with Bogdan Dinu this weekend in Costa Mesa, Calif. (Saturday, ESPN, 10:00pm ET/7:00pm PT). “When we signed with Top Rank, we wanted to fight here much more often and now we get to do so on ESPN.”
Bulgaria’s Pulev had recently fought under the Epic Sports banner, including his ESPN+ streamed win over Hughie Fury last fall. The streaming rights to the bout were secured by Top Rank an ESPN, who entered a co-promotional agreement with the 37-year old heavyweight shortly thereafter.
It was a calculated signing by Top Rank, as Pulev now serves as the mandatory challenger to one of the heavyweight titles currently in the possession of England’s unbeaten, unified titlist Anthony Joshua. Saturday’s clash with Romania’s Dinu (18-1, 14KOs) will mark his first under the agreement, falling right in line with the plan to further develop Pulev’s brand and get him some much-needed ring experience ahead of his second career title fight.
“It’s always better when you can be more active,” notes Pulev, who has fought just four times in the past three years as his career has been slowed by injuries. “This is why we joined Bob Arum and Top Rank, to get more fights and to fight on a big network like ESPN. It’s much better I can fight more, I feel better and I am a much happier fighter.”
Time will tell whether he lands a shot at Joshua or is instead steered towards a lucrative showdown with another unbeaten Brit in Tyson Fury, who joined the ESPN family in February. Until then, the plan is simply to fight far more often and become a far more familiar name, particularly in the United States.
“This is just the first step,” Ivaylo Gotzev, Pulev’s co-promoter told BoxingScene.com. “This weekend is California. After this, Chicago, New York, Las Vegas… we have places to go and heavyweights to see. Costa Mesa is a good start; after this we plan to conquer all the big boxing cities in America.”
It comes across as a lofty goal for a 37-year old heavyweight, but the belief on their side is the timing is much better now than when he was a younger contender.
“I am much smarter and much stronger, even then when I fought Wladimir Klitschko,” Pulev says in growing since his lone career loss, a 5th round knockout versus then-World champion Klitschko in Nov. ’14. “That loss, I wasn’t ready for that fight. I learned a lot from it, and you have to be a smart boxer in today’s heavyweight division.
“That’s what I plan to show the fans this weekend. It has been (12 years) since I last fought here, but the U.S. fans now get to see a much better fighter. So, the (timing) is perfect for me to return here and fight here much, much more.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox