By Jake Donovan
On a night when ESPN offered the hard sell on Tyson Fury’s debut on its streaming platform, Kubrat Pulev offered his best in-ring sales pitch as a top heavyweight contender.
The 37-year old veteran boxer enjoyed a successful U.S. debut with a dramatic 7th round knockout over former amateur rival Bogdan Dinu. Three knockdowns in round seven rendered Dinu unfit to continue in their ESPN-televised headliner, which aired live from The Hangar in Costa Mesa, California.
Neither boxer was particularly active in the opening round but throwing just enough to keep the other honest. Pulev picked up the pace in round two, scoring with combinations upstairs in driving Dinu straight back into the ropes. It was just enough to draw a rise out of the vocal crowd which included a sizable following from Pulev’s native Bulgaria.
It was also enough to keep Dinu fighting in reverse, using his jab more so to discourage Pulev from rushing in—at least until he realized he could follow it with a right hand. The development provided high drama midway through round four, when Dinu connected with non-consecutive overhand rights which left Pulev with a deep cut over his left eye.
To his credit, Pulev—who owns a 2007 win over Dinu in the amateurs—fought through the blood and closed the round strong. Still, his corner was faced with a daunting task in between rounds, with renowned trainer and Pulev’s cutman Rudy Hernandez claiming to ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna that it was one of the worst cuts he’d ever seen.
It was also the very motivation Pulev needed to kick his game into high gear.
“It was not a big problem, this cut,” Pulev claimed afterward. “I was able to fight and sometimes the blood just makes you very hungry.”
The wound was also severe enough to prompt the ringside physician to sprint into the ring to examine at the start of round five. Pulev was given the all clear and bounced back strong. Dinu boxed on his toes, his rhythm disrupted by an onrushing Pulev who controlled the action on the inside which prompted Dinu to clinch.
By round seven, Pulev’s confidence was fully restored, which proved bad news for Dinu.
A series of right hand shots willed Dinu to the canvas, but one too many nearly resulted in an anticlimactic ending. Pulev managed to catch Dinu while he was down on the canvas, scoring with a right hand to the base of his opponent’s skull.
Referee Raul Caiz expertly handled the situation, first ruling an official knockdown but giving Dinu time to recover from what he ruled as an accidental foul. As Dinu finally made it to his feet, Caiz informed all of the ringside officials to honor the knockdown but also deduct a point from Pulev’s final score for the aforementioned foul.
It ultimately rendered moot.
Pulev clearly had knockout on his mind, refusing to let up against a wounded opponent who was now running on fumes. Dinu couldn’t get out of the way of his opponent’s right hand, falling to the canvas midway through the round and barely beating Caiz’s mandatory count as he rose just before the third man reached ten.
He was probably better off remaining on the deck as Pulev wasn’t about to let him off the hook. Three more right hands forced Dinu to the deck for a third time, this time signaling the end of the fight.
The official time was 2:40 of round seven.
The loss is Dinu’s second straight, this coming four months after suffering a 4th round stoppage at the hands of Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller. The 6’5 Romanian heavyweight attributed the defeat to having to fight through a locked jaw but on this particular night simply accepted defeat against a better opponent.
“No excuse,” Dinu said at fight’s end as he falls to 18-2 (14KOs). “I fought this guy because I want to be in the (top 10). My last two losses are now against two Top 10 guys.”
Pulev improves to 27-1 (14KOs) with the win, his seventh straight since a knockout loss to then-World heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in Nov. ’14. The 2008 Bulgarian Olympian has since punched his way back into title contention, doing so in a 12-round win over Hughie Fury—Tyson’s cousin—last November.
The victory inserted Pulev as the mandatory challenger to one of the alphabet titles currently in the clutches of England’s unbeaten, unified champ Anthony Joshua. He risked that status in taking this fight, even more so after suffering a gruesome cut midway through Saturday’s affair.
“I was prepared, I was fit and I was (ready) for this moment,” Pulev insisted. “I think it was very good at boxing today. I showed good punching, good strategy. We were very well prepared for this fight.”
More so, he now gets to prepare for a future that should include a much easier sell on his potential at top level. However concerning it was to take an interim fight while waiting out his place in line for a title shot, it pays dividends from marketing standpoint as he fought through the blood to deliver the knockout ending.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox