Kubrat Pulev is ready to get it right the second time around.
With the bulk of the heavyweight hardware back firmly in the grasp of England’s Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21KOs), comes marching orders to begin honoring his mandatory title defense obligations. The Brit reclaimed the belts in a 12-round win over Andy Ruiz (33-2, 22KOs) earlier this month in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, avenging his lone career defeat to the Mexican-American from California just six months prior.
The rematch came with the blessing of the International Boxing Organization, on the condition that the winner next face Pulev by no later than May 31, 2020. The New Jersey-based sanctioning body has followed through on that promise, formally ordering the mandatory title fight on Thursday.
Joshua and Pulev are granted a 30-day negotiation period to come to terms, or else the bout will be subject to a purse bid hearing in mid-January.
Pulev’s side is convinced it won’t come to that.
“We are elated to be finally getting our shot at the title,” Epic Sports’ John Wirt, Pulev’s co-promoter along with Top Rank Inc., told BoxingScene.com upon being informed of the bout being ordered. “We want to thank Daryl [Peoples, president and CEO of IBF], Carlos [Ortiz Jr., IBF Championship Chairman) and the rest of our friends at the IBF for this early Christmas present.”
Preliminary plans call for the bout to land within the first four months of 2020, assuming both sides are able to come to terms which already appear to be the case well before the purse bid deadline.
Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s career-long promoter has confirmed that his client’s next fight will undoubtedly take place in the United Kingdom. In a development first reported by The Athletic’s Mike Coppinger, the likely destination will be Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the home to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in London, England. The venue holds more than 62,000 for its primary occupants, with Joshua’s homecoming believed to generate upwards of 70,000, in line with his previous four fights in the UK which drew a combined 320,000 fans.
The mark would easily shatter the stadium’s attendance record of 60,463 established this past October in hosting a National Football League (NFL) game between the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders.
Bulgaria’s Pulev (28-1, 14KOs) has been the mandatory challenger in waiting since 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.
Biding his time, the 38-year old has earned a pair of wins in 2019, including a 10-round nod over Rydell Booker this past 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 in their March 23rd ESPN headliner which 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. A win by Joshua would have led to this very fight taking place in October, but the chain of events which took place instead left Pulev and his team to fight it out in court once Joshua enforced a rematch clause upon losing to Ruiz.
The IBF—who does not recognize rematch clauses, particularly in lieu of a due mandatory title defense—gave its blessing to Ruiz and Joshua, with the hard stance on the winner next facing Pulev. The sanctioning body was forced to double down on that, following a similar order placed by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) for Joshua to begin negotiations with its mandatory challenger Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13KOs).
Usyk, a former World cruiserweight champ who debuted at heavyweight this past October, is due his title shot by June 4. The WBO ordered Joshua and Usyk to begin negotiations on Wednesday, one day prior to the IBF enforcing its mandatory title defense.
Should there arise the scenario of Joshua having to make the hard choice between the two, the working theory is that Usyk—who is co-promoted by K2 Promotions-Ukraine and Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing—will wind up fighting for the vacant WBO title.
Either way, Pulev and his team remain confident of landing the sitting champion.
“I have already spoken with Eddie and Bob (Arum, Pulev’s co-promoter) today,” confirmed Wirt. “We are looking forward to working together to make this fight.
“Kubrat is in great shape already, and I guarantee this is gonna be one heck of a fight!”
As much has been confirmed by the challenger long in waiting.
“I look forward to facing Anthony Joshua in his next bout, as the IBF has ordered,” noted Pulev. “The result is going to be different (than the Ruiz rematch), I guarantee it!”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox