JEFF POWELL: AJ should see off Pulev via stoppage in middle rounds

JEFF POWELL: Anthony Joshua has trained his mind as well as his body ahead of Kubrat Pulev bout…after Andy Ruiz shock, he will leave nothing to chance and should prevail via stoppage in the middle rounds

  • Anthony Joshua faces Kubrat Pulev in world title fight at Wembley on Saturday
  • AJ is the big favourite to see off the Bulgarian to retain his championships
  • Past defeat by Andy Ruiz will have prepared him mentally for Pulev challenge 

With the doors which have been closed for so long finally eased ajar, British boxing comes to its night of a thousand fans, scattered at social distances around Wembley Arena on Saturday.

The attendance of even so limited a live audience is timely, since it marks Anthony Joshua’s re-emergence from Covid mothballing which has lasted a full year plus five days.

AJ’s defence of all his world heavyweight titles should make for a triumphant comeback. Not least because the mandatory challenger for his IBF belt,

Anthony Joshua (above) is set to return to action against Kubrat Pulev on Saturday night

Kubrat Pulev, is more mentally willing than physically able as well as being durable rather than devastating. Hence, more importantly, this show should be a curtain-raiser to a double bill of Joshua versus Tyson Fury next year.

Some hurdles need to be cleared before those two mega-fights can happen. They include a danger of the Gypsy King being held legally to a trilogy clash with Deontay Wilder, who he dethroned as WBC champion in their rematch.

But an inconceivable upset by the grand old man of the Bulgarian ring would devalue those spectaculars, if not scupper them.

Fury is unconcerned and not bothering to be one of the watching thousand. Yet Pulev’s legendary promoter Bob Arum, who also takes care of business for Fury in the US, warns: ‘Everybody in the UK wants to see Tyson v Joshua but don’t count your chickens. I am truly convinced that Kubrat is going to knock Anthony out.

The British boxer is favourite to retain his world heavyweight titles at Wembley

‘Joshua’s punch resistance is flawed. Andy Ruiz proved that with his KO in their first fight, even though he had little previous form as a big puncher. Kubrat hits a lot harder than Andy. He is also way more prepared for this than Ruiz who let himself go to fat before the second fight.’

Not that there is much supporting evidence for that theory in Pulev’s record. Of his 28 victories, just half have come by KO. There is further encouragement for Joshua in that his challenger’s one defeat was a fifth-round stoppage by Wladimir Klitschko, in his only previous world title fight. Also, at 39, the man from Sofia is eight years the elder and has been out of action for more than a year too.

Joshua knows that if by some mischance he should lose this one it would gladden the hearts of a minority in this country who he regards as his haters. So motivation is not confined solely to the fortunes to be made against Fury.

Never one to let his Herculean body slip a fraction out of shape, Joshua has been training his mind also, among other things by playing chess, to improve fight strategy. There were signs of how his long-time trainer Rob McCracken has helped him work on that in the way he danced and moved in the second fight with Ruiz Jnr.

Joshua will have learnt from his shock defeat by Andy Ruiz (above) to not be complacent

Ideally, now he will combine that athleticism with his more familiar aggression and that gut instinct of a product of street gangs to go to war.

Such an amalgam would be difficult if not impossible for the shorter, lighter Pulev to withstand, even though he says: ‘My trainer and I see many holes in Anthony. He is not unbeatable. Ruiz proved that.

‘As well as feeling at the best and strongest of my life, my punching is more powerful now than it has ever been. We expect to knock him out. Also it seems he is looking past me to fighting Fury. If so, all the better for me.’

Pulev does not take into this calculation that Ruiz is significantly faster than he is. It was the Mexican’s hand speed which confounded Joshua in New York, although there was a hint of complacency about his approach to another largely unheralded opponent. Hopefully that lesson has been permanently learned, since Saturday night does not appear to be the most exacting engagement on his agenda.

A likely win for Joshua would set him up to take on Tyson Fury in a unification bout

Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, if this former undisputed world cruiserweight champion presses his mandatory right to challenge for the WBO heavyweight title early in 2021, would command Joshua’s full attention. But first things first. What happened once against Ruiz should be a constant reminder to him that in heavyweight boxing a fight can turn with a single punch.

So it has been reassuring to hear him say; ‘Pulev can have all the plans he wants, until I hit him in the face. He is a cagey boxer and there may be some ring rust for both of us to shake off. I fully intend to knock him out.’

Given all that is at stake, I expect Joshua to prevail by a stoppage in the middle rounds.

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