Anthony Joshua did not let his mind wander before his match against Kobrat Pulev. He has crossed barriers before, failing to establish himself in the present. But all week he refused to look beyond Boliv, and that steadfast focus brought the ninth round to a halt on Saturday in front of 1,000 fans at London’s SSE Arena.
He shot down Joshua Pulev in the third round with an impressive header, but the Bulgarian’s strong chin kept him in the fight until nine. A flurry of top edges and a straight right hand finally led to Boliv’s lively floor.
For Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs), this was an exorcism from Andy Ruiz Jr.’s ugly spell as well as a reminder of Joshua’s ruthless ability to stop a fight in its tracks. The top was about to deliver Joshua’s promise of excitement, but despite his laser-like focus, this seemed like a start with the main course yet to come.
Joshua didn’t even mention Tyson Fury’s name in preparation for this fight, but the WBC belt holder and the likely epic 2021 match between them hovered around this match as a ubiquitous distraction. It was only after Bolev was sent that Joshua finally mentioned these two words to the man standing in the way of Unity.
“When I started this game in 2013, I was chasing all the belts, dealing with screwdrivers,” Joshua said. “Of course, I want a challenge, it’s not about opponents, it’s about legacy and belts – whoever gets the belt, I’d like to compete with them. If this is Tyson Fury, then it is Tyson Fury. It’s not important.”
Fury turned down Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn’s call to be by the ring at SSE Arena, but watched from a distance as Joshua defended his WBA, IBF and WBO titles and fulfilled his advance promise of “destruction.” [Pulev’s] Spirit “.
– Tyson Fury (@Tyson_Fury) December 12, 2020
It’s been a long time between fights – a year and five days since Joshua was stopped Ruiz in a rematch in Saudi Arabia after Madison Square Garden’s nightmare. There were concerns that Joshua would show rust in the ring, but to resist it, he competed throughout Thursday evening of Fight Week, much to the concern of his coach Rob McCracken not to wear a headscarf after just days of fighting.
Pulif (28-2, 14 KOs), 39, was an efficient opponent and landed a few blows on Joshua, but the British fighter was in control the whole time.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. was at the side of the ring and invited Joshua to use the punch more, but Joshua did it his way and stuck to the plan to send Boliv and avoided slipping again.
Prepare for this fight just as Vladimir Klitschko did to Bolivia in 2014. At that time, Joshua was one of Klitschko’s sparring partners. He spoke to the great Ukrainian player for an hour on the phone Wednesday, looking for inside information about his opponent and extracting any information from Klitschko on how he had inflicted the only other defeat in Bolivia’s career before Saturday.
This performance was reminiscent of Klitschko, as were his words after the fight.
“I am the best version of me – I am not in a quarrel with anyone else, just me,” Joshua said, avoiding any predictions about who would be at stake.
Joshua’s next move might be WBO’s mandatory competitor Oleksandr Usyk, but the world of boxing wants to see the British superhero fight against Fury. “Gypsy King” captured a large part of Joshua’s spotlight this year thanks to his beating Deontay Wilder again in February, but Joshua won’t be long in the shadows.
Deep down Joshua would know that he would have to improve him even more if he wanted to defeat Fury. I felt as though he could have ended this fight against Boliv earlier, but let the Bulgarian come back. Against an opponent like Fury, he cannot stand these opportunities, nor does he indulge in Fury’s distractions. Joshua always took pride in avoiding the boxing nod. He was concerned that his victory over Ruiz in December wasn’t fun enough. After beating Boliv on Saturday, he immediately spoke of his hope that the thousand fans who were lucky enough to secure a ticket to the show. But that was about winning, little else.
It was just like Joshua’s previous fight in the UK, which was in 2018. It was in the same corner of London, complete with initials from Flaming AJ and thunderous bass guitar band from The White Stripes to welcome Joshua into the arena. At that time, his pause in Alexander Povetkin’s seventh round was supposed to be the last obstacle before the battle for reunification. But Joshua’s perfectly laid plan for world domination had to wait while Ruiz surprised the British and the boxing world. This victory saw him lead his show to the right track This victory provides Joshua a platform to chase his boxing immortality with Fury, who turns to Instagram after the fight promising to take Joshua out in three rounds, waiting.
Joshua did his homework – he based his preparations on “less talk, more work”. This is his message to the world of boxing awaited. Now power brokers need to close the deal to give boxing the fight it craves.