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With all the talk of Anthony Joshua v Tyson Fury in 2021, are we all overlooking Kubrat Pulev? Join us as we look ahead to Saturday night’s heavyweight showdown.

At the third time of asking, Anthony Joshua and Kubrat Pulev will finally face off when they meet for AJ’s IBF, WBA, WBO & IBO heavyweight straps on Saturday night, with 1,000 lucky fans in attendance at the Wembley Arena.

An injury to Pulev derailed their proposed 2017 clash, while they were scheduled to meet at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in June of this year before Covid came along with other ideas.

It’s a decent test for AJ as he makes his return after almost exactly a year out, and he’d be foolish to underestimate the experienced Bulgarian as a huge domestic showdown against Tyson Fury looms large in 2021.

Looking past Pulev and being distracted by the Fury talk would not be wise on Joshua’s part, as he himself acknowledged in conversation with Steve Bunce & Mike Costello prior to Saturday’s fight.

I've become tougher, more relentless over the last year...Pulev is a tricky customer. He's not going to be an easy fight, it's a banana skin.

Anthony Joshua

Surely there’s just too much riding on this for AJ to come unstuck against the respected but limited Pulev? Our traders certainly think so with Joshua 1/9 to win the fight against 11/2 for Pulev.

There is pressure on AJ to look good in the fight and he’s still quite short at 4/11 to win inside the distance, but if you really fancy him to make a statement you can back him at 66/1 to have Pulev gone inside 60 seconds.

Although he’d obviously prefer an early night, Joshua was quite prepared to box conservatively against Andy Ruiz in their rematch last year. Given the potential scale and earnings a Fury fight could generate, AJ is unlikely to do anything to jeopardise that. He’ll win boring if he has to so long as he gets the job done.

There’s also an argument to say the best thing for Joshua might to be to get some rounds under the belt and shake off any ring rust that might have accumulated after a year out of competitive action.

That said, the elite level fighters in the top-tier category to which AJ aspires – Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr, Teofimo Lopez and Oleksandr Usyk – have all looked sensational on their returns. Can AJ put on a show to match those guys?

AJ v Pulev is 5/2 to go the distance and 2/7 to finish early, with the overs / under line set at 6.5 rounds (8/11 +6.5, EVS –6.5). The most popular group round betting market is Joshua to win in rounds 4-6, which you can back at 5/2.

Going for the mind games, Pulev has questioned Joshua’s mental toughness, perhaps understandably given the nature of AJ’s capitulation in his first fight against Andy Ruiz. Do any lingering doubts remain after that shocking knockout loss?

Joshua has survived scary moments before, notably against Wladimir Klitschko and domestic rival Dillian Whyte. Both of those guys can bang, while Pulev’s record of 14 KOs out of 28 wins doesn’t indicate an especially fearsome hitter.

So what kind of threat does Pulev pose? He’s experienced, he’s tough, he’s used to being the ‘away’ fighter and he’s got good pedigree having enjoyed a decent amateur career. Basically, he’s no mug. Although he’s getting on at 39, he doesn’t have too many miles on the clock with only 29 fights, winning all but one.

That was a 5th round KO to Wladimir Klitchsko back in 2014, and the most impressive names on his professional resume are Derek Chisora, Samuel Peter, Kevin Johnson and Hughie Fury, who he defeated in consecutive fights between 2016 – 2018.

He also shared a ring with amateur superstar Odlanier Solis, although he didn’t have much joy against the celebrated Cuban in the unpaid ranks, winning only one out of four bouts, and the win being more or less a hometown gift.

Pulev’s best chance of victory is probably to stay out of trouble early, which may be easier said than done, and try to tire Joshua out before taking him into deep waters later in the fight.

I feel a little lighter and at my best...a boxer must have power and speed and right now I feel very dangerous.

Kubrat Pulev

Speaking to IFL TV, Fury’s ex-trainer Ben Davison identified the most intriguing aspect of the fight as being how Joshua approaches it. Highlighting the versatility and the different style AJ employed in winning the Ruiz rematch, it basically comes down to, does he stick to safety first box-and-move, or does he go for the statement knockout?

Even though we’ve seen far bigger boxing upsets than Pulev at 11/2, it seems inconceivable that Joshua loses this fight. As the saying goes, there are levels in boxing and AJ is by far the classier operator – taller, faster, younger, hits harder, throws better combinations and has beaten better fighters.

Joshua has also suggested that the tribulations of 2020 have allowed him to focus purely on his boxing, rather than getting too involved in the business side – a tacit admission perhaps that he’s been guilty of that before?

I’m expecting a motivated, focused Joshua to dominate, pick off and eventually stop a game but over-matched Pulev somewhere between rounds 7-9. If you agree, you can back that at 3/1.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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