By: Sean Crose
And then there were two. At least for now.
For years, it appeared that there were three big names in the rejuvenated heavyweight division – Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, and Anthony Joshua. Last winter, though, Fury bested Wilder so thoroughly in the rematch of their 2018 bout that three top heavyweights became two top heavyweights. At least that’s how the boxing public saw it. And, at least until Wilder returns to the ring, it will continue to see things that way. With Fury set to fight again this winter, that leaves eyes on Joshua, who will be fighting for the first time since regaining his heavyweight titles last year in Saudi Arabia.
His opponent this Saturday in his hometown of London will be the skilled veteran contender Kubrat Pulev, who will be entering the ring on an eight fight win streak. It doesn’t look at first blush like Kubrat can damage Joshua. He lost his only other title shot years ago to then champion Wladimir Klitschko. Yet no one thought Andy Ruiz had much of a chance against the statuesque titlist, either….and we all know how that turned out, with Joshua knocked senseless and Ruiz taking his titles from him, at least temporarily.
What’s fascinating about Joshua leading into Saturday, however, isn’t so much the fact that he returned to handily regain his titles from Ruiz roughly half a year after losing them. It’s how he did it. For, on that night in Saudi Arabia, Joshua successfully transitioned from a power puncher to a highly effective boxer. Joshua moved skillfully around the ring that evening, frustrating Ruiz by landing effectively without being landed on himself. So impressive was Joshua’s performance in the Ruiz rematch that Ruiz’ poor conditioning might ultimately have not made that much of a difference on the outcome.
What Joshua, then, will fans see when he faces the skilled Pulev on Saturday? Although not known as a power puncher, the Bulgarian challenger can certainly throw down if need be. Klitschko certainly thought enough of the danger Pulev presented to finish him off as quickly as possible. Will Joshua engage with Pulev as Klitschko did? Or will he employ the style he used so effectively against Ruiz? Perhaps fans will see a hybrid of the two strategies, a kind of organic growth of Joshua’s ring style. Or, of course, Pulev may end up surprising everyone. Stranger things have certainly happened. Besides, the current heavyweight landscape is far from stable.
It’s more fun that way.