Anthony Joshua is back in training for his next title defense of his IBF belt against mandatory Kubrat Pulev for November. AJ’s promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom, is extremely optimistic that the UK government legislation will allow for crowds to return by the time Joshua battles Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs) in November.
It doesn’t look like the pandemic is decreasing at the moment, but perhaps Hearn knows something we don’t. He wants to stage Joshua’s fight with the 39-year-old Pulev in the UK, but that’s going to be impossible to do if crowds aren’t allowed back in by November. Without a vaccine, it’s a pipedream on Hearn’s part for the UK government to give the green light for huge crowds to watch sporting events.
Hearn still doesn’t have a date or a venue for the Joshua-Pulev fight, and he may drag out his decision on when and where to schedule it until he finds out about the crowds.
Crowds could be back by November
“He’s back training, he sent me a picture yesterday of him on the bike, putting a big session in,” said Hearn to Sky Sports Boxing in giving the status of Joshua. “November is the date when that fight will take place.
“We’re starting to see changes in government legislation that makes me very confident that by November, we will see crowds back into arenas. So, we’re making inquires for arenas, and we want that fight [Joshua vs. Pulev] to take place in the UK.
“I spoke to Bob Arum last night about numerous different things. AJ against Pulev was one of them, and I believe you’ll see that fight in the UK in November,” said Hearn.
Eddie isn’t saying where he’ll stage the Joshua vs. Pulev fight if crowds aren’t allowed back by November. Will Hearn stage it in his back garden at the Matchroom Boxing headquarters in Essex, or will he look for an empty arena to place it?
If the UK government lets fans under strict guidelines of them needing to be wearing masks, then it’s doable. A lot of people aren’t wearing masks still out in public, and they seem to be oblivious to what’s going on with the virus.
Joshua-Pulev isn’t a significant fight, and it’s one that would be perfect for the UK right now. The Middle Eastern countries likely don’t have enough interest in this fight to make a huge offer. In the U.S, crowds still aren’t allowed, and fans wouldn’t be all that excited at seeing Joshua fight Pulev.
It’s not that Pulev isn’t a good fighter. He’s not well known to Americans, and the hardcore boxing fans view Pulev as an old guy with no power, who had it easy in earning the IBF mandatory spot. Pulev beat Hughie Fury in an IBF title eliminator last year, and that was a bizarre choice.
Joshua focused on Pulev
“I think he’s made that mistake before, hasn’t he?” said Hearn about Joshua looking past his opponents. “When the Andy Ruiz fight came around, everybody was talking about Wilder, and everybody was talking about the undisputed fight.
“Sometimes when you take your eyes off the ball, it’s the same mindset with Whyte-Povetkin. That’s why we can’t get too caught up with that mandatory.
“We’ve got to deal with it. I think AJ is fully focused on Pulev because he knows if he doesn’t beat Pulev, there’s no Fury fight. So he’s got to go out, and he’s got to do a job.
“By the time he gets back into the ring, it’s nearly a year since he’s boxed. So we’ll be looking to make the improvements that he’s learning in camp and the improvements that he made in the Ruiz fight and put them to good use against Kubrat Pulev, and put in a devastating performance,” said Hearn.
Joshua has to have learned his lesson about overlooking his opponents after his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr last year. Pulev isn’t as fast or as powerful as Ruiz, but he’s got enough pop in his punches to knockout Joshua if he hits him cleanly.
Fury vs. Joshua negotiations mostly done
“The bulk of it is done, and that’s always the financial end of the deal,” said Hearn on the negotiations between Joshua and Fury for two fights. “But there’s stuff out of our control with the fighters needing to win their next matches.
“Bob Arum is strutting like a peacock knowing that he’s the man in control of Tyson Fury, and he’ll be leading the negotiations. While I want it in the UK, I just want the fight. I want to see AJ become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
“Wherever it is, even if it’s here [at Matchroom Headquarters], it would be super special. Hats off to everybody that is helping to make boxing flourish again. It’ll work for some people but not for others.
“Some people will get it right, and some will get it wrong, but you can’t knock anyone for trying. And anyone that is trying to keep boxing flying and buzzing, I’m all for supporting. When you’re talking about boxing behind closed doors, some people are used to that,” said Hearn.
There’s a long way to go before Joshua and Fury meet up next year. Fury still needs to beat Deontay Wilder and Dillian Whyte, and anything can go wrong for him against those punchers. Joshua has Pulev and his WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk he needs to beat. However, Hearn will likely put Usyk on hold until the second half of 2021 so that Joshua has extra time to rest while waiting for Fury to deal with Whyte in February. Fury gets the hard work of needing to fight twice before facing Joshua.
Matchroom with a backlog of exciting fights
“That’s when it starts to get really difficult, you know?” said Hearn when asked about Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith. “I’ll be on to you about that in due course.
“What I’m trying to do is get Fight Camp done, four great weeks of boxing, and then when we come back in September. Hopefully, we’re back in arenas with some kind of crowds.
“Then we’ve got the others to deal with. Everything from Ritson against Vasquez, Selby-Kambosis, Josh Kelly-Avanesysn to Callum Smith to Josh Warrington to Billy Joe Saunders to Usyk-Chisora to Anthony Joshua. Just slightly,” said Hearn when told that he has a backlog.
“When I put it like that, yeah, especially. Listen, we’ll get through it. It’s going to be expensive, we’re going to lose money, but you what? It’s going to be a lot of fun.
“That’s why we’ve built such a great business over the last few years to be able to withstand this pressure and to be able to deal with peaks and troughs and swings in the economy. It’s going to be brutal, but we’ll be okay. We won’t give up without a fight,” said Hearn.
Some of those fights that Hearn mentions are interesting, especially the Josh Kelly vs. David Avanesyan contest. Hearn doesn’t know what’s going to happen with Billy Joe Saunders, who is still hoping that he can face Canelo Alvarez. That fight looks increasingly unlikely to happen, though, because there isn’t the money to pay Saunders.
Canelo will want the fight in the U.S, and unfortunately, crowds still aren’t allowed to attend matches. Without a gate, there will be less money to pay Saunders. So unless he wants to take a pay cut from the money he was previously going to get for fighting Canelo, he’s out of luck.