WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua finally has a date set for his title defense against mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev. The pair will share the ring on Saturday, Dec. 12 at London's O2 Arena after COVID-19 forced the fight from its initially-planned June 2020 date.
In his most recent fight, Joshua (23-1, 21 KO) dominated Andy Ruiz Jr. to regain his trio of world titles on the heels of Ruiz scoring one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history in their first fight in June 2019. The knockout loss was the first defeat suffered by Joshua in his pro career. Talk immediately turned to a potential unification bout with the winner of the rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. After Fury won the fight, he was locked in for a trilogy bout with Wilder -- but the time for that fight may have expired, according to recent reports.
Pulev (28-1, 14 KO) will be looking to derail one of the biggest heavyweight fights in boxing history when he steps into the ring against Joshua. In 2014, Pulev received his lone shot at a world title, suffering a fifth-round knockout loss at the hands of Wladamir Klitschko. He has since rebounded with an eight-fight winning streak that set him up as the IBF mandatory challenger.
Things took a controversial turn early in the promotion for the championship fight, with Pulev saying while speaking at a press conference, "His strengths? I'd say he has a very powerful punch undeniably. What are his other strengths? His tan is better than mine."
Following the comments that were perceived as racially-charged, Pulev released a statement.
"I would never, under any circumstances, allow myself to show disrespect to another human being on racial, ethnic or religious grounds," Pulev said. "That's what I've been teaching my little nephews all the time. Each of us is born on this earth with equal rights, and skin colour is completely irrelevant. I can't believe how my words about Anthony Joshua have been taken out of context. It never even occurred to me to discredit another sportsman because of the colour of his skin!"
With the COVID-19 pandemic still altering sports in unprecedented ways with minimal or no spectators in attendance, Joshua said he hopes fans will be allowed at the fight in London come December.
"Without the fans something huge is missing," Joshua said. "I'm really hoping that, safety permitting, we might be able to bring some fans in."
Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn echoed the champs sentiments, saying, "We'll be doing everything we can to lobby for the safe return of fans to this event."