This Saturday in Hamburg, Germany, heavyweight veterans Kubrat Pulev and Dereck Chisora meet in a 12-round bout for the vacant European title, with a shot at the IBF world heavyweight belt (currently held by Anthony Joshua) also at stake for the winner.
Here's a breakdown of this matchup.
Kubrat Pulev vs Dereck Chisora
Record: 22-1 (12 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6'4½" / 80" ...Age: 34
Thoughts: The only blemish on Pulev's pro record is a fifth round knockout loss to Wladimir Klitschko in November 2014, where Pulev, a former amateur standout, did his best to take the fight to Wladimir, to disastrous results, as he was dropped three times and knocked out in the fifth round. He said Klitschko was "lucky." This was an interesting take on things.
Otherwise, Pulev has been a good if not exactly inspiring pro heavyweight. The Bulgarian was a star amateur between 2004 and 2008, culminating with a gold medal at the 2008 European Amateur Championships in Liverpool, and has amateur wins over the likes of Magomed Abdusalamov and Vyacheslav Glazkov.
Pulev turned pro in September 2009, after losing to Colombia's Oscar Rivas in his first fight at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In his third pro fight, he beat veteran Gbenga Oluokun, and in his fifth outing, he knocked out Matt Skelton. There was a sense he would be moving swiftly and looking for a world title fight in fairly short order, but it didn't really play out that way. He just stayed around that level or worse for a while, racking up wins over guys like Danny Batchelder, Dominick Guinn, Derric Rossy, Travis Walker, and Michael Sprott over the next couple of years.
In 2012, he knocked out Alexander Dimitrenko to win the European title, and then knocked out Alexander Ustinov four months later to retain it. Those wins over back-to-back "giants" again indicated that maybe he was tuning up to challenge a Klitschko, and after three more wins, including a decision over Tony Thompson in 2013, he finally met Klitschko in 2014. It didn't go great, despite the spirited effort.
Since then, Pulev has fought just twice, returning after 11 months off to beat George Arias over eight rounds in October 2015, and then two months later knocking out veteran Maurice Harris in 1:59. Saturday, he goes after the European title again, and eyes another world title fight, as this is also an IBF eliminator. If Pulev is as good as he was before the Klitschko fight, he is the clear favorite in this fight.
Record: 25-5 (17 KO) ... Streak: W5 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6'1½" / 74" ...Age: 32
Thoughts: Dereck Chisora is 5-0 in his last five, and 9-1 in his last ten, but, well, that doesn't totally tell the story of Dereck Chisora. What are his best wins in that time? Malik Scott, Edmund Gerber, Kevin Johnson, and Ondrej Pala, all coming before his most recent loss, a November 2014 rematch defeat against Tyson Fury, where Chisora's corner stopped the bout after 10 rounds that were pretty much all one-way action.
But his five losses are all, frankly, understandable. Two to Tyson Fury (the first coming in 2011), one to Robert Helenius (where Chisora was robbed in Finland), one to Vitali Klitschko, one to David Haye. There's not a bad loss in there on paper. He was woefully out of shape the first time he met Fury, though, and not to take anything away from Fury, but Chisora gave himself no real chance in that fight. He hung around for 12 rounds with Vitali Klitschko, for which he probably got too much credit, as he wasn't beaten to a pulp in short order, which to some was perhaps a surprise. David Haye thrashed him in their silly 2012 grudge match at Upton Park.
His best performance in defeat came against Helenius, where, again, Chisora deserved the win, dealing with a ridiculous referee (Adrio Zannoni) and judges that gave Helenius the benefit of the doubt, or whatever.
The more troublesome nights of Chisora's career have come in fights against Hector Avila in 2013, following the loss to Haye, and Marcelo Luiz Nascimento last September. Those are fights where Chisora looked like he couldn't have cared less, getting by on being the better fighter. He stopped Avila in nine rounds of a slog, and went the full 10 with Nascimento, who had been finished early by the likes of Carlos Takam, Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker, Solomon Haumono, Manuel Charr, and Tyson Fury. He has since fought three times, on back-to-back weekends in December, and again in January.
The story on Saturday could be largely about how much Chisora cares. Pulev, at his best, has the sort of pedigree and skills that Chisora can't really match, but when Dereck is fully invested, he can be a tough out. He's got a terrific chin and can be a handful when he's focused. Will he be? Who knows, but the weigh-in should tell us a little something.
Matchup Grade: C+. It is frankly a little hard for me to trust that Chisora will show up in shape and ready to give a serious effort here, because I've seen him do less than that enough times now that it's a legitimate concern. And if Pulev is sharp, he is frankly just too good of a boxer for Chisora on paper. Pulev is taller, longer, more skilled, and just as good a puncher, plus Pulev will have the effective home field advantage in Germany, where he's fought all but three of his pro bouts. It's not a bad fight, but it feels a little like a matchup of also-rans to determine a victim for Anthony Joshua. The best case scenario is this is entertaining, and Chisora makes Pulev work really hard.