It’s been something of a year of frustration for Kubrat Pulev, the Bulgarian heavyweight contender and former world title challenger, but finally, he has a fight.
After a series of potential opponents for an IBF eliminator fell through for various reasons, Pulev (25-1, 13 KO) is now set to host Hughie Fury (21-1, 11 KO) in Sofia this Saturday, streaming live on ESPN+ in the United States, and airing on Channel 5 in the United Kingdom.
The 37-year-old Pulev was a distinguished amateur fighter, winning medals at various major competitions from 2004-08, before turning pro in September 2009.
As a professional, he’s had a solid career, perhaps a bit disappointing. He’s been European heavyweight champion twice, beating Alexander Dimitrenko in 2012 and Dereck Chisora in 2016 for that honor. But he’s never gotten much above that level, either, and in his lone world title shot, he was absolutely obliterated by Wladimir Klitschko and knocked out in the fifth round back in 2014.
Most recently, Pulev has won a couple of fights over Samuel Peter and Kevin Johnson, two guys well past their primes.
It’s not really Pulev’s fault that he hasn’t done more, to be fair. He took a shot at Klitschko, who at the time ruled the division, and he failed. But so did pretty much everyone against Wladimir, until Tyson Fury finally knocked the younger Klitschko off his perch in 2015. Pulev arrived in the pro ranks at the height of the Klitschko domination of the heavyweight division, and now he’s 37 years old, with the likes of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury making their own era. He was supposed to face Joshua last year, but pulled out late due to injury. He may still get that chance.
Hughie Fury, 24, is younger and no doubt fresher than Pulev. Like his more famous cousin, he’s a big lad — 6’6” with an 80-inch reach, comes in to fight around 230-235 pounds, not a hulking muscular type like the Klitschkos, but more fluid in his movement.
Fury wants to follow in Tyson’s footsteps and win a world title, obviously. He’s made a lot of noise about doing just that. After starting his career well against lesser opposition, he stepped up from the likes of Dominick Guinn and Fred Kassi to take a crack at then-WBO champion Joseph Parker in September 2017.
Parker-Fury wasn’t a good fight to watch by any means, but it was competitive in its way, despite two lopsided cards for Parker, who ultimately won a majority decision. Fury has bounced back since then to beat Sam Sexton for the British heavyweight title, but he’s making it very clear that that level doesn’t particularly interest him. Unlike a few others, Fury was ready and willing to go to Bulgaria and take the risk on the road against Pulev. That alone is respectable.
Matchup Grade: C+. I think Pulev is about a B-level fighter, good but not someone who’s going to go down in history as one of the greats of his era or anything. Someone that people aren’t going to talk about in 25 years unless they saw him fight, then probably they’ll just talk about his loss to Klitschko, barring anything big happening from here on. Fury might be more than that, but then again he might not. The important thing to remember with Fury is that for a heavyweight especially, he’s still very young. There’s a chance he doesn’t peak for another 10 years, and by that point the miles might be too much. He’s an ambitious fighter, which I like. His skills don’t leap off the screen at you, but he really wants to be great. This is an interesting fight, and the winner is in line for a shot at one of Anthony Joshua’s titles, so it’s meaningful, too. But I don’t expect a lot of big fireworks or anything.