It’s been a long and bumpy path for Kubrat Pulev, and a few times along the way, promoter Ivaylo Gotzev has reached for the airsickness bag.
Anthony Joshua holds the WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titles, and Pulev has been the IBF’s mandatory challenger on two occasions. He beat Derek Chisora in a 2016 eliminator, and was to fight Joshua in Oct. 2017. But Pulev got hurt, and had to win another eliminator, beating Hughie Fury in Oct. 2018.
Joshua beat Alexander Povetkin in Sept. 2018 and then got a rude welcome to New York when he faced Andy Ruiz Jr at Madison Square Garden the following June.
Pulev’s team, meanwhile, worked the administrative side of things. A month after the stunning Ruiz upset, Team Pulev petitioned the IBF to ask them to have Ruiz fight Pulev, instead of doing a rematch against Joshua. The rematch on out, and Ruiz dropped his crown back to AJ in Saudi Arabia last December.
Pulev stayed hopeful and busy, with fights designed to keep rust at bay. In Mar. 2019 Pulev stopped Bogdan Dinu and eight months later, he won a decision over Rydell Booker.
I caught Gotzev before he boarded a jet from Bulgaria to England. We are close to getting to the period where he can sit back in a seat, and exhale deeply. Close, I said, but not to the finish line; COVID is a bitch and there will be a bit more finger-crossing before the big exhale can occur.
How to Watch Joshua vs Pulev
Date: Saturday, Dec. 12 | Start Time: 1:00 pm ET
Location: The SSE Arena, Wembley - London, England
Stream: DAZN | TV: Sky Box Office (UK)
Online Coverage: BadLeftHook.com
Pulev (28-1, 14 KO) is already in Matchroom’s “bubble” with his coaches. “This has been on and off the whole 2020, so I will be glad to be in the bubble,” Gotzev told me. “And when I actually see it, I will pinch myself.
“It’s been one of those years, it’s like we’re in another dimension. But you know who will pay the price? Anthony Joshua. We’re coming to the dance, it’s his own ballroom, they have it the way they want it. But the one thing they can’t stop is, Kubrat Pulev is coming. We’re gonna stop AJ in his tracks.”
There has been more talk about Joshua (23-1, 21 KO) potentially fighting Tyson Fury in 2021 than there has been about this fight with Pulev, and Gotzev has heard all that, too.
“If they underestimate Kubrat, that’s the worst decision they can make. Yes, he’s 39, but he’s well-preserved,” Gotzev said. “I keep telling our team, this is not no boxing match. This is an epic battle. It’s been a strange, crazy year, one to forget. But there’s going to be a big bang to close the show.”
To me, Gotzev sounded legitimately upbeat for this fight; there wasn’t stuff about “coming to compete” or “give a good show” or a “tough battle.”
“Do I have a gut instinct about this? I do, because I know Kubrat’s mental readiness and his toughness is superior to AJ’s,” Gotzev added. “This is going to be a battle of guts and of will. This is AJ’s coming home party, and we’re gonna spoil that party for him!”
Pulev is all good, with no injuries nagging at him coming in. But Gotzev acknowledges that it is correct to call the veteran the underdog.
“Of course we’re the underdog,” he said. “But this is why people tune in to boxing! They’ve been focused on a Fury fight, but I’ve been in this game long enough to know, you plan too far ahead, things go wrong.
“That’s why this sport is so wonderful, one punch wipes out the odds. I believe one thing coming in to this fight, I think Pulev was destined for this fight. His whole life has been preparing for this moment. He knows it, the people around him know it. This is destiny fulfillment. We’re not thinking of unifying titles, there’s one thing, Anthony Joshua. We have tunnel vision, one guy.
“The other guy, Eddie Hearn has his whole empire riding on this fight coming up. Winner gets to unification with Fury. That’s what makes it so exciting! No worries going in — the ring, the judges, i’s been fair dealings. This will be two men battling, and I think this fight is not going the distance. The judges will be sitting ringside with pen in hand, but it will come to the end, with an epic, major upset.”