For months now, there’s been a lot of talk about WBA, IBF, and WBO heavyweight titlist fighting WBC titleholder and LINEAL!!! champion Tyson Fury for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world, and for good reason.
It’s a huge fight, bigger even than the sum of its parts because the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world still carries a lot of weight with the casual sports fan public. The fight could make enormous money.
But, as we keep having to say, there remain at least two, maybe three obstacles to pass. Joshua faces IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KO) this Saturday on DAZN, and if he gets past that challenge — Pulev is the underdog, but no joke — then he’ll probably have to face WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk after that.
Pulev has never won a world title and logic (and thus, the odds) dictate that he won’t on Saturday. But it’s not like Anthony Joshua wasn’t upset a year-and-a-half ago by Andy Ruiz Jr, either. He got clipped, it threw him off, and he never fully recovered, eventually getting stopped in the seventh round.
Pulev co-promoter Bob Arum thinks the Bulgarian challenger can do something similar. So does Pulev’s other promoter, Ivaylo Gotzev. And as shock underdog picks go, this one at least has some logic behind it.
Yeah, Pulev is 39 and in his one fight on this level, he got thrashed by Wladimir Klitschko back in 2014. But AJ certainly isn’t invincible, and at heavyweight more than any other division in the sport, crazy things can happen on one punch. Pulev is a well-schooled, usually disciplined veteran. He is not some yokel brought in off the street.
How to Watch Joshua vs Pulev
Fury, meanwhile, is in mediation over a potential third fight with Tyson Fury. Bob Arum doesn’t think Wilder’s side will win that right, but even still you have Joshua owing two fights to mandatory challengers counting Saturday’s bout with Pulev, and that would mean Fury would take at least one interim fight. He won’t want to sit around from Feb. 2020 until late 2021 fighting nobody, maybe accumulating rust. He almost fought Dec. 5, but the Wilder issue prevented that.
If you want to see an undisputed heavyweight championship fight any time remotely soon, you gotta for AJ this weekend.
Say Joshua gets upset again by Pulev on Saturday. Surely, there’s a rematch clause on the AJ side, so that would have to happen. And at that point, the WBO title could very easily go vacant, maybe leading to Usyk against Joseph Parker or Joe Joyce, because Pulev wouldn’t be able to make the mandatory defense against Usyk, having to deal with Joshua a second time before he could.
There are all kinds of things that could happen — exceptions, etc. — but Pulev winning on Saturday would be a likely disaster for anyone’s hopes of seeing the first undisputed heavyweight champion of the four-belt era any time soon. It would set the goal back at least two years, probably more.
It’s really, really hard to make an undisputed fight in the four-belt era. Between political lines — which are getting no better now that broadcast contracts are propping up the sport’s viability more than ever before — and mandatory obligations any titleholder has to deal with, it’s a massive pain. Even holding two belts at once can be truly difficult to run with for very long, especially if mandatory challengers mean fights nobody really wants to see, meaning less money on the table for the champ. If someone with another belt or two has bigger money options, then a title might just go vacant, as it’s just not worth the time in their career to fight someone nobody was asking to see them fight.
So again, even if you aren’t the biggest AJ fan in the world, if you want to see an undisputed fight at heavyweight even by late 2021, you gotta pull for Joshua on Saturday. The belts can afford no changing of hands, the division can afford no chaos.