JEFF POWELL: AJ was world class but will need to step up for Fury

JEFF POWELL: Anthony Joshua comes of age… The Brit looked world class in ninth-round stoppage of Kubrat Pulev, but will need to step up for blockbuster Tyson Fury showdown

  • Anthony Joshua impressed as he knocked-out Kubrat Pulev in round nine 
  • The next logical step for the Brit would be a unification fight against Tyson Fury 
  • The fans want it but Joshua spoke of ‘legacy’ and avoided Fury’s name post-fight
  • However, AJ did cement himself in the top-tier with a mature performance 

‘We want Fury,’ chanted British boxing’s first crowd for nine months in feverish expectation of a couple of Sweet Caroline nights out next summer.

‘I want the big dosser and I’ll knock him out in three,’ came the unequivocal response from the Gypsy King which found favour with thousands of his twittering subjects.

Somewhere between the hysteria in the expanded bubble and the cynicism on social media sits a place called perspective, in which Anthony Joshua himself resides.

Anthony Joshua put in a mature performance to crush Kubrat Pulve in the ninth round 

AJ cemented himself among the true top-tier of the division, and the next step should be Fury

Does he really, really want above all else the bonanza fight for which there is an almighty clamour after Saturday night’s knock-out retention of his chest-full of world heavyweight titles?

There was a hint of reality in his immediate answer to that question as he talked of his principal concern being ‘the legacy’ of his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles and of ‘taking the next fight as it comes.’

Without specific reference to Tyson Fury.

That next fight might just as likely be against Olexsandr Usyk, the ensuing mandatory contender in line to challenge for one of those alpha-belts following the flattening of Kubrat Pulev.

Nice and easy does it. Not that there’s any ducking of anybody going on, even though the Ukrainian is even smaller than the Bulgarian and punches no harder. 

Tyson Fury and the fans want to see the fight, but there was an air of hesitation about Joshua

But because there are barriers such as Deontay Wilder’s legal claim to a trilogy fight with Fury and complex TV rights to be surmounted before he and AJ can finally touch gloves.

They are bigger problems than any presented by Pulev in Wembley Arena, wherein the first one thousand fans allowed to enter through half-reopened doors bathed in the cool blue lighting and basked in the heat of Joshua’s homecoming.

Make that one thousand and one customers and never mind if that exceeded the pandemic limit. Floyd Mayeather arrived late and unexpected at ringside, where he hugged and congratulated Joshua and called him ‘one of the best heavyweights in the world.’

One of the best heavyweights? Presumably Fury is another of those, also. Maybe Wilder, still.

Floyd Mayweather rocked-up at the London fight and spoke to AJ straight after the fight 

Joshua has confirmed his place in that esteem by achieving ring maturity, at 31. Oddly, he has been helped in that progression by those two bizarrely contrasting fights against Andy Ruiz Jr, in the first of which he was knocked out and the second from which he regained his titles.

The shock defeat forced AJ to reinforce his street-fighter instinct for ‘a dust up.’ To bring dancing intelligence to the rematch. To listen to his long-time trainer Rob McCracken telling him to box as well as brawl. 

To expand his team by adding medical scientists and mental psychologists. As he puts it: ‘I’ve learned that boxing is chess, not checkers.’

The melding of those two styles produced his coming of age this weekend. But you don’t become the Greatest Of Your Time by beating up an average old man from the east.

Pulev, a 39-year-old warhorse from Sofia barely noticed in this country previously, had been artfully marketed as a wily, tricky, experienced customer. Dangerous, too, even though he has no real reputation as a knock-out puncher.

Joshua had to switch-up his brawler style after an embarrassing defeat to Andy Ruiz Junior 

His reality proved to be a cement chin, phenomenal courage, an enormous heart and a wonderful sense of humour. All are commendable qualities which enabled him to endure a brutal beating and last longer against Joshua than he did against Wladimir Klitschko, the only other elite opponent on his record.

Where was the humour in that? Pulev kept smiling through three standing eight counts. Through all the brain-numbing right hooks and neck-snapping uppercuts which Joshua unfurled. 

There was no recovering within ten seconds from the fourth knock down, in the ninth round, Inflicted by a picture perfect right cross preceded by a few more of those trademark uppercuts. But when they did hoist him back to his feet he grinned yet wider and high-fived with Joshua as they bumped heads. 

Kubrat Pulev never stopped grinning as Joshua pulled him apart in London on Saturday night

Well, it is panto season in London and Pulev entered into the festive spirit. Although this performance should have been shorter. It could have been stopped as Pulev turned his back while being battered to his knees twice in the third round. 

Joshua, one of the most renowned finishers in this deadly game, neglected to add the exclamation point to his statement at that point.

It took him another six rounds to bring down the final curtain, even though the only flicker of worry came when Pulev connected with a couple of his own rights in the seventh.

Far more serious problems await. Promoter Eddie Hearn was strident in his insistence that it will be full speed ahead towards Fury. But he slipped in the rider that Joshua ‘has made it clear from the first moment he stepped into my office that his ambition is to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.’

Eddie Hearn claims he’ll get a Tyson Fury fight done in two days but it’ll be more complicated

For that to happen he must keep the WBO title among his collection. Usyk, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, is refusing to waive his mandatory right to an immediate challenge in the new year, no matter how rewarding any step-aside deal.

At least that fight would be likely to prolong somewhat Joshua’s return to the UK ring for the first time in two years.

If it does turn out to be Fury next, then the biggest offer of all will come from Saudi Arabia. One which Hearn suspects will be too tempting for Joshua to refuse.

In the cold light of day boxing, not is not always everything it appears to be in the heat of the night.

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