Anthony Joshua vs. Kubrat Pulev fight predictions, odds, undercard, expert picks

Following a tumultuous 2019 that saw him lose his trio of heavyweight titles via upset knockout only to be criticized for how safe he fought in winning them back, Anthony Joshua has learned to let the criticism of others slide off of him. 


Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) believes he's a better person for having experienced his two-fight series with Andy Ruiz Jr. and plans to show that on Saturday when he faces mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs) in front of a quarantined attendance of 1,000 fans inside London's Wembley Arena (DAZN, 2 p.m. ET).

"The pressure I went through last year was tough but it made me stronger mentally with thicker skin," Joshua said during Thursday's final press conference. "I have always been tough and wanted to fight the best, that's not the issue. What have I to lose? I only have to gain."

Despite Pulev's lack of a crossover name, Joshua has plenty of respect for the danger that the native of Bulgaria brings. 

The 39-year-old Pulev attacked former unified heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko with reckless endangerment during his lone pro defeat in 2014 before Klitschko delivered a knockout blow. It was a fight in which Joshua, then just a handful of fights into his pro career, served as one of Klitschko's chief sparring partners in training camp.

"I have known Kubrat Pulev for many years and I understand the tactics of fighting him," Joshua said. "I prepare like I am a 15-round fighter and I am ready to go until the final bell."

Joshua, 31, said there will be no problem getting up for this mandatory fight because of the fact that he respects Pulev and the eight-fight win streak he uncorked in the aftermath of the Klitschko fight. This weekend's challenge is one that was originally scheduled to happen in late 2017 until a shoulder injury saw Pulev withdraw and Carlos Takam take his place at the last minute en route to a stoppage defeat. 

"I always believed this fight would come one day," Pulev said. "We didn't fight in 2017 but I am here right now and ready. I am fit and I think on Saturday night I will take the win.

"In 2017 I was younger but also I had this problem from sparring and couldn't fight because I couldn't train. Now, I am healthy. I am not 22 and I don't have time, of course, but I am ready. Of course I respect Anthony because he was an Olympic and world champion. He's a good fighter but I'm ready. I have done everything to become champion."

Given Pulev's aggressive style, there has been some question as to whether Joshua's knockout loss to Ruiz in June 2019 changed him as a fighter because of how passively he chose to box from the outside in claiming a unanimous decision in their rematch last December. 

Joshua received very little credit for the win, largely because Ruiz entered the fight in such poor shape physically after enjoying his short reign as champion and coming in grossly overweight. 

"I want to promote boxing, I don't want the credit. I don't yearn for it," Joshua said. "I'm very motivated and hungry, that's why I put myself at the forefront of opportunity .The world is my oyster but at the end of the day, I can't expect everyone to respect me. That's for myself and why I work so hard for my family.

"I have been fighting at a top level ever since I walked into the gym after a three-year amateur career. I have been punched by the strongest people many times and it still hasn't changed me. I have a lot of character. Every fight I train hard but it's the character that separates me. I'm going to go into the fight and I'm definitely going to get hit but so is he and it's the last man standing."

Fight card, odds

Anthony Joshua (c) -1000 vs. Kubrat Pulev +650, unified heavyweight titles

Lawrence Okolie vs. Nikodem Jezewski, WBO international cruiserweight title

Hughie Fury -650 vs. Mariusz Wach +475, heavyweights

Martin Bakole -330 vs. Sergey Kuzmin +260, WBC international heavyweight title

Prediction

Although Pulev has scored decision wins by outboxing the likes of Tony Thompson, Dereck Chisora and Hughie Fury throughout his career, his resume is solid but far from overwhelmingly spectacular. Because of that, his performance in the Klitschko loss could be a good indicator as to what this fight looks like. 

Pulev might be six years older than the night he attempted to jump Klitschko off the opening bell and constantly look to provide pressure, but it's a similar plan of attack that might be his best option given Joshua's vulnerable chin and the fact that AJ will be the taller and longer fighter with advantages in speed and technique. 

The bad news in this case for Pulev is that the more he presses Joshua in hopes of a knockout, the more he creates a scenario in which a similar knockout defeat feels inevitable. A big reason for that is how Joshua has proven to be an economical and dangerous finisher with both hands when he has has his opponent hurt. 

Should Joshua prove to be gun shy or cautious, Pulev is big and powerful enough to be a problem and, make no mistake, is fully equipped to pull off an upset. But that remains a big if. 

Yes, Joshua played it safe in the Ruiz rematch but a lot of that had to do with his opponent's deceptively quick hands and underrated technique. AJ is simply better than Pulev in just about every category and as long as he fights confidently enough to get his opponent out of there once Pulev steps on the gas pedal, the reality is he likely will. 

Pick: Joshua via KO5

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