Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title defence against Kubrat Pulev is now likely to take place on December 5 or 12 as promoter Eddie Hearn looks to give as much chance to a crowd being allowed to attend.
Joshua was originally due to defend his WBA, WBO, IBO and IBF titles against the Bulgarian at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London in June before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown happened.
It was hoped the fight would take place in October, but a planned date was then pushed back to November and now December. It could now take place one week before the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder fight, which is pencilled in for Las Vegas on December 19.
This week test events are taking place in cricket, horse racing and snooker with limited crowds, with UK prime minister Boris Johnson having said he was hopeful for a return of sporting crowds in October, providing there is no second wave of the virus.
“It looks like Fury-Wilder is December 19, so we will most likely go on December 5 or 12, to give us as much time as possible,” Hearn said.
“He should have been out in June and now he will have been out for a year. When you talk to him and Robert McCracken (Joshua’s trainer), he’s not suffering for a few quid, so he needs to progress his career in the right way and more importantly prepare for the Tyson Fury fight.
“Pulev, coming off a year lay-off, is really good preparation, in my opinion, for Tyson Fury. Not stylistically, but just to get in with a big heavyweight, get that big momentum, hopefully score a big knockout and move forward into that fight in 2021.”
For Hearn, the loss of a live gate creates a big shortfall in revenue.
“He is in the same boat as Canelo,” Hearn said. “We would have taken £5 million on the gate, so now there is a £5 million hole in the AJ fight.
“How are we going to get round that? Pulev take less? AJ take less? Maybe condense the card a little bit? Maybe get 2,000 people in somewhere to pay premium price seats.
“If we are getting 400 in the Crucible (in Sheffield, for the World Snooker Championships) next week and it goes well and the numbers continue to decline or plateau, we have to think that in October/November we can start to get 2,000 in an arena.”
Hearn said he had considered staging the fight abroad, but said there had been little confidence from countries able to put up a large site fee in the current climate.
“At the moment, anywhere in the world has a problem,” Hearn said. “Saudi Arabia (where Joshua beat Andy Ruiz Jr in December) were due to hold major events this year, but at the moment they are not looking to do that until early next year because they are not quite in a position to do so.
“Saudi have the G20 Summit in November, I am not sure if even that is going to be possible.
“It would be quite nice to not worry about the pressures of the crowd for AJ and just do it in a territory that is up for investing in a site fee. But all the countries are not at a stage where they can confidently say ‘yes, we will make an investment for a November/December fight because we know we will be fine.
“We are still in the land of ‘it’s looking good, but let’s see’. The same as here.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for Boxing Scene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 – covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.