February 26, 2021

Joshua-Pulev Penciled in For December 12 at O2 in London

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The fight between unified heavyweight world titlist Anthony Joshua and mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev is being penciled in to take place on Dec. 12 at the O2 Arena in London, both sides told BoxingScene on Monday.

The fight for Joshua’s three major belts was originally scheduled to take place on June 20 at the 70,000-seat Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London but it had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Yes, Dec. 12 at the O2 is the plan for AJ,” Hearn said, adding that he is hopeful that some fans will be permitted to attend the bout after months of events at which fans were not allowed because of the ongoing pandemic.

Hearn said British authorities are aiming to allow at least 25 percent capacities at venues beginning in October.

“We are happy that the fight appears to be back on track and that we have a new date and site,” said promoter John Wirt of Epic Sports, which co-promotes Pulev with Top Rank. “There is still some tweaking to do on the contract but we are optimistic it should be concluded this week.”

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While both camps like the date and site they still need to finalize the financial terms, which may change from the agreement they previously signed because of what would likely be a significant reduction in gate revenue when moving the fight from a likely full stadium in June to a much smaller venue with a partial crowd in December.

“All being discussed,” Hearn said.

If the sides wind up being unable to iron out the money the fight could to an IBF purse bid, which would entitle Joshua to 65 percent and Pulev to 35 percent of the winning bid. The Pulev team has long held that it could take the fight to Pulev’s hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria, where is a superstar, and have strong financial backing there.

Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs), 39, stands in the way of Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), 30, perhaps facing British countryman Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) for the undisputed world title next year.

Joshua would have to beat Pulev, who has won eight fights in a row since his lone loss by fifth-round knockout challenging then-unified world champion Wladimir Klitschko in November 2014, and Fury would to retain his title in a planned third bout with former titlist Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) that is penciled in for December but could move to early 2021. The Joshua and Fury camps claim they have already agreed to a financial outline of a deal to meet next year in what would be the one of the biggest fights in boxing.

Pulev has been idle since a lopsided 10-round decision victory over Rydell Brooker on Nov. 9 in Fresno, California.

Joshua has been out of the ring since rolling to a one-sided unanimous decision in a rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr. on Dec. 7 in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, where he regained the belts he lost to Ruiz by seventh-round knockout in a monumental upset in June 2019 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Dan Rafael was ESPN.com’s senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.