Anthony Joshua will end a year out of the ring when he defends his WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight titles against Kubrat Pulev at The O2 in London, England, on Dec. 12.
It will be Joshua’s first fight in the United Kingdom since September 2018, and eighth appearance at the venue where he made his professional debut in 2013. The fight will be televised on pay-per-view Sky Sports Box Office in the UK, and on streaming service DAZN in the United States.
“Dec. 12 is the date and once again the heavyweight belts go up in the air and it is my sole focus to make sure that come Dec. 13 they are in their rightful place in the UK,” Joshua said.
“The O2 is the original lion’s den, I have a lot of history with the arena, but without the fans something huge is missing. I am really hoping that, safety permitting, we might be able to bring some boxing fans in, but we will have to see. I respect every opponent and I respect Pulev. I wish him well during his preparation.”
A crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium saw Joshua’s last home appearance, when the English heavyweight stopped Alexander Povetkin, but no spectators are currently allowed at professional sports events in the UK.
Due to restrictions caused by the coronavirus, Joshua’s mandatory defence against Pulev was postponed from happening in front of a 60,000+ crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in June.
Joshua’s Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn is trying to get a small crowd inside the indoor, 18,000-capacity venue when the champion puts the belts on the line again for a first defence in his second reign as champion after a points win over Andy Ruiz Jr on Dec. 7 avenged a stoppage loss to the American earlier in 2019.
“Whilst it’s unusual to think of an AJ fight without tens of thousands of fans in attendance, we will be doing everything we can to lobby for the safe return of fans to this event, we have to move forward together,” Hearn said.
“I know Team Pulev and [US promoter] Bob Arum will be doing all they can to become world champion on Dec. 12 but AJ constantly evolves and improves and I expect a dominant performance and a spectacular KO to close out 2020.”
Joshua-Pulev has been a long time coming. The two came face-to-face at a press conference in Cardiff in 2017 to publicise a fight that was scheduled to happen in October of that year. But Pulev pulled out injured two weeks before the bout scheduled to be at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium and the Bulgarian finally gets his second world title shot after a further delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs), 39, is the mandatory challenger to Joshua’s IBF belt after compiling eights wins since a knockout loss to Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko, then WBA-IBF-WBO champion, in 2014. Pulev has beaten Joshua’s fellow Britons Derek Chisora and Hughie Fury since losing to Klitschko.
“This fight is for my late father and all Bulgarians around the world! I’m coming to London to seize the heavyweight championship of the world,” Pulev said.
Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), 31, from north London, hopes victory over Pulev will set up a clash against the winner of English rival Tyson Fury versus American Deontay Wilder, who are being lined up to face each other in a third bout for Fury’s WBC version of the world title in Las Vegas on Dec. 19.
“AJ’s resume is unrivalled, and this is the final hurdle until we challenge for the undisputed crown next year,” Hearn said.
Joshua against either Fury or Wilder is the biggest fight to be made in boxing today, and could possibly see all four major world title belts on the line to decide an undisputed world champion — the first since Lennox Lewis was recognised as undisputed world heavyweight champion in 1999 — in the summer of 2021.
But Bob Arum, Top Rank Chairman, who also promotes Fury, said: “Eddie Hearn better watch out. Kubrat Pulev is going to destroy his plan for a Joshua-Tyson Fury unification fight.”