It’s the long awaited return of both fans to UK boxing, and Anthony Joshua this weekend as the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO Heavyweight Champion makes a return to these shores for the first time since 2018 on Saturday night.
December 12 Anthony will face his mandatory challenger, Kubrat Pulev in order to unlock what he and we hope are some blockbuster fights in 2021.
Joshua (23-1, KO21) was due to face the Bulgarian in June at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but the whole card was understandably scrapped due to the Pandemic.
‘AJ’ needs little introduction as a 2012 Olympic Gold Medallist, and then a spell as British and Commonwealth champion before being crowned IBF World Champion in April 2016 when he knocked out the hapless Charles Martin in two.
After simple defences against Dominic Breazeale (TKO7) and Eric Molina (TKO3) he then enjoyed a dream headline slot at Wembley Stadium, dropped for the first time in his pro career before rallying to stop Wladimir Klitschko in eleven in April 2017 to add the WBA (Super) and IBO belts to the collection.
Pulev should have been next, but ‘The Cobra’ pulled out at late notice, and Joshua stopped Carlos Takam in ten instead.
Joshua then took Joseph Parker’s WBO strap in a routine enough points win in Cardiff in March 2018, and six months later he was given a stern examination by Russia’s Alexander Povetkin before scoring a seventh round stoppage.
AJ was flying, but then one June night in New York in 2019 his world came crashing down when Andy Ruiz Jr sensationally took his gold with a stunning seventh round win.
Ruiz was another late notice replacement, this time for drug cheat Jarrell Miller. Joshua wasn’t himself that night, and he exercised the demons in Saudi Arabia in December last year, boxing to order to take a clear points win.
In Pulev (28-1, KO14) Joshua faces a 39-year-old former amateur standout that has had a pretty stop-start career to date.
A professional since 2009, Pulev only has the European title to show for his efforts so far in a 29-fight career, and one failed world title bid.
After twenty straight wins, Pulev challenged Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO belts in November 2014, but was annihilated in five rounds in Germany so it was back down the pecking order for the man from Sofia.
Regaining the European title in May 2016 with a split decision win over Dereck Chisora in Hamburg.
After recovering from the injury that put him out of the original meeting with Joshua Pulev recorded three straight wins against Samuel Peter (RTD3), Kevin Johnson (UD12) and then finally a comfortable win against Hughie Fury on the cards to become IBF number one contender.
He has kicked his heels since, and scored two wins in 2019 against Bogdan Dinu (KO7) and Rydell Booker (UD10).
Prediction: At 39, it’s tough to see what Pulev can bring to the table here to make a case for him winning. He is a sound technical boxer, but is uncomfortable when pressure is applied, and, after a couple of feeling out rounds, that’s exactly what Joshua will do.
Joshua will want to send a message to Tyson Fury and the chasing pack, and I think he can force a stoppage within six rounds to do just that.
Yet again, the undercard has been decimated by positive COVID tests. The biggest withdrawal came from Kryzsztof Glowacki.
However, Lawrence Okolie (14-0, KO11) still appears on the bill, but only the International WBO Cruiserweight title is at stake, as another Pole steps in to fill the gap left by the former world champion.
Nikodem Jezewski (19-0-1, KO9) is the man coming in on short notice.
Okolie has hopefully left the days of excessive holding and maul heavy fights behind him, and has looked impressive recently, picking up British and Commonwealth crowns, and last time out, he claimed the European belt by stopping Yves Ngabu in seven in October last year.
Jezewski looks a much easier assignment for ‘The Sauce’ on paper than Glowacki, and he only squeezed past Shawndell Winters via majority decision in April last year, the same Winters who was blasted out in two by Alen Babic in August. He is unbeaten, but this would be a massive upset if he was to win here.
Prediction: I think Okolie will want to take the frustration of a change of opponent out on Jezewski and win the title in style.
The Pole looks made for him, and after a measured start, Okolie will unload and should remove Jezewski from battle before the halfway mark.
Two heavyweight ten-rounders are also featured. Hughie Fury (24-3, KO14) is still only 26, but has really disappointed when making the step up in class, as shown in defeats on the cards to Joseph Parker, Kubrat Pulev and Alexander Povetkin.
It’s another testing assignment for the Manchester man here, as he faces former world title challenger, Mariusz Wach (36-6, KO19).
The Pole is now 40, and has lost to the likes of Wladimir Kiltschko, Jarrell Miller and Martin Bakole, but he did take Dillian Whyte a dour ten rounds last December. This one could be another tough watch, and I favour Hughie on the cards.
Martin Bakole (15-1, KO12) also sees action against Russia’s Sergey Kuzmin (15-1, KO11). Airdrie based Bakole has won four on the bounce since a stoppage loss to Michael Hunter in 2018.
Hunter also inflicted Kuzmin’s sole loss, a wide points verdict after dropping Kuzmin in the fifth in September last year. This could be entertaining, and I fancy Bakole to get the job done late on.
Florian Marku (7-0, KO5)makes a Matchroom debut, and is showcased to a wider audience on this bill.
The Albanian wrecking ball is in with Staffordshire’s Jamie Stewart (2-0, KO0) who comes in at short notice, but took Michael Hennessey Junior’s unbeaten record over six last time out.
Stewart is unbeaten, but Marku’s power will surely be too much, and I can see the conclusion coming in a couple of rounds.
At super welterweight, Kieron Conway (15-1-1, KO3) gets a change of opponent, as Macaulay McGowan (14-1-1, KO3) replaces Souleymane Cissokho, who withdrew due to COVID.
Conway has been decent domestically lately, drawing with the then British champion, Ted Cheeseman in June last year, and his last fight saw him take a dominant points win against Nav Mansouri.
McGowan was last out just last month, taking a ten round shellacking from amateur star Tursynbay Kulakhmet, losing widely on the cards.
The pick is for Conway to take a clear decision in this one.
Qais Ashfaq (8-1, KO3) returns after being dropped twice on the way to a points defeat to Marc Leach in October, and he meets former Commonwealth champion, Ashley Lane (14-9-2, KO1) over eight at super bantamweight.
Ashfaq can return to winning ways on the cards.