A year and a half ago, I evaluated Bulgarian heavyweight Kubrat Pulev as part of our “Klitschko Readiness Rating” series. At that time I gave him a grade of B, reflecting my view that Pulev had the potential to be a viable opponent for Dr. Steelhammer, but had not yet realized that potential.
Since then, Pulev handily defeated a Tony Thompson who was better than anyone had reason to know. In the wake of Alexander Povetkin’s lopsided points loss to Klitschko, Pulev stands as the most formidable challenger out there. Some have even accused Klitschko of being shy to get in the ring with Pulev.
Here are the reasons why, the top 5 strengths Kubrat “The Cobra” Pulev takes into the ring with him against the World Heavyweight Champion, Wladimir Klitschko.
- Size: Pulev isn’t as tall as Klitschko, but he is almost as big and certainly comes closer to matching Big Wlad in the size department than any opponent of merit since the Tony Thompson rematch of two years ago. He is 6’4 1/2″ tall, wields an 80″ reach, and weighs in at around 245 lbs (112 kg). Pulev is a true super heavyweight, and by contrast, Alexander Povetkin was a 6’2″ tall, medium-sized heavyweight. When Pulev meets Klitschko he will look like he belongs there, and Klitschko’s height and reach advantages won’t be as wide as they often are.
- Age: Although Kubrat Pulev isn’t exactly a hot, young firebrand, he is in his early 30s and therefore in his physical prime as a heavyweight. Wladimir Klitschko, by contrast, is pushing 40 and therefore leaving his physical prime. Of course, the man has a PhD in sports science and takes excellent care of himself, but age matters when you match two well-trained athletes.
- Body Attack: In many ways, Klitschko and Pulev are very similar. Both have adapted the stand-up Continental boxing style into something more fluid. Both like to keep their distance and rely primarily on their jabs. Yet Pulev’s style has one thing Klitschko absolutely lacks, and that is a good body attack. Given that Klitschko has the advantages of vastly greater experience doing the move and 1-2 thing, being able to throw at the Ukrainian’s body with authority may become an equalizer for Pulev.
- Better Chin and Stamina: Let’s not forget that the reason Klitschko always fights behind his jab is that he has to. His recuperative powers aren’t great, so he must control the pace of the action in order to avoid becoming gassed. He also has a below average chin. His style maximizes his ability to control space and pace, ensuring the fight takes place at a rate he can afford and at a safe distance. Pulev has shown no such tendency to suddenly come up empty in the ring due to over-exertion, and while he has been hurt he has never been down. When you consider that Klitschko definitely has the edge in the power department, to even be competitive Pulev needs to be durable. Thankfully for him, he has a good chin and good endurance.
- More Adaptable: Because Pulev can afford to get hit, can afford to turn up the work rate, and has the ability to switch downstairs, he has more options. Although I expect Klitschko vs. Pulev to be a chess match much of the time, Pulev can mix up his punches in ways Klitschko can’t. He can also mix it up in general if he so chooses, and Klitschko can’t. In other words, Pulev has workable options for a Plan B in the ring, and Klitschko does not.
A lot of observers are so used to seeing Wladimir Klitschko’s hand raised after a fight that they are assuming Pulev will simply get sent packing back to Sofia. That is a mistake.
Klitschko is the favorite in this fight and he deserves to be, for Pulev certainly faces an uphill struggle. Yet no one should dismiss Pulev as just another victim. He is the most formidable opponent Klitschko has faced in years, and for very good reasons.