IT was tonight confirmed that Anthony Joshua’s next opponent will likely be Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev in April or May, with the 60,000-seater Tottenham Hotspur Stadium an early candidate to host the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion’s homecoming.
Joshua is keen to return to action within the next few months after regaining his titles with a dominant 12-round points victory over a poorly conditioned Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia.
The rivalry with Ruiz has thwarted Joshua’s progress this year though he insists the lessons from his first loss, and the act of overturning it, have provided him with the impetus he was missing after so long at the top.
The 30-year-old hopes to have three fights in 2020 with the first being against the veteran Pulev, who was supposed to challenge Joshua in October 2017 at Cardiff before injury forced him out. Carlos Takam stepped in at short notice before being stopped in 10 rounds.
Pulev, 38, is the No. 1 contender with the IBF. Oleksandr Usyk is also waiting in the wings as the WBO mandatory and that organisation have demanded the Ukrainian get his shot within 180 days. However, Hearn is confident an agreement can be reached with both the WBO and Usyk so they can appease the IBF. Usyk looks likely to fight Dereck Chisora in March in the interim.
Should Joshua defeat Pulev then Usyk, or Chisora if he springs the upset, will then face “AJ” later in the year, ruling out any potential showdown with Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury for the foreseeable future.
There was talk of a Wembley homecoming for Joshua, who has not fought in the UK since defeating Alexander Povetkin at the stadium in September last year. But Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn – who reckons Ruiz-Joshua II is set to break British pay-per-view records – said that Wembley is not an option due to the dates. Pulev not being particularly well known might be another factor.
“Tottenham Hotspur is a nice new stadium for a UK fight and we have to look at it,” Hearn said. “The phone has gone crazy with people saying ‘bring him here, bring him here’.
“People have seen what we have just done in Saudi Arabia and there are a lot of options internationally, but AJ wants to box back in the UK.
“We have spoken to Spurs about doing and they were very keen to host the Ruiz rematch but the dates did not work out. They are very keen again and it would be a nice London stadium to do it in.”
Joshua added: “It would be mega. Looking at home many people came out here shows there is still a big interest in the heavyweight division, especially now we are taking the belts back.
“To defend them back on home soil, I think would be big news. It would be better against another Brit but, if not, I will face my mandatory and crack on that way.”
Joshua is keen to stay active after losing his drive before the Ruiz bout in New York. He has no interest in fighting away from home in his next outing but Madison Square Garden – the scene of his sole defeat – is somewhere he plans to return to.
He has been coy about the reasons for that loss yet suggested the temptations that led to Ruiz weighing in at over 20 stone for the rematch fell at his door, too. Ruiz admitted that too many parties blighted his training for the return.
“Yeah, I did it,” Joshua revealed when asked about Ruiz’s partying. “Everyone does it. The belts can be your best friend or your best enemy. It just depends on you as a person.
“It’s hard to say no. It’s hard being champion. Trust me. It’s not all fun. It’s not what it seems like, this life of dedication, it’s a headache.”
Joshua insists he won’t make the same mistakes again now that boxing is his priority once more.
“We’re here to takeover now,” he said. “We’ve promoted the hell out of boxing in a short space of time.
“I just want to focus on fighting and being a better fighter.”