It is hard to resist a unified Heavyweight title fight, even if the challenger is a thirty-nine year old veteran who has only fought four times in the past three years.
Matchroom: Joshua vs Pulev Predictions & Results
It feels like every article related to Matchroom, I have a moan about the quality of the card, namely their PPV events. This time, the card has enough quality to justify being a PPV. Unfortunately, the price is a jaw-dropping £24.99. Hearn had previously priced the Ruiz AJ rematch at £24.99 with the justification that it was “the biggest fight of the century… one of the biggest fights of all time”. Hearn would also tell Boxing Social that “it is not a reflection of the future of PPV… this is a one off fight”. Just one year on, Hearn has fallen back on his words and has hidden AJ’s very next fight behind the premium price tag. Hearn is taking the British market for mugs.
The quality of production hasn’t increased, the commentators remain deathly monotone, and there are few prospects to get crazily hyped for. Lawrence Okolie and Hughie Fury are two of the most vilified boxers amongst fans because of their sluggish, tiresome style that drags out like a decade-long disease. Seeing that Okolie and Fury are scheduled for twelve and ten rounds, respectively, makes me crave a seasonal fate similar to that of Jack Frost. DAZN’s financial struggles have been starkly apparent in recent months – reportedly (Financial Times) laying off workers due to the Covid-induced worldwide shutdown of sports for much of 2020. More related to boxing, DAZN failed awfully in their handling of the $365 million 11-fight contract with P4P Number One, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. DAZN no longer own the rights to their cash cow, and now face a mammoth $280 million law suit in damages. Stretched thin across the Atlantic, and potentially facing the loss of his minor foothold in North America if DAZN continues to shrink, Hearn is taking too many risks. The common Brit has been hit hard by the pandemic, with 2.6 million forced onto Universal Credit in October 2020 as a result of the virus. Spare me the ‘communist wokeflake’ comments, Hearn and the other big wigs have lost their minds in their ivory towers. We are expected to finance the failures of Hearn’s risks – this latest £25 PPV is evidence enough. And with the rumoured pricing of a Fury AJ PPV at £30, for an event that might not even be held in the UK (instead, favouring the Middle East), it is time to take off the Matchroom tinted glasses.
Soapbox rant aside, the card itself is set to be a night of decent action. Anthony Joshua fights always come served with a heavy dollop of anticipation. An absolute unit of a man, Joshua is no longer the bruiser that walked opponents down for the first half of his career, but he is still a heavy-handed, intelligent fighter that can fully stick to a strategy (i.e. Povetkin, Ruiz Jr). Moreover, AJ remains a sweetheart to much of the British public and his questionable chin always throws into question just what the next punch he takes might do. AJ’s opponent, Pulev, would have been a fine opponent five years ago, but as of today Pulev is mainly a jabber (a wonderful jab, to be fair). Martin Bakole is a powerful prospect in the Heavyweights who has crushed almost all foes who have stood in front of him, Michael Hunter being the exception. Lower down on the card: Keiron Conway is a slick out-boxer, Qais Ashfaq rebuilds after a shock decision loss to Marc Leach, and Florian Marku aims to blast out another opponent.
WBA Super World Heavyweight Title
IBF World Heavyweight Title
WBO World Heavyweight Title
IBO World Heavyweight Title
Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21KO) vs Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14KO)
Anthony Joshua is the second-best Heavyweight in the world. I said it. The boundaries of the top-ten Heavyweights remain volatile as the likes of Dillian Whyte, Alexander Povetkin, Oleksandr Usyk, Andy Ruiz Jr, Joseph Parker and Luiz Ortiz all pose unique threats in specific matchups. The top-three of Heavyweight, however, is a far clearer picture. Removing the emotion out of Tyson Fury’s incredible career comeback, Fury still technically remains the ‘Lineal’ Heavyweight champion as he is undefeated since beating Klitschko in his backyard. Furthermore, Fury had to beat WBC champion and boogeyman, Deontay Wilder, twice after a stinky split decision draw back in 2018. Anthony Joshua finds himself in a very close second position, with the loss to Andy Ruiz Jr holding AJ back from claiming the Heavyweight throne. Still, AJ has a fantastic resume which includes the scalps of Povketkin, Parker, Takam, Klitschko and Gary Cornish. Win or lose on Saturday, Pulev is no longer of the quality to boost AJ to Heavyweight number one, but it is a challenging warm-up fight for bigger tests in 2021. That brings us to the third and final position, occupied by Deontay Wilder. The fearsome power puncher technically has a draw with Fury as well as three impressive victories (2x Luis Ortiz, 1x Bermane Stiverne 2015-version).
In the other corner, Kubrat Pulev is a shell of what he used to be. That is not to say that Pulev isn’t a dangerous opponent, and shouldn’t be treated with the upmost respect, but the Bulgarian is a far-cry from his prime around the turn of 2010. A decorated amateur, Pulev captured European gold twice, as well as a bronze at the World Championships. Pulev’s big chance to step-up at the 2008 Olympics was unceremoniously ended after he faced off with the talented but unheard of, Oscar Rivas. Pulev’s amateur style clearly transferred over to the professionals as his up-right figure stalks forward behind a high guard and frequently launches a jab in the face of his opponent. A string of victories over once feared Heavyweights (Alexander Dimitrenko, Alexander Ustinov, Tony Thompson) led to Pulev’s failed shot at the unified titles – a fifth-round capitulation to Wladimir Klitschko. Despite being out-jabbed and out-muscled for the five rounds, Pulev showed an immense heart to pick himself off the canvas several times and to even wobble the Ukrainian with a hard jab at the end of the first-round (after experiencing two knockdowns himself). Since then, Pulev wiped out a dreadfully unmotivated Dereck Chisora, decisioned Hughie Fury in a stinker, and finished the heavily padded part-time boxer/policeman, Bogdan Dinu.
There is little point to glow about Pulev of old, however, and reality must be accepted. Pulev has never been the most effective at cutting off the ring, yet at thirty-nine years young and with feet like concrete, Pulev now plods. Against smaller opponents, Pulev has got away with sloppy advances as his sheer strength has been enough to suffocate opposition against the ropes. Anthony Joshua is the bigger man in the fight, and while not blessed with the fanciest footwork himself, is more than capable of simply not moving back in a straight line into danger. Worse still for Pulev, he will likely find himself bullied onto the back-foot and unable to effectively land his jab, especially as he gives up three inches of reach. AJ has been wary of throwing extended combinations since the damage he sustained during the Klitschko fight, instead choosing to outbox opponents with a clear gameplan. The Andy Ruiz loss will no doubt have solidified Joshua’s decision to remain comfortable behind his jab and limit the risks he takes. Yet, if there was ever a match at the top-level for AJ to bull-rush his opponent and take him out early, it would be this match-up. Pulev no longer possesses the hand speed to match Joshua, and his high guard defence against the ropes will allow Joshua to tee off. Pulev’s best work in his last fight against Rydell Brooker came about when Brooker attempted to rope-a-dope. When Brooker pressed forward, he caught Pulev clean several times and with the power that Joshua possesses, it is difficult to imagine Pulev eating it.
Predicted Result: Joshua KO Round 6
Every fight at the top level comes with risk, there are no easy tune-up fights for Heavyweight world champions. Having said that, Pulev is the kindest match-up to Joshua. A clear speed and power advantage, Joshua will be able to out-muscle Pulev if he finds himself in a risky position. Moreover, if Joshua can keep Pulev on the back-foot, it will effectively prevent Pulev’s finest weapon – the jab. The Bulgarian has shown a big heart throughout his career, and will not keel over for a payday, but his defence is woefully unprepared for the power of Joshua. Once AJ has full command over the ring, he will be able split Pulev’s high guard and rain in real punishment that a thirty-nine year old will be unable to sustain.
Result: Joshua def. Pulev // KO Round 9 2:58
Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ❌
vacant WBO International Cruiserweight Title
Lawrence Okolie (14-0, 11KO) vs Nikodem Jezewski (19-0-1, 9KO)
It is an incredible shame that Lawrence Okolie is no longer fighting Krzysztof Glowacki for the WBO world title, a fight that likely would have come too soon for the Brit but certainly would have been a banger. Instead, Okolie is taking on another small step towards a world title shot with a scrap against Nikodem Jezewski. Okolie is low-hanging fruit in terms of criticising his style, everybody by now knows what Okolie aims to do. As he has moved up in quality of opposition, Okolie has refused to take any risks and has instead remained comfortable by his jab. With his freak 6’5” height and 82-inch reach, Okolie dwarfs almost all of his opponents at Cruiserweight. It makes complete sense, and as Okolie keeps on winning, there is little reason as to why Okolie would make his style riskier but more fan friendly. When he finally hangs up his career, these very same fans or critics will not be there to nurse his CTE. Still, who actually enjoys watching Mr Tickle tagging opponents from the other side of the ring and suffocating opponents in the clinch if they dare to enter into the pocket. Okolie will be a lot more fun to watch if/when he moves up to Heavyweight and he can no longer fight as a weight bully.
Jezewski is an untested cruiserweight who has never fought outside of his native Poland before. Jezewski’s most challenging bout, against former world title challenger, Michal Cieslak, finished in the third at the hands of Cieslak. Both men would later fail drug tests and it would be changed to a no contest, but it certainly gives an idea of Jezewski’s abilities. Perhaps the only win of value on Jezewski’s resume is an eight-round majority decision over Shawndell Winters – a scrappy affair which Jezewski may have been favoured as the hometown fighter. There isn’t much footage out there for Jezewski but with what is available shows has no real defence beyond a tight guard. A counterpuncher on the back-foot, he does possess respectable power (able to drop Cieslak in the third round) but is not enough of an exceptional athlete to progress to the higher levels.
Predicted Result: Okolie TKO Round 10
Jezewski doesn’t have any answers to get inside the freakish range of Okolie’s straight shots. Worse still for Jezewski, his counter punching style will be ineffective when he is backed up against the ropes as Okolie will smother him in a clinch in times of danger. The Brit can continue his plundering of the Cruiserweight division as the big ol’ weight bully.
Result: Okolie def. Jezewski // TKO Round 2 1:45
Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ❌
Rest of the Card
Hughie Fury (24-3, 14KO) vs Mariusz Wach (36-6, 19KO)
Hughie ‘Shades of Ali’ Fury returns for perhaps (unironically) his best match-up yet. No, not in terms of entertainment. Mariusz Wach is as washed up as a whale on the British shoreline, but he is still a technically polished operator that has spent much of his career at the higher levels of the sport. Fury’s career has been plagued with huge spikes in quality between fights. While jumping at an early world title shot against Joseph Parker is justifiable, to then drop immediately down to the British title against Sam Sexton is strange. More maddening then, was Hughie’s decision to jump back to a near elite level when he fought Pulev in Bulgaria. Rinse and repeat, a drop in quality (including the forty-year-old Samuel Peter in Saudia Arabia, lmao) before a sharp rise up again only to be beaten by Alexander Povetkin. Hughie has not been badly beaten by any of the top guys in terms of damage received, but he also has not produced anything to justify him winning. Finally, looking to end his purgatory, Hughie has discovered the European level where he can hopefully fight at for a couple years and gain the necessary experience and momentum to carry him into world title contention. There is clear quality to Hughie’s game, his back-foot footwork and head movement is elite, but he fails to pull the trigger when he needs to. Experience with veteran operators will hopefully iron out Hughie’s issues and allow him to tap into the potential that the Fury camp has avidly claimed for years.
Marius Wach has endured a long, hard career and has never received the credit he truly deserves. Leading up to his world title shot against Wladimir Klitschko, Wach was undefeated with twenty-seven wins and fifteen knockouts. Granted none of Wach’s wins had been particularly impressive, but he had been willing to leave the safety of native Poland and fight on the road regularly. Since then, Wach has fallen to only world level fighters, but has never been finished without a fight. Wach possesses a massive lumbering frame and tentatively fights from range with a questioning jab. While there is little in the way of eye-catching combinations, Wach gradually enters striking range and attempts to jab his way through the scorecards. Wach’s defence is solid too. Extremely aware of incoming shots, Wach rolls with the harder punches while catching jabs on his arms.
Predicted Result: Fury Decision
To lose to Wach at this stage of his career would surely relegate Hughie to a British/European gatekeeper role. Wach is spent, and he offers little risk in terms of damage. Instead, Wach provides experience into the later rounds and will harass you with a frequent probing jab. Hughie will be able to employ his counter-striking game with Wach and catch him to the body when he slips one of Wach’s tentative punches. Hopefully, Hughie will finally learn that he is legally allowed to work off of his front-foot too.
Result: Fury def. Wach // Decision (unanimous – 99-91, 100-90, 100-90)
Winner ✔️ // Method ✔️ // Round ✔️
vacant WBC International Heavyweight Title
Martin Bakole (15-1, 12KO) vs Sergey Kuzmin (15-1, 11KO)
If Billy Nelson’s words are anything to go by, Martin Bakole is the greatest Heavyweight to have entered the ring. While the Scotsman hype has boosted the profile of Bakole, he looked a fool when blown-up cruiserweight, Michael Hunter, was able to methodically tear apart Bakole. Nelson called Bakole “the second-best Heavyweight in the world” back in 2018 before the Hunter fight, and even if Bakole was to have won, his biggest scalps aside from the American would have been regional fighters DL Jones and Kamil Sokolowski. Foolhardy coach aside, Bakole bounced back with an impressive eighth round TKO of Wach in his back garden. Stopping journeyman, Kevin Johnson, is no easy feat neither, and it is clear that Bakole’s power is no joke. The issue is Bakole’s complete lack of footwork, standing stoic like a monolith found in the Utah desert. Bakole’s ramrod jab is slow but it is mean and aims to knock the head off of his opponent. Almost every shot in Bakole’s arsenal is thrown with venom, and while it makes him a dangerous fighter, Hunter was able to expose Bakole’s telegraphed shots. Whether Bakole has the skills to duke it out with the top-ten elite, though, is yet to be seen.
Sergey Kuzmin has been an incredible disappointment since he transitioned to the professionals. A former European gold medalist, Kuzmin also won gold at Russian nationals and the Strandzha Cup. Additionally, Kuzmin shocked Joe Joyce with a thirty-two second finish in the amateurs. That may be the highest achievement of Kuzmin’s entire career to date, however. A fourth-round stoppage of David Price came from Price allegedly tearing his bicep, a shaky majority decision victory over the out of shape Joey Dawejko, and a thoroughly underwhelming decision loss to Michael Hunter have been the biggest events of Kuzmin’s professional career. Kuzmin is deathly slow in the ring, which is not aided by Kuzmin’s calculated approach. Picking his shots, Kuzmin throws some of the most educated combinations out of the big bois, and is always willing to target the body of his opponent. Unfortunately, Kuzmin’s lack of hand speed means it is easy for his opposition to beat him to the punch and prevent him landing cleanly. A lack of quality has allowed Kuzmin to dictate fights, but against Hunter he looked bang average as he was unable to land on his slippery opponent. Bakole isn’t as defensively sound, but he is more than willing to bang in the pocket.
Predicted Result: Bakole TKO Round 8
Bakole possesses fearsome power for a Heavyweight. While it isn’t Wilder levels of switching off the lights, every one of Bakole’s shots seems to thud with concussive power. While Kuzmin is by far the more technical, polished operator, he has never truly seemed comfortable in the professional ranks. Lethargic with his shots, Kuzmin’s lack of speed will draw him into a fire-fight that will be to his disadvantage.
Result: Bakole def. Kuzmin // Decision (unanimous – 96-94, 97-93, 98-92)
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Super Welterweight (154)
Kieron Conway (15-1-1, 3KO) vs Macaulay McGowan (14-1-1, 3KO)
Keiron Conway is an incredibly aesthetic boxer to watch. Filling in late to fight Ted Cheeseman, Conway was far too slick for the workmanlike volume of Cheeseman during the first half of their British title fight. While Cheeseman’s superior conditioning dragged him back later in the contest, Conway was extremely unlucky to be awarded a split decision for what had been a boxing schooling for much of the fight. Signing with Matchroom immediately afterwards, Conway has been able to dedicate himself fully to the sport and has been taking small steps up in quality. A dominant decision win over Navid Mansouri in his last outing highlights the potential of Conway, outclassing an opponent who has floated around the European level for much of his career. While Conway does need to tighten up on the inside, allowing himself to get tied up and worn down by scrappier opponents, at range Conway is fabulous. Constantly tiptoeing around striking distance, Conway prods with his straight shots, and counters opponents with powerful hooks when they are baited to lunge in.
Macaulay McGowan is a hearty fighter, but he is British level at best. Overwhelmed by the class of Kulakhmet in his last fight, McGowan was forced to shield himself behind his guard and was unwilling to break it to throw counters. The biggest surprise was Kulakhmet’s inability to take McGowan out of the ring. There is no doubting the chin or heart of McGowan, but outside of journeymen, he has failed to beat an opponent of quality.
Predicted Result: Conway TKO Round 7
Conway almost finished Navid Mansouri in the seventh round, an exceptional feat for a fighter criticised for having feather fists. While Kulakhmet was unable to finish McGowan, he had him reeling over the ring for almost all ten of the rounds. With less need to actively search for the finish, and more comfortable in front of the Matchroom cameras, Conway will be able to piece apart McGowan and force the referee to intervene.
Result: Conway def. McGowan // Decision (unanimous – 100-89, 100-89, 100-90)
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Super Bantamweight (122)
Qais Ashfaq (8-1, 3KO) vs Ashley Lane (14-9-2, 1KO)
Just two months ago, Qais Ashfaq suffered the first loss of his career. Knocked down twice on his way to decision loss to Marc Leach, Ashfaq was exposed for his lack of inside quality. At range, Ashfaq is a handful for anyone in the division, with lightning hands that can snap heads back. Unfortunately, Ashfaq had little answer to prevent Leach from entering the pocket and turning the bout into a dog fight. Man-handled in the clinch, tagged often by short hooks and uppercuts, there may not have been enough time for Ashfaq to begin ironing out his issues. Only time will tell if the prospect can round out his skillset, or if he will reduce the fight to a freak result.
Ashley Lane is an easy ‘gimme’ fight that will get Ashfaq back in the win column. Lane will push the pace and is happy to stand in the pocket if allowed, but he is at a clear disadvantage at range. If Ashfaq stays on his heels, Lane will spend a long night chasing shadows and eating shots.
Predicted Result: Ashfaq Decision
Entering the ring so soon after a loss is always a gamble, but Ashley Lane is a weathered veteran who has nowhere near the quality on the outside to threaten Ashfaq. Perhaps a confidence booster for the prospect, it would be nice to see any improvements to his work on the inside.
Result: Ashfaq def. Lane // TKO Round 4 0:20
Winner ✔️ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Florian Marku (7-0, 5KO) vs Jamie Stewart (2-0)
Florian Marku is developing himself a vocal cult following. A former staple on Frank Warren’s Queensberry events, Marku has now signed to showcase his skills with rival promoter, Matchroom. A former undefeated MMA fighter, Marku has took to boxing exceptionally well. Sure, he hasn’t fought anyone of note, but he has an exciting style that is actively searching to sleep opponents. Jerky head movement to close the distance, once in range, Marku throws flurries of hand shots which are powerful enough to break the guard even if they miss the chin. How far the Albanian can go is not yet known, but he is an exciting fighter to follow.
Jamie Stewart has only had two professional fights, although one of his wins was against promoter Mick Hennessy’s undefeated son, Michael Hennessy Jr. Stewart shocked his young opponent with slick back-foot shots and a double/triple jab which prevented return combinations. Stewart will need to keep his hands up against Marku, however, as a hands low defence is begging for a clean shot to the chin.
Predicted Result: Marku TKO Round 6
Stewart will present more of a challenge than Marku’s previous opponents, however, Marku’s elite athleticism will carry him through this fight. Stewart’s counters are crisp, but they do not seem to have much pop. Marku will be able to continue his rampant forward pressure and eventually catch the chin of Stewart while his hands are low.
Result: Draw (referee’s scorecard – 76-76)
Winner ❌ // Method ❌ // Round ❌
Matchroom: Joshua vs Pulev
2020 Boxing Season
Takeaway comments: No AJ didn’t gas. No AJ wasn’t in dire trouble after the third. It was a spectacular performance by the Brit.