Anthony Joshua will return home to defend his IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight titles in June and, unsurprisingly, the bookmakers are backing him to enjoy a victorious homecoming at the expense of mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev.
Joshua endured a rollercoaster ride in 2019 as he lost his world titles in shocking fashion before regaining them just before Christmas. The unbeaten British heavyweight was expected to make a routine defence of the belts when he made his US debut in June, but late replacement Andy Ruiz Jr shocked the world, recovering from a knockdown to drop Joshua four times and force the referee to wave it off. The champion had looked out of sorts from the moment he left the dressing room and that led to speculation about his health and mental state, but Joshua offered no excuses in the wake of the devastating loss and quickly went about exorcising those demons.
A rematch between Joshua and Ruiz Jr was controversially scheduled for Saudi Arabia last December and the British ace silenced his doubters and proved that the first meeting between the pair was a fluke, out-boxing and picking apart the first ever Mexican heavyweight champion for 12 rounds to get the nod from the judges. Unlike the first meeting, when Joshua foolishly got involved in a fire-fight that went horribly wrong, he stuck to his gameplan and that means once again there is chatter of a unification fight with the winner of the WBC title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury on February 22.
But before a possible unification bout can take place this year there is the small matter of a mandatory title defence against Kubrat Pulev, and promoter Eddie Hearn has confirmed that this bout will not be taking place on foreign soil – Joshua’s first outing since regaining the world titles will be on home soil with Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium the front-runner to host the bout.
“We’ve had offers in from the Far East, Middle East, Africa, America, Turkey,” Hearn told Sky Sports News. “[Joshua’s] made it very clear to me, ‘I want to come home. I want to box in London next. I’ve been to Madison Square Garden, I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, bring me home. Forget the other offers, bring me home.’ He wants to fight in London in June and we’re on the verge of making that happen now. Spurs is the front-runner and that’s what he’s asked me to do. We’ll be delivering that for him.”
This would be Joshua’s first fight on British soil since he stopped Alexander Povetkin inside seven rounds at Wembley Stadium in September 2018, and Pulev is determined to play the role of spoiler by ruining the British heavyweight’s homecoming.
“Calm down champ, I see that you are very worried to fight away from home and you are absolutely right to be,” quipped the challenger. “But rest assured, if necessary I’m ready to come to London and bust you up in front of your own fans!”
Pulev went on to insist that no deal has been done between the two camp’s just yet, but appears only a matter of time before the two fighters put pen to paper and the bookmakers have already weighed in with their prediction for the fight – they expect no repeat of Joshua’s shocking slip-up in June 2019. The champion is the clear 1/9 favourite at Paddy Power, with the Irish firm going 5/1 that Pulev shocks the world and becomes world heavyweight champion at the second time of asking (he was knocked out inside five rounds when he challenged Wladimir Klitschko back in November 2014).