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Anthony Joshua retains heavyweight belts with ninth-round knockout of Kubrat Pulev

Anthony Joshua, left, celebrates after beating Kubrat Pulev in their heavyweight title fight in London on Dec. 12, 2020.
Anthony Joshua, left, celebrates after beating Kubrat Pulev in their heavyweight title fight in London.
(Andrew Couldridge / Pool photo via Associated Press)

Anthony Joshua retained his world heavyweight titles with a ninth-round knockout of Kubrat Pulev on Saturday, potentially setting up an all-British fight against Tyson Fury to be undisputed champion of boxing’s marquee division.

Joshua had already knocked down the plucky but one-dimensional Pulev three times — twice in the third round — when he unleashed a right hook that sent the 39-year-old Bulgarian to the canvas once again.

This time, Pulev couldn’t get up and Joshua raised his right fist in the air.

After months of boxing fights in empty British venues, up to 1,000 spectators — a limited number that included boxing royalty in Floyd Mayweather — were inside Wembley Arena to see Joshua make a successful first defense of the WBA, IBF, WBO titles since regaining them in a rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr.

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Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell, who played the last three seasons with the Clippers, says he didn’t let his former teammates distract him from his job.

Now he has done away with the mandatory challenge of Pulev, Joshua can turn to his ultimate goal of being undisputed champion — the first in the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis in 1999.

He has an agreement in principle with Tyson Fury, the WBC champion, for a two-fight deal in 2021 to unify all four titles in an all-British blockbuster. It would be one of the biggest fights in living memory, certainly the biggest in British boxing history.

“Since I came into this game in 2013, I have been chasing all the belts,” Joshua said. “I have been dealing with mandatories. Of course I want the challenge — it’s not about the opponent, it’s about the legacy and the belts.

“Whoever has got the belt, I’d love to compete with them. If that is Tyson Fury, let it be Tyson Fury.”

Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, was more direct, saying Fury was “the only fight to sign next.”

“Since he (Joshua) came into my office, he wanted to be undisputed champion of the world,” Hearn said. “We are going to be friendly, we are going to be nice, we know what we have to do starting from tomorrow: to make the Tyson Fury fight straightaway.

“It’s the only fight to be made in boxing. It’s the biggest fight in boxing.”

Fury uploaded a video on Twitter soon after Joshua and Hearn spoke, saying Joshua “went around the bushes” when asked whether he wanted to fight Fury.

No matter how well they manage to finish the season, the Chargers know the futures of coach Anthony Lynn and many players on the roster are in the air.

“I want the fight, I want the fight next,” Fury said. “I’ll knock him out inside three rounds.”

Joshua showed a mixture of patience and power to earn his 24th win in 25 fights as a professional.

After sizing up Pulev in what was the first fight in a year for both boxers, Joshua made his opponent stumble with a right hook and Pulev staggered to the corner and turned his back, forcing an eight-count.

Pulev smiled but was soon down on the canvas after a flurry of punches that ended with a fierce right uppercut by Joshua.

Pulev got up and showed resolve to get back in a fight he was always behind.

Joshua always had the measure of Pulev, using his left jab to great effect and hurting Pulev with repeated uppercuts.

It was the right uppercut that knocked Pulev down, for a third time, near the end of the ninth round before Joshua finished him with a huge right hand that Pulev walked into.

The fight was stopped with two seconds to go in the round.


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