Maybe it’s COVID-19.
Maybe it’s because we’ve already seen him lose in historically shocking fashion. And maybe it’s because we’ve seen him rebound from said loss, showcasing the dominance we once grew accustomed to.
But there doesn’t appear to be as much pressure on Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs), who enters as a large favorite into tomorrow’s bout with Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs). The 31-year-old Joshua will be defending his WBA Super, IBF, WBO and IBO World Heavyweight Titles against his 39-year-old challenger, whose only loss was a knockout defeat against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014.
We haven’t seen AJ since last December, where he vindicated his embarrassing Madison Square Garden Andy Ruiz Jr. upset loss by beating his ass for a 12-round decision. (Similar for Pulev, it’s been just over a year since his most recent in-ring showing, a decision over heavyweight Rydell Booker.)
While pressure doesn’t seem to be surrounding Joshua this time around, and didn’t surface ahead of his first bout with Ruiz Jr, he says it made him tougher prior to his last fight.
“The pressure that I went through last year was tough, but it made me mentally stronger,” he said at Thursday’s final press conference for the bout against Pulev. “I grew a thicker skin. I’ve always been tough and wanted to fight the best, that’s never been an issue … I’ve been punched by the strongest people many times, but I’m still here today. That never changed me, just because I took a loss from Ruiz I don’t think that’s enough to change someone. Every fighter trains hard, but it’s character that separates us, and I’ve got a lot of character.”
And then the two competitors finally met up at the weigh-in earlier today, morning time in the United Kingdom, and nearly fought on the spot.
Well, Goddamn, guys.
You know, for a pandemic weigh-in, Joshua got awfully touchy on Pulev here. I mean, at least his mask was on most of the time, but you could see why Pulev was so damn furious. Then again, because of said masks, we can’t really tell who started it now can we? Well, let’s try this together.
At 2:35 you see the trash-talking really begin. Though, you don’t know what’s actually being said, because the ‘rona is still out here slapping up the world, even in the U.K. where we know of at least one vaccination. At 2:45, Joshua actually tries to step around Eddie Hearn, his Matchroom Boxing promoter, and jump in Pulev’s personal space. Joshua said some shit, politely lifted his mask above his nose, and Pulev removed his shirt, all in that order. And then by 2:50, Hearn allowed them to face-off for the media, and for some reason, no hot mics were available to pick-up sound. Not having microphones to pick this up was a bad call, but we’ll just blame COVID and give them a break.
Anyway, we saw all we needed to 15 seconds before Joshua places his right-hand on Pulev’s arm, to which Pulev responds by lifting his mask above his nose, but moving his face closer to Joshua to execute whatever point it was he’s trying to make. Honestly, we could just assume they were telling each other, “You know I’m gonna fuck you up, right?” the entire time and it’d be fine because they might as well have. Why? It’s boxing. Duh.
And finally, Joshua had enough by 3:14 and points a finger in Pulev’s face repeatedly. Pulev was so pissed it looked like he tried to spit on the ground, but realized that would’ve been disgusting inside of his mask. (Have you ever sneezed in your mask? That shit is nasty.)
Well, maybe Joshua just said, fuck it, and put the pressure on himself for this fight.
So whatever he said, he needs to back up tomorrow. Otherwise, we’ll hear a lot from Tyson Fury, Bob Arum and even Deontay Wilder on Saturday night.