Anthony Joshua dominated and picked apart his mandatory heavyweight challenger Kubrat Pulev, scoring a ninth-round knockout to retain his WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles at the SSE Arena, Wembley on Saturday.
Undefeated WBC champion Fury holds the only major belt outside of Joshua’s grip and a meeting between them would be the biggest match in world boxing – after delivering this thrilling knockout in front of a crowd of 1,000 people plus boxing great Floyd Mayweather, Joshua moved a step closer to making it a reality.
Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) recorded four knockdowns against a determined challenger in Pulev (28-2, 14 KOs) en route to an impressive ninth-round TKO.
His first fight since avenging a shock defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr a year ago would have ended explosively in the third round had his challenger Pulev not possessed a warrior-like determination to continue when he was felled, but there was no escaping the eventual knockout.
Joshua barely broke eye contact with his challenger from the moment he strode over the top rope and into the ring, then their pre-fight fist bump was aggressive and intense.
Perhaps surprised Pulev wasn’t knocking at his door from the opening bell, like the 39-year-old did the last time he challenged for the world titles against Wladimir Klitschko, AJ kept things cagey in rounds one and two, but did enough to win the rounds with jabs to the head and body.
The champion took every other round from the fourth until the ninth, when “AJ” again decided it was time to crank up the heat and test Pulev’s mettle. Though the Bulgarian was allowed to continue after the third count of the bout, he was soon on the canvas again and did not get back up.
Joshua moves to 24-1 with his 22nd career knockout. Pulev, meanwhile, has suffered only his second professional loss and is now 28-2 with 14 wins inside the distance.