Anthony Joshua is back, his fists are flying again, the insults have started and now all that stands in the way of a showdown with Tyson Fury are thousands of hours of legal brawling, panic, fear, the promise of millions, a signature or two, a venue, the end of Covid's grip on sport and the desire by the two best heavyweights on the planet to fight.
Late on Saturday night at Wembley Joshua finally dropped Kubrat Pulev for the full count with just two seconds remaining in round nine. The last punch of the fight would have dropped a large elephant, Pulev crumpled, looked in wonder at his corner as he struggled to move off the canvas and was saved from any more punishment. He had taken enough.
Joshua retained three versions of the world title, Fury has the fourth, but anybody telling you that the belts issued by the sanctioning bodies are a factor in their dream fight is missing the most basic of facts, the most revealing of realities – Joshua and Fury simply want to fight and shut the other man up. It's personal and that animosity might just help get this caravan of hope, cash and desire across the line. The belts are costume jewellery in this drama.
At Wembley on Saturday night Joshua was cautious, he called it “mature”, from the first bell, moving sweetly, thinking, showing shots, using feints. In round three the old slugger returned as Pulev reeled from right uppercuts, sickening rights hands and short left hooks.
Pulev turned away, backed ten feet along the ropes to his own corner looking out of the ring, Joshua raced after him, letting his fists flow with a fresh nastiness and the fight could have ended at that point. Pulev had stopped fighting, needed protection and did what most humans would do if a man of 17-stone was hitting you flush on the chin, head and ear: He turned away, turned his back, he was finished and there was no shame in that exit.
“I thought he quit,” said Joshua. “The referee could have waved it off.”
The referee, however, allowed it to continue and then Pulev was dropped, going down in a heap with his eyes spinning. He survived the round and in rounds four and five and six was still standing, offering resistance and trying to win a lost cause. There is nothing wrong with Pulev's heart, but in round three even the bravest of lunatic sluggers would have sought respite from the fists of Joshua.
Pulev hit Joshua after the bell to end rounds, he tried several times to put Joshua in a headlock. It was dirty in parts and Joshua kept warning Pulev – when it was over the skirmishing continued. “I just wanted to fight some more,” added Joshua. He did seem particularly agitated and I like that, it's part of the new “uncivilised” man he promised.
And then in round nine, Joshua found Pulev's chin with the uppercut again and Pulev went down in a heavy heap. He regained his feet, was too static and with the 1,000 happy punters standing and roaring, Joshua showed a light-touch jab and as Pulev in his dazed state dabbed at the punch, a fantastic, precise right hand connected with his chin and he was sleeping as he went down. It was the sweetest of finishes, a beautiful blend of balance, poise, accuracy and that is something that too many in my business forget Joshua is capable of delivering. Joshua has added guile to his muscles over the years and that is a heavyweight rarity. Joshua is really working on being more mobile, thoughtful, smarter.
The end of this fight was the start of the Fury fight. “I will knock him out in two or three rounds,” said Fury. “The fight will happen,” said Bob Arum, 89 now and the promoter. “Let's get down to business now,” said Eddie Hearn, the other promoter. The deal is in place, money is agreed, but there are still obstacles on the road to the fight. The journey, thankfully, has started. Fury is, right now, a slight betting favourite.
By 2am, Pulev was icing down his face and Joshua had just finished a private talk with Floyd Mayweather, a surprise ringside guest. “He told me that I can go all the way,” Joshua told Mike Costello, the BBC's commentator. It was Joshua's tenth world title fight; he won an Olympic gold – Mayweather's vision of “all-the-way” is clearly a cherished destination.
Pulev is gone and the biggest promise and hope in sport now is that Fury and Joshua fight, twelve rounds next year in a British ring. It would be undisputed, it would be two British boxers and it would be a perfect fight. It’s not done yet, but Joshua’s final right hand moved it closer than it has ever been.
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League. Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri - Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.
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