Anthony Joshua feels he must knock out Kubrat Pulev to avoid failure

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Authors: Rio Sports

Anthony Joshua’s words were cordial. The respect for his opponent obvious. But Britain’s WBC and IBF heavyweight champion also wanted to make something clear: if he does not knock out the Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev when they meet in Cardiff next month he will consider his night a failure.

“It is heavyweight boxing,” he said, during a disarmingly matter-of-fact soliloquy about the realities of his trade. “You have to knock someone out. It shows your timing is great, that you are a puncher, that you are a force to be reckoned with and that your aura is intact. Nobody comes to a boxing match to watch a 12-round fight, it gets boring. Unless it’s a brawl.”

No one would ever accuse Joshua of being boring: he has stopped all 19 of his opponents inside the distance, brutally and effectively, and the expected 80,000 crowd at the Principality Stadium will demand more of the same against Pulev, a rugged 36-year-old Bulgarian who has won 25 of his 26 fights. And Joshua intends to deliver.

“People will always say ‘this guy is tough’ and then you go and knock him out, it adds value,” he said. “That is why I like knocking people out. That is what the fans are there for. With the lighter guys it may not happen because there is not so much weight behind the punch. But these big guys, bang, you have to knock them out.”

Yet Joshua admitted he would have to improve his boxing having been tagged too many times in his epic fight against Wladmir Klitschko in April. “I want to fight with finesse – throw the jab, left hook, bang! It’s better than throwing a 10-punch combination and getting caught by a couple coming back the other way.

“You can take a man out by going to war or go down the technically perfect route, which just looks better on the super slo‑mo, punch-perfect.”

He also knows it will not be easy against Pulev, who seems to be that rare beast: an opponent who is actually looking forward to facing Joshua in the ring. “Boxing-wise he’s more a technical fighter who will try to break you down,” he said, astutely. “Personality-wise I think he’s a macho man.

“But I can’t take him lightly,” he said, dismissing suggestions the mandatory IBF contender would be an easy payday. “He is a good fighter. Tyson, Foreman, Holyfield are all saying ‘great fight, he is good for the division’. They are the opinions that matter. The wider audience were telling me one thing but the greats another, you have to pick who you listen to. I will take advice from the great athletes who have walked the path.”

Joshua even played down the implications of Pulev’s one defeat – a fifth‑round knockout by Klitschko in 2014, saying: “He has probably corrected those mistakes now. A man that loses will always come back stronger because he has a lot more to prove. He has sat patiently and waited for his opportunity.”

Pulev, having taken relish in giving bone-crunching handshakes to journalists on his first visit to Cardiff, said he had seen weaknesses in Joshua’s fight with Klitschko. “No one is invincible. He had those weaknesses and he still has those weaknesses.”

When it was put to him that Joshua’s stamina might be a particular issue, given he looked out on his feet halfway through the Klitschko bout, Pulev smiled and said one word in English: “Maybe.” He added: “I think the mistake Klitchsko made was he wasn’t prepared to take a risk to win the fight. I won’t make that mistake.”

Pulev also insisted his experience in the ring and on the streets meant he would have no fear stepping into the lion’s den next month. “Joshua has had a good career. However, he hasn’t got my experience. I started boxing when I was 12 years old. And it is not just the ring where I am experienced, but the streets as well, which is another advantage.”

Were they frightening ones, he was asked? “Maybe for my opponents, yes, it was very scary, but for me it was OK,” he said, smiling. “Personally as a man I love challenges. That’s what makes me very happy. It makes me alive.”

He certainly sounded like he meant it. Although he may feel rather differently when he sees Joshua storming at him from across the ring.