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Anthony Joshua to defend titles against Kubrat Pulev at O2 Arena on December 12

Anthony Joshua to defend titles against Kubrat Pulev at O2 Arena on December 12
© Reuters
Anthony Joshua has not fought since regaining his titles from Andy Ruiz Jr.

Anthony Joshua is set to fight for the first time in a year after it was officially announced he will defend his heavyweight world titles against Kubrat Pulev on December 12 at London’s O2 Arena.

Joshua – who has not fought since outpointing Andy Ruiz Jr to regain his titles on December 7 2019 – was scheduled to take on his Bulgarian mandatory challenger on June 20 but the bout was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It has now been confirmed he will take on Pulev in his first home bout in more than two years, with his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts on the line.

It is currently unclear whether any fans will be permitted to attend the bout, with all pilot events for live sport currently on hold, but Joshua’s camp have made it clear they will make the case for a limited live crowd.

While the man himself will be focused on taking care of business inside the ring, he hopes for some of his supporters to be cheering him on.

“The O2 is the original lion’s den, I have a lot of history with the arena, but without the fans something huge is missing,” he said.

“I am really hoping that, safety permitting, we might be able to bring some boxing fans in, but we will have to see. December 12 is the date and once again the Heavyweight belts go up in the air and it is my sole focus to make sure that come December 13 they are in their rightful place in the UK.

“I respect every opponent and I respect Pulev. I wish him well during his preparation.”

The fighters – both of whom have only lost once in their professional careers, Joshua to Ruiz Jr last year and Pulev against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014 – were first set to meet in October 2017 at the Principality Stadium.

However, a shoulder injury Pulev sustained two weeks before the fight led to his withdrawal as Joshua took on and overcame late replacement Carlos Takam.

Having now fought his way back into contention, Pulev said: “For a small country of Bulgaria to stand up for the heavyweight titles is a great accomplishment.

“This fight is for my late father and all Bulgarians around the world! I’m coming to London to seize the heavyweight championship of the world.”

If Joshua claims his 24th win from 25 outings in the paid ranks, he will take a step closer towards an all-British blockbuster showdown against Tyson Fury in a fight to determine the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Fury, who holds the WBC title, appears to have ruled out the prospect of facing Deontay Wilder, with the American reportedly missing the deadline to secure a trilogy fight.

Tyson Fury is likely to be Joshua's net opponent if he beats Pulev
Tyson Fury is likely to be Joshua’s next opponent if he beats Pulev (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Fury has therefore set his sights on a homecoming fight in December – with the Royal Albert Hall mooted as a potential venue – before taking on Joshua.

The pair have an agreement “in principle” to face-off twice next year.

Joshua’s Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn admitted the fight would not be quite the same without the usual packed house, but promised a spectacle.

“After a challenging year for everyone, to end with the unified world heavyweight championship is very special,” he said.

“AJ’s resume is unrivalled, and this is the final hurdle until we challenge for the undisputed crown next year.

“Whilst it’s unusual to think of an AJ fight without tens of thousands of fans in attendance, we will be doing everything we can to lobby for the safe return of fans to this event, we have to move forward together.”

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