Anthony Joshua returned to action for the first time in over a year last night as he dismantled Kubrat Pulev at Wembley’s SSE Arena.
After such a long period away from the ring, some wondered if the unified heavyweight champion might struggle against his IBF mandatory challenger Pulev.
One man who had no doubts about Joshua’s ability to get the job done, however, was his long-time friend Tony Bellew. The Liverpudlian, himself a former world champion at cruiserweight, tweeted throughout Joshua’s win on Saturday evening – and was full of praise for his performance.
“He’s bang up for this Pulev and AJ looks in amazing shape! Looks lean and very athletic! Cool Calm and ready to go!” Bellew declared to his more than 687,000 followers on the social media platform as the bout was about to get underway.
Bellew was quickly proved right when ‘AJ’ dropped Pulev twice in the third round. The Bulgarian had to use all of his experience to survive until the bell, but did manage to see out the remainder of the session.
“Ooh!!!!!! It’s a nightmare for Pulev now!!!!” Bellew exclaimed after Joshua’s onslaught, before complimenting his pal’s shot selection: “Perfect counter right hand from AJ! Pulev turned his back and looked like he had enough! AJ got to be careful now cos a hurt fighter is at his most dangerous when he’s about to go!”
Pulev was undoubtedly in trouble. With that said, he did recover well in the following round. The 39-year-old struggled to keep pace with the younger champion, though, and Bellew was quick to point out that Joshua’s speed was playing a key role in the fight.
“The speed of AJ is what is troubling Pulev! AJ just needs to draw the lead of Pulev and kop for him again,” he exclaimed.
Shortly before Joshua finished Pulev with a series of uppercuts and a stiff right hand in round nine, Bellew was celebrating the skills that the British star had shown throughout the contest.
“AJ has learnt so much so quickly in this sport,” he declared. “The little tie ups on the inside are clever! Moving away from the power hand is something he’s worked on! Needs to keep Pulev honest and land something to make him wary again now!”
Joshua, of course, did land a finishing combination to retain the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight crowns. Following the end of the bout, Bellew was clearly excited by the continued progression of Joshua as a fighter.
“Vicious! Pulev was so so brave and had a serious chin but AJ as an athlete is exceptional! His boxing IQ is improving with every fight and he’s only getting better! Very clever at times tonight and as usual a CLINICAL finisher!”
Of course, the entire boxing world hopes that Joshua’s stoppage win leads us to a showdown with current WBC heavyweight king Tyson Fury – a clash where every title in the sport’s marquee division would be on the line.
Negotiations are due to begin this week between Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn and Fury’s US representative Bob Arum. The amount of money involved in any eventual fight between Joshua and Fury would break all records for the heavyweight division. For this reason, it is unlikely to be particularly easy to make.
Another factor standing in the way of the bout is the presence of other challengers in the weight class. Oleksandr Usyk is the mandatory challenger for Joshua’s WBO title, whilst former champion Deontay Wilder still believes he is entitled to a shot at Fury’s WBC belt.
If and when the fight can be made, though, Tony Bellew seems likely to back Joshua to emerge victorious.