Anthony Joshua’s meteoric rise through the heavyweight division is pretty remarkable. He made light work of his first 18 opponents, winning each bout by way of knockout, and often dispatching his rival in the opening or early rounds. His biggest tests have come in just the last three years, and on December 12th, he faces another in the form of Bulgarian, Kubrat Pulev, the IBF mandatory challenger.
Of course, by stark contrast, as quickly as he rose, he came crashing back down with that shock defeat to the relatively unknown Andy Ruiz Jr, in June 2019, in which he relinquished his world titles. But, in December of that year, he won them back in a rematch against the American, and that resurgence shows he has what it takes to rise again. The latest Joshua – Pulev odds favour him to continue that winning streak against the Bulgarian. But let’s take a look at how AJ became the face of heavyweight boxing.
Vs Wladimir Klitschko (April 2017)
After knocking out Eric Molina in the third round, Joshua was sanctioned by the WBO to face Klitschko in a unification bout – with the vacant WBA (Super) title, previously held by Tyson Fury, up for grabs. A record crowd of 90,000 turned out at London’s Wembley Stadium to witness what was a close and cagey encounter.
The early rounds saw both boxers fight cautiously, and neither managed to edge it, or cause a knockdown. In the fifth round, this changed and while Joshua sent the Ukrainian to the canvas, he rose again and fought back, landing punches of his own, with AJ hitting the floor in round six. The next few rounds were much like before, with both men cautious and unable to deliver that killer blow – up until round 11.
It was like AJ had been reinvigorated, and he landed a flurry of punches, sending Klitschko to the deck, and while he got back on his feet, he was quickly up against the ropes, giving the referee no alternative but to end the bout. At the time of the stoppage, Joshua had been ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards, and as well as retaining his IBF heavyweight title, he also won the vacant WBA (Super) and IBO heavyweight titles.
Vs Andy Ruiz Jr (June 2019)
Joshua had won the WBO heavyweight title against Joseph Parker in March 2018 – his first bout to go the distance, which saw AJ win by unanimous decision – and he retained his titles against Alexander Povetkin, then the WBA mandatory challenger. Although he was continuing to win his fights, it appeared less convincing than before, and with Tyson Fury on his comeback trail, the attention soon turned to him instead.
And then came one of boxing’s biggest shocks – defeat for Joshua against Ruiz, in which he relinquished all his world titles. AJ had started strongly, knocking down his opponent in the second round, but the big American rose again and continued to come forward. Joshua looked lethargic and lacking composure, and Ruiz capitalised, sending the Watford-born boxer to the floor in both the second and third rounds. Ruiz was in the ascendancy and Joshua looked a beaten man. In the seventh, he was back on the floor and although he beat the count, he was down for a fourth time and the referee called it off.
Of course, he made a quick comeback in the ‘Clash on the Dunes’, the rematch against Ruiz in December 2019. The question now is, will he get complacent again, or will that solitary defeat, marking his previously perfect record, have spurred him on to get back to his best? Pulev is a strong fighter, but there’s no doubt that Joshua won’t want to lose those belts again.