By David McIntosh
If the heavyweight division is boxing’s blockbuster movie, the undoubted film stars right now are Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. At present, it’s their story, their names in lights all over the world. Beneath these headliners is a whole supporting cast, wrapped up in their own subplots, minor characters, extras, small print on the billboards. On Saturday night in Sofia, Bulgaria (a great location for an obscure subplot by the way) Hughie Fury and Kubrat Pulev will face off in an IBF eliminator. The winner will have a chance to spectacularly enter the limelight, Hollywood style, as mandatory challenger to IBF belt holder Anthony Joshua in front of a likely 90,000 fans sometime in 2019. B-list to A-list in one move.
Fury and Pulev know that to beat a starfighter, first, you have to earn the right to meet a starfighter. Both have experience. For Hughie Fury, amazingly still only 24, it’s a chance to make amends for the opportunity he let slip against Joseph Parker in 2017. A win over Parker, which many felt was within Fury’s grasp, would have secured the WBO world title and undoubtedly set up a shot at Joshua (as Parker went on to) or indeed Wilder. For Pulev, almost more amazingly still only 37, it’s familiar territory having secured European and International belts on route to a world title challenge against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014, his only defeat. Both boxers know the size of the prize on Saturday.
One of the many fascinating things about boxing is that some of today’s current minor characters will ultimately replace the present superstars. That’s how it works. Who and when are the two great unknowns. Some good boxers have come close recently. Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin all earned the right to challenge Joshua and Wilder. All failed but left richer for the experience in more ways than one. So could Hughie Fury or Kubrat Pulev succeed where they didn’t? Saturday will be a great litmus test for the winner. If Fury can’t beat Pulev or Pulev can’t beat Fury, it’s a long road back. Fury has some clear positives going into the fight. He’s quick, hard to hit and possess that awkward, rangy, old-fashioned pre-war style borne from his ancestral boxing roots.
For Pulev, experience, know-how and home soil will all play in his favour. He also knows this is his last chance at the big time. In my view power will be critical on Saturday for both fighters. Can Fury show that his right hand is heavy enough to trouble world level fighters? Surely a stoppage or a series of knockdowns is his only path to victory? For Pulev, conversely, can he still avoid and absorb a younger man’s power and possess enough zip in his own punches to gain respect? It’s a fantastic matchup and Hughie Fury knows he can’t afford to adopt the same tactics he did against Joseph Parker. Dancing feet, elusive body movement and flicking jabs off the back foot left judges cold in 2017 and it’ll do little to impress judges sitting in Pulev’s backyard I suspect. This time he knows he has to come forward, punch hard and punch often. Perfect fodder for an experienced old fox like Pulev who may try to spoil, hold, and pick off his opponent to edge towards a points win and a huge payday with Joshua. Again, all the aspects of a great matchup.
For British boxing, a win for Hughie Fury is all too tantalising. The prospect of two Fruys jostling with Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder for top billing in the heavyweight division. Pure box office.