The twenty four-year-old UK heavyweight Hughie Fury (21-1-0, 11KOs) ventures to Sofia, Bulgaria on Saturday to face home fighter Kubrat Pulev (25-1-0, 13KOs).
The bout is a final eliminator for a shot at the IBF title currently held by Anthony Joshua. Fury accepted the challenge that three other heavyweights turned down.
Pulev, the 37-year-old veteran was the IBF’s mandatory for Joshua’s title and was seven days away from facing him in October last year when he had to withdraw with an injury to his right shoulder. Now, perhaps in a bid to force the Bulgarian to prove his fitness, the IBF ordered a final eliminator to decide who will be the next man up to become Joshua’s mandatory.
Pulev, home advantage ensured thanks to some deep pocketed backers, attempted to lure Dominic Breazeale, Jarrell Miller and Dillian Whyte to the Bulgarian capital. For a variety of reasons none of these men fancied the task. The call then went out to Hughie Fury and he quickly accepted – correctly seeing it as a great opportunity to set up a clash with his countryman Joshua.
But first Fury needs to negotiate his way past the experienced Pulev. The visiting boxer goes into the contest as the underdog, probably because the expectation is the fight will go the distance and the scorecards won’t be kind to the Englishman. We can only hope that the fight is judged competently.
In terms of fighting style and ability Fury has the tools to box rings around his slower opponent. If he has the confidence to let his hands go more than he did in his defeat to Joseph Parker last year then the fight should take place on Hughie’s terms. Of course he will need to remain defensively responsible at all times but with his father and trainer, Peter Fury, in his corner this shouldn’t be an issue. I’m expecting a clever game-plan from Peter which will give his son an excellent chance to prevail.
In opposition, Pulev will be doing everything he can to prevent that from happening. A pro since 2009, his sole defeat came when he was stopped by Wladimir Klitschko in 2014. Since then he has boxed sparingly (Saturday being only his sixth bout since to KO to Wladimir) and it seems he no longer has the intimidation factor about him that he once did. Pulev gloved up once last year – a points decision over Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson.
Against Johnson, Pulev was on the front foot for the entirety of the fight. Johnson was in survival mode (as always) so there was not much return fire for Pulev to deal with as he peppered “Kingpin” with jabs and left hooks for 36 minutes. Pulev’s right hand wasn’t seen very often but when he did let it go it looked slow and the wide arc of its trajectory presents a quicker, more attack minded fighter with time to land meaningful counters.
With youth and speed on his side Fury should be able to counter off the back foot when Pulev is advancing. This could become a key feature of the fight although twelve rounds of back foot counters probably won’t accumulate enough points for Hughie.
As has already been touched on a convincing Fury performance that sees him taking advantage of any situations that arise in his favour will probably be needed to secure a points victory. When the moment is right Fury will need to get on the front foot and really take it to Pulev.
This is where Hughie’s experience against Parker may help him. That night he lost a majority decision – it would have possibly been a different outcome if Fury had shown a bit more desire offensively during the fight.
As we have learned since then though Fury was in the final stages of overcoming acne conglobata – a painful and energy sapping condition that had plagued him for years. Now fully free of that illness we can expect Fury to perform with more energy going forward. He was able to show some indications of what may be to come by bouncing back from the Parker setback to stop Sam Sexton in five rounds in May.
Unlike his older and much more well known cousin Tyson, Hughie is reserved outside the ring and doesn’t engage in any headline grabbing antics at press conferences. His quiet confidence shone through when he spoke to media recently, not long after he had completed his training camp for this fight: “I made a promise to beat Pulev in his own backyard and that’s what I’m going to do. Nobody else wanted this tough fight. That’s because they’re not future champions. I know what it takes and what you have to do to become the man.”
Beating Pulev in Bulgaria will be no easy feat and Hughie rightly acknowledges it will be a tough fight. This could be the perfect time to be facing Pulev though, and Fury, with the experience he has gained and the hurdles he’s overcome health wise, will hopefully execute his game-plan to perfection on fight night. Who knows, if he can produce a dynamic attacking performance the judges may not be needed and a stoppage win will be the outcome.
Fans in the UK can watch Pulev vs. Fury on Channel 5 (9pm BST) while ESPN+ will stream the fight in America (4pm EST).
A challenging night with an element of risk lies ahead for Fury in Sofia but the reward on offer makes this a gamble worth taking. Hughie seems ready to deliver. He’s ready to let his fists do the talking and grab the opportunity that no other contender wanted.