At 39-years-old, Kubrat Pulev’s heavyweight showdown with Anthony Joshua at the SSE Wembley Arena in London had the potential to be his last fight after a long career.
The Bulgarian knew that a heavy knockout would almost certainly bring the curtain down on a career that has only seen him lose once, on that occasion to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014.
In reality, the stakes in heavyweight boxing are considerably raised once a boxer passes 35, with retirement only ever an unseen punch away from happening. As it happens, that dreaded punch landed on Pulev’s chin in the ninth round and sent the 39-year-old tumbling to the floor as Joshua claimed a knockout victory, but from the third round onwards in that fight, it was clear that despite an impending knockout, Pulev’s story in boxing was far from over.
This was Kubrat Pulev midway through round three – right after he was initially staggered by Anthony Joshua, just before he was knocked down. Madman. pic.twitter.com/Am2VRnIXhG
— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) December 13, 2020
There was even talk of Pulev fighting Tyson Fury at some stage in the future after his bout with Joshua, which does suggest that despite a brutal knockout, the boxing world thoroughly expects to see Pulev in the ring again soon. It must be said, Fury obviously has bigger prizes and contentious issues on his mind, especially given his 2 where the fighter is at 14/1 to win a competition he hopes not to.
Indeed, Fury even went as far as sending a lawyers’ letter to the BBC demanding them to remove his name from the list.
It’s all getting quite complicated and messy with regards to SPOTY 2020 and it’s clear that Fury is a lot more interested in winning boxing matches than he is in popularity contests. But a far more likely opponent for the Englishman will be Anthony Joshua and not Kubrat Pulev, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see the Bulgarian fighting in the UK again in 2021 thanks to the courage he showed in London.
It’s always telling when a boxer gets applauded in the ring after losing a fight and that’s what most of the 1,000 strong English crowd did after Joshua had knocked him out. In that respect, boxing is a strange sport. You can come out with your reputation enhanced despite losing, but perhaps it was Pulev’s willingness to take a punch and keep coming back for more that won the partisan crowd over. He was on the end of no fewer than seven uppercuts from Joshua, of which two landed flush, but that wasn’t enough to stop him squaring up to a man eight years his junior and even hitting him back with a combination of striking cobra-like punches.
Cooked a cobra 💤 pic.twitter.com/Ipa5Zjcb9l
— Anthony Joshua (@anthonyfjoshua) December 13, 2020
It wasn’t meant to be on the night and Joshua's herculean punching power eventually told but UK promoters will know that putting Pulev on an undercard in the future will garner huge interest from the public. There is nothing that boxing fans want to see more than a fighter who won’t go quietly into the night when staring down the barrel. It is that determination to keep swinging and trying to find a way that fans can relate to. Perhaps it is symbolic of everyday life and the willingness to keep going in adverse circumstances.
Pulev showed that type of perseverance in spades and by doing so earned himself a stay of execution at the business end of the heavyweight division. The sun may be close to setting on Pulev’s career but it hasn’t gone down. There is still life in the old dog yet.