There is much to like about the heavyweight clash between Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev and Britain’s Hughie Fury. Scheduled for late October in Sofia, the match brings together two big men at different ends of their respective careers and will clarify much about their prospects in a weight class rich with possibilities.
As with all prizefights there is a sense of a ‘crossroads’ for both fighters, a study of the usual metrics can inform those looking to invest in the outcome.
Fury is happily in control of the rare Acne condition that threatened to derail his boxing career before it had really begun. This, Fury contends, has been essential to his improving performances and hampered much of his early progress. At 6-6, he doesn’t quite reach the lofty climbs of his cousin, Tyson, but he has good reach, quick hands and an elusive, awkward style.
Pulev meanwhile, has the demeanour of an old-fashioned heavyweight; stretched tailoring and lintel brow, and has demonstrated solid if not spectacular power throughout his career. He has quicker hands than one might anticipate but it would be easy to surmise the younger man will have the edge in hand speed.
At 37 years old, with a solid if an ultimately frustrated Amateur career of over a 100 bouts, he would frequently lose to the mobile Italian Cammarelle or the Cuban Orlando Solis, and almost 10 years as a professional, Pulev is the ‘pedigree dog’ in the show. He has fought as both the attraction and opponent on major events in Germany and will have vast experience of different styles to call upon in preparation for Fury. And it is worth noting, considering he will be the home fighter too, that Pulev is not averse to employing some of the darker facets of the sport, something boxing betting fans should keep in mind.
At 23, he will be 24 by fight night, Hughie remains a heavyweight ‘baby’. His loss to Joseph Parker was contentious, though not controversial, but the experience he gained will enhance his prospects in this bout. Father and trainer Peter Fury concede, albeit reluctantly, that his son needed to be busier to make his apparent control of the fight a little more explicit.
As an Amateur, Fury became the first British fighter to win a Gold at a World Junior Championships. He promptly turned professional at just 18, fighting on the road in low key undercard bouts, adding venues in Canada, Romania and America to his resume in his first four fights.
Pulev’s career has unquestionably slowed down; this will be his first fight in 2018 and he has only fought twice in the past two years. Injury prevented him facing Anthony Joshua last autumn, Carlos Takam stepping in, and from the bright lights of Germany where he fought much of his career; he is now an exclusively Bulgarian attraction.
Fury returned from the frustration of almost dethroning the then WBO champion, Joseph Parker, to beat Sam Sexton for the British title. Sexton, in terms of physicality, is very similar to Pulev if at a lower level and less mobile. He certainly represents better preparation than the stubborn but passive resistance of the diminutive trial-horse Kevin Johnson did in Pulev’s last outing.
There was evidence of more self-belief in Fury’s stoppage of Sexton and a stronger commitment to press the advantages of reach and height he typically holds too. If you like Fury’s upward trajectory over the ageing veteran, back him at a conservative 11/10 with Paddy Power.
Avoid succumbing to the assumption Pulev, as the more solid, rugged, experienced fighter will prove one-dimensional in style. The veteran may prove to have a lost a step, but he’s a busy 12-round fighter, who sets up the right hand well with a jab. He boxes on his toes in mid-range and has knocked out fighters with both hands; the right hook to the mid-section that folded up the enigmatic Maurice Harris a particular highlight and he outpointed tall American Tony Thompson too.
Fury is typically a cautious operator, using fast counter punches to clip opponents before stepping back or to the side to force opponents to reset. He showed more aggression in the Sexton fight and remained calm, perhaps too calm, against Parker when the stakes were high.
Pulev will not follow in straight lines in the way Parker did however, he will be busy moving in and out of range and is far more adept at closing off the ring to elusive opponents.
With his unbeaten record now snapped, there is a sense of liberation for Fury who will travel to Sofia buoyed by his last performance versus Sexton and in the knowledge he arrives as an underdog. As Fury pointed out to the gathered press, the pressure is on Pulev to prove he remains a threat in the division and to perform in front of his own fans.
For Pulev, defeat would spell the end of his championship aspirations, whilst Fury would have time to regroup. In the final analysis, the depth of Pulev’s desire to remain in the title conversation could prove decisive.