Both Fury and Pulev are work­ing their way back to world ti­tle con­tention, writes El­liot Worsell

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Hughie Fury trav­els to Bul­garia to take on Kubrat Pulev in a ti­tle elim­i­na­tor

HUGHIE FURY is used to op­er­at­ing in the shadow of his big­ger, bolder and shoutier cousin, Tyson, and this will re­main the case as both Furys ap­proach cru­cial heavy­weight en­coun­ters in the fi­nal quar­ter of 2018.

Tyson’s much-pub­li­cised WBC ti­tle fight with Deon­tay Wilder on De­cem­ber 1 in Los An­ge­les is ar­guably the most fas­ci­nat­ing heavy­weight clash of the year, and will be sold to within an inch of its life, while Hughie’s IBF fi­nal elim­i­na­tor against Kubrat Pulev on Satur­day (Oc­to­ber 27) in Sofia, Bul­garia is lowkey, like the men in­volved, but no less im­por­tant.

Frankly, Hughie wouldn’t have it any other way. The shy and well-man­nered 24-year-old finds com­fort in si­lence and rou­tine in much the same way Tyson seems to flour­ish amid noise and chaos and, for this rea­son, will pre­sum­ably have no con­cerns about trav­el­ling over­seas to try and se­cure the big­gest scalp of his ca­reer. He doesn’t have to sell it. He doesn’t even nec­es­sar­ily have to im­press the home fans. In­stead, Fury, a man of sound fun­da­men­tals, with a win-now-look-good-later men­tal­ity, can con­cen­trate on let­ting his hands do the talk­ing, the method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with which he is most com­fort­able. In that sense, it’s the per­fect op­por­tu­nity for him.

That’s not to say it will be easy, mind. Pulev, the Bul­gar­ian box­ing in Bul­garia, is a tal­ented and well-schooled heavy­weight whose big­gest fail­ing is in­ac­tiv­ity as op­posed to any tech­ni­cal de­fi­ciency. Ab­sent from the ring since April 2017, the 37-year-old lacks mo­men­tum, some­thing key to his style, but, equally, is prob­a­bly fresher than his age sug­gests, on ac­count of lit­tle wear and tear, and still am­bi­tious. His sole de­feat so far as a pro ar­rived in 2014 when he bravely went toe-to-toe with Wladimir Kl­itschko and swiftly re­alised why few men choose to do so. Diced up in five rounds, Pulev gave it a good go, landed some telling shots of his own, but was un­der­sized and lacked the power to make a dent in a cham­pion ac­cus­tomed to us­ing his frame to con­trol

smaller chal­lengers. There was no shame in the re­sult, of course. In­deed, that it is Pulev’s only ca­reer de­feat says more about Kl­itschko’s dom­i­nance around that time than any fail­ing on the part of ‘The Co­bra’. More­over, the beaten man showed enough in the four-and-a-half rounds he spent in the pres­ence of the tow­er­ing Ukrainian to sug­gest he might one day have his mo­ment.

Stylis­ti­cally, Pulev’s fluid and lan­guid ap­proach, some­thing of an anom­aly at heavy­weight, helps him quickly find the range with his left jab, and he pos­sesses good feet, too, for a man of six-four. He can box a bit and pos­sesses hands heavy enough to cut down op­po­nents pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered durable. In 2012 de­fences of his Euro­pean heavy­weight ti­tle, for in­stance, Pulev stopped Alexander Dim­itrenko and Alexander Usti­nov in 11 rounds apiece – the lat­ter was un­de­feated at the time – and showed an abil­ity to erad­i­cate an op­po­nent’s size ad­van­tage with clever foot­work and coun­ter­punch­ing. The fol­low­ing year, he out­pointed Amer­i­can Tony Thomp­son, who, at the time, was buoyed by two up­set wins over David Price.

More re­cently, an older Pulev re­gained his Euro­pean ti­tle in 2016 with a slug­gish de­ci­sion win against Bri­tain’s Dereck Chisora, while a lop­sided vic­tory over Kevin Johnson in his last out­ing 18 months ago is more akin to a paid-for spar­ring ses­sion than a test­ing fight.

As for the one that got away, a money-spin­ning shot at An­thony Joshua, sched­uled for last Oc­to­ber, was scrapped due to an in­jury Pulev, 25-1 (13), suf­fered in train­ing. This hurt not only Pulev’s bank bal­ance but also any hope he had of pick­ing up some mo­men­tum in his ca­reer.

Fury, on the other hand, hap­pens to be en­ter­ing this fight in Sofia off the back of the most im­pres­sive win of his five-and-ahalf-year pro ca­reer. This oc­curred in May against Sam Sex­ton and de­liv­ered Hughie the Bri­tish heavy­weight ti­tle. More than that, it un­veiled new wrin­kles to the Fury reper­toire and fea­tured him stand­ing his ground more than usual, hold­ing his feet, and look­ing to hurt his op­po­nent rather than sim­ply mak­ing them look silly. The re­sult was con­clu­sive. Sex­ton, ex­pect­ing to chase Fury and his jab for 12 rounds, was in­stead de­stroyed by right hands in five.

It was a world away from the per­for­mance Fury, 21-1 (11), pro­duced against Joseph Parker in Septem­ber 2017. That one, while far from a dis­grace, was full of prom­ise but not enough punches and re­sulted in Fury fall­ing ag­o­nis­ingly short of win­ning the WBO heavy­weight ti­tle. In the 12 rounds shared, he showed signs of be­ing able to beat Parker and demon­strated all the at­tributes he has over other heavy­weights – chiefly, move­ment and hand speed – yet couldn’t stitch it all to­gether and pro­duce some­thing em­pathic. It cost him.

The key ques­tion ahead of Satur­day, then, is this: To what ex­tent was Fury’s break­out per­for­mance against Sex­ton a re­sult of him im­prov­ing, com­ing of age, and putting prior health is­sues be­hind him, and to what ex­tent was it more to do with the qual­ity of op­po­si­tion?

Cyn­ics will ar­gue the rea­son Fury looked so im­pres­sive against Sam Sex­ton owes more to the fact he was fight­ing Sam Sex­ton and not Joseph Parker. That, how­ever, might be do­ing Hughie a dis­ser­vice. Still only 24, he is bound to ma­ture as he goes and, what’s more, maybe the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing out­hus­tled by Parker, when vic­tory seemed there for the tak­ing, is as im­por­tant to his new-look ap­proach as the drop down in com­pe­ti­tion.

What we do know, of course, is this: Fury, if he uses long arms and lively legs to keep Pulev from set­ting, and then mixes in heav­ier shots when he de­tects an open­ing, will have a real chance on Satur­day. He’s the younger, sharper man, he moves well, and is boosted by mo­men­tum Pulev lacks. Yet, for Pulev, it’s all about top-level ex­pe­ri­ence, and this cru­cial de­tail, as well as the back­ing of home sup­port, should be enough to see him through via close de­ci­sion.

THE VER­DICT The two heavy­weights are well matched in this elim­i­na­tor.


STALLED: In­jury means Pulev hasn’t boxed since April 2017, and missed out on ght­ing Joshua



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