Both Fury and Pulev are working their way back to world title contention, writes Elliot Worsell
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
KUBRAT PULEV DOB/AGE HOMETOWN NATIONALITY RECORD STANCE DEBUT/AGE KO PERCENTAGE LAST FIVE FIGHTS ROAD WARRIOR: Fury is happy to take on Pulev in his homeland HUGHIE FURY INACTIVITY PERIOD