Fighting for the first time since avenging that shock defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr and regaining his lost belts in Saudi Arabia 12 months ago, ‘AJ’ produced a dominant display against his mandatory IBF challenger in front of 1,000 returning fight fans – plus boxing royalty in Floyd Mayweather Jr – at the SSE Arena, Wembley.
Stepping into a ring on home soil for the first time in 27 months, Joshua successfully defended his WBA (Super), IBF, WBO and IBO titles while securing his 24th professional victory with an impressive ninth-round knockout – his first KO since 2018.
It was a succession of crushing uppercuts and a truly devastating final right hand that secured victory in an entertaining clash for the home favourite, who was initially due to fight Pulev in 2017, only for that bout to be scuppered by injury.
The duo were then supposed to meet at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in June, before the coronavirus pandemic brought boxing to a standstill.
But the 39-year-old Pulev – a former two-time European heavyweight champion challenging for a world title for the second time after his emphatic defeat by Wladimir Klitschko in 2014 – received praise for his durability, having survived a huge onslaught in the third round that left him trapped in the corner and in need of the referee’s intervention before then climbing back off the canvas to make it to the bell.
However, Joshua remained composed after failing to finish the job early on, producing the sort of brutal finish that was previously his trademark.