Anthony Joshua will defend his heavyweight world titles against Kubrat Pulev at the 02 Arena in London on 12 December, his first fight in a year.
Confirmation of the rescheduled fight – Joshua’s first since he beat Andy Ruiz Jr on points to regain his titles last December – comes after Pulev apologised for making a reference to Joshua’s skin colour in a press conference in Bulgaria earlier this week.
When asked about his opponent’s strengths, Pulev said: “I’d say he has a very powerful punch undeniably … [and] his tan is better than mine.” The mandatory challenger has since apologised, saying his comments were “taken out of context”.
“I would never, under any circumstances, allow myself to show disrespect to another human being on racial, ethnic or religious grounds,” the 39-year-old said in a statement. “If somebody has been offended by my words, I hope they would try to understand exactly what I meant by them and if they cannot understand me, then accept my sincere apology.”
Joshua did not respond directly when confirming the fight, saying only “I respect every opponent and I respect Pulev. I wish him well during his preparation.”
The 31-year-old added that he hoped a limited number of spectators would be able to attend the bout, despite all pilot events for live sport remaining on hold owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The O2 is the original lion’s den, I have a lot of history with the arena, but without the fans something huge is missing,” Joshua said. “I am really hoping that, safety permitting, we might be able to bring some boxing fans in, but we will have to see.
Joshua was scheduled to take on Pulev in June but the bout was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. It has now been confirmed he will take on Pulev in his first home bout in more than two years, with his IBF, WBA, WBO and IBO belts on the line.
The fighters, both of whom have lost only once in their professional careers – Joshua to Ruiz Jr last year and Pulev against Wladimir Klitschko in 2014 – were first set to meet in October 2017 at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. However, Puley withdrew after sustaining a shoulder injury two weeks before the fight; Joshua beat his late replacement, Carlos Takam.
Pulev said: “For a small country of Bulgaria to stand up for the heavyweight titles is a great accomplishment. This fight is for my late father and all Bulgarians around the world. I’m coming to London to seize the heavyweight championship of the world.”
If Joshua claims his 24th win from 25 professional fights, he will take a step closer towards an all-British showdown against Tyson Fury in a fight to determine the undisputed heavyweight champion.