Anthony Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev isn’t just a run-of-the-mill mandatory defence for the IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight king, the stakes are much much higher.
AJ goes into the clash at Wembley’s SSE Arena next Saturday night (December 12) knowing it is the biggest night of his boxing career so far.
If, as the bookmakers expect (Joshua is a 1/12 favourite) then he can look forward to a career-defining 2021, likely including at least one unification match against Tyson Fury.
If he loses to the 39-year-old Bulgarian his dreams of becoming undisputed champion, for now, will lie in tatters.
Ahead of this crossroads fight for the Watford man, we look at what is at stake.
What happens if Joshua beats Pulev?
If Joshua (23-1) comes out on top then all roads should lead to a monumental showdown with Fury. Quite simply, the biggest fight in British boxing history.
The two giants of boxing agreed in principle back in June the financial structure for a two-fight deal. The first would see a 50-50 revenue split with the winner taking a 60-40 share in the rematch.
Promoters Eddie Hearn and Bob Arum have said constantly that the fight should not be difficult to finalise – assuming AJ takes care of business on Saturday December 12 (live on Sky Sports Box Office and DAZN).
The only slight fly in the ointment for Fury vs Joshua concerns WBO mandatory contender Oleksandr Usyk. He is pushing hard for an immediate title shot. If the WBO backs his claims as expected, Joshua will be faced with a tough decision.
Does he vacate the WBO title to fight Fury immediately? This would mean their clash would no longer be for the undisputed title. Or does he face Usyk and delay the Fury clash? And obviously, subject it to further risk.
What happens if Joshua loses to Pulev?
Joshua’s defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr in June 2019 was a major blip in his career, but only a temporary one.
He was able to secure an immediate rematch after being stunned by the 30-1 underdog in Madison Square Garden. And he duly regained his titles with an easy points win in Saudi Arabia in December 2019.
To lose once to a big outsider can be gradually forgotten. To do it twice in the space of three fights would be a way bigger issue.
Not only would Joshua lose his IBF, WBA and WBO titles to Pulev (28-1), his chances of fighting Fury in the immediate future would recede significantly.
A defeat by Pulev would take plenty of lustre away from a Fury vs Joshua showdown. It not only removes some financial potential, but there are no longer any belts for AJ to bring to the table.
Arum has said in recent days that if Pulev wins, then Fury will go in a different direction. And likely resurrect that trilogy fight with Deontay Wilder early in 2021.
Instead of Fury vs Joshua being a virtual certainty to happen at least once in 2021, it likely doesn’t happen at all next year. The road back for Joshua would likely be much longer and harder this time around.