Joshua vs Pulev: AJ ready to take £5m crowd hit

Anthony Joshua is ready to take a £5million financial hit by fighting without a crowd because he is so desperate to move forward with his world-title defence against Kubrat Pulev before the end of 2020.

AJ, who currently holds the IBF, WBA and WBO world titles, has not fought since regaining his belts with a comfortable points victory over Andy Ruiz Jr in their rematch in Saudi Arabia last December.

Both he and promoter Eddie Hearn are keen that his ring hiatus does not go far past one year, and with that in mind the Watford superstar (23-1) is willing to take the financial hit of the Pulev fight going ahead without a full arena.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing carnage, there is no clear date as yet when boxing fans will be allowed to fill major venues again, but Joshua is prepared to fight Pulev (28-1) behind closed doors if necessary.

Hearn told The Sun: “AJ wants to fight this year – and he will fight.

“Hopefully by December we will be in a situation where we can have a full, or close-to-full, O2. Because when you talk about no crowds causing a hole in budgets, his is around £5m. To counter that, we either have to find a site fee from someone or a way to bring crowds back.

“I would put him on behind closed doors now, yes. The numbers wouldn’t be as good – but he is prepared to do it.”

Joshua knows that should he overcome Pulev, there is every chance his next bout would then be against Tyson Fury in a mammoth unification showdown between two British world champions.

The pair have agreed in principle the financial structure for a two-fight deal and it is hoped the first bout could take place next summer. The possibility looks much more likely now after WBC mandatory contender Dillian Whyte suffered a stunning fifth-round stoppage at the hands of veteran Russian Alexander Povetkin on Saturday night.

Fury (if he overcomes Deontay Wilder in their trilogy fight in December) not having to meet Whyte early in 2021 appears to make the path to Fury vs Joshua considerably smoother.