Joshua vs Pulev: ‘Strong chance’ of no fans says Eddie Hearn

There is “a very strong chance” that Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title defence against Kubrat Pulev will go ahead behind closed doors later this year.

AJ (23-1) had been due to defend his belts against the 39-year-old Pulev (28-1) – the IBF’s mandatory contender – at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20. But the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic put paid to that date.

Hearn has been desperately seeking a solution to ensure that Joshua’s absence from the ring does not go on too much longer – he last fought in December 2019 when regaining his IBF, WBA and WBO titles with a unanimous decision over Andy Ruiz Jr in their rematch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

But with fears of a second wave of COVID cases hitting the UK, every passing day brings more doubt as to whether a major fight with a full arena can take place on these shores at all in 2020. Hearn had even mooted the possibility of a small VIP crowd of around 2,000 – socially distancing of course – watching the fight play out at an arena such as London’s Royal Albert Hall.

In recent days in appears he has settled on London’s O2 Arena and appeared reasonably confident of the fight happening in November or early December. But the Government’s decision late last week to cancel upcoming test sporting events with fans threw more doubt on what actually might be possible. And the possibility of Joshua vs Pulev taking place behind closed doors is now a strong possibility.

Hearn told ESPN: “We know AJ’s only going to fight once this year, so we want to give ourselves the best opportunity to bring in a crowd, and that would obviously be the later the better. But it’s still not a gimme at all. There’s still a very strong chance that AJ will have to fight behind closed doors.

“Bearing in mind he’s only going to fight once this year, I just feel as we might as well give ourselves every chance to have a crowd and that will be the first weekend of December. Their regulations comply with the government, so at the moment they’re closed.

“So they would need to open up. We’d need to get an understanding from the government what is allowed in arenas. Are you going to open at 50 percent [capacity]? Are you going to open up 100 percent? There’s a lot of work that has to go into that with the government and the O2.”

Meanwhile the hopes of Joshua’s big rival Tyson Fury meeting Deontay Wilder for a third time in Las Vegas on December 19 appeared to recede on Monday with the news that potential venue Allegiant Stadium – home of the National Football League’s Las Vegas Raiders – will be closed to fans for the entire 2020 season.