Gareth A Davies
Hughie Fury’s bid to fight Anthony Joshua for a world title was thwarted Saturday night in Sofia by Kubrat Pulev, the Bulgarian heavyweight, who won comprehensively on the cards.
Pulev got ahead early in the contest when his stiff second-round jab opened up an old cut above the left eye of the British fighter, sustained during a pre-fight training camp. This venture to the Balkans was always likely to be a tough assignment for Fury, but Pulev’s command of the jab, roared on by partisan local support, broke Fury’s face – and his dreams.
Pulev handed 24-year-old Fury his second career defeat in the eliminator for the IBF world title belt held by Joshua, the judges returning a unanimous verdict of 117-111, 118-110 and 115-113 in the 37-year-old former world title challenger’s favour.
Pulev now sits among the contenders – who include Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury and Dillian Whyte – to face Joshua in 2019.
“It wasn’t my night – the cut I suffered a few weeks ago opened up and it affected my performance,” admitted Fury. “Despite that, I gave it my all, went the full 12 rounds and ran him close. It was a big ask for my fans to travel all this way and I want to thank them for coming out in force to show their support.”
Peter Fury, the boxer’s father and trainer, added: “Hughie came into the fight with a cut above the eye. He was stitched up two weeks ago but they [the doctors] said it would heal in time for the fight and obviously it didn’t. Pulev caught him with a jab and split it right open. From that moment in the second round it was an uphill battle. I’m proud of my son – he was fighting on away soil, injured, yet he still went the full distance. If the cut hadn’t happened we would have seen a different outcome.”
Tyson Fury, the former world champion and cousin of Hughie Fury, took to his Twitter account after the fight, offering encouragement. Fury, who challenges WBC champion Deontay Wilder for his world title belt in Los Angeles on December 1, tweeted from camp in Big Bear, California: “Well done in the Pulev fight. You can only do your best and at 24 years old fighting the top level fighters in the world, it’s amazing achievements. You will come back stronger and more experienced. Chin up cuz proud of you!”.
On the undercard in Sofia, Hartlepool’s Savannah Marshall put on a dominant display to claim a unanimous decision victory over Argentina’s Yanina Orozco, and with it the Women’s WBA super-middleweight Intercontinental championship belt. In London, John Ryder earned himself the mandatory challenger position to face WBA ‘Super’ super-middleweight champion Callum Smith, from Liverpool, after finishing previously unbeaten Andrey Sirotkin with a body shot in the seventh round at the Copper Box.
Ryder had to be patient, but took his time to physically overwhelm the awkward Russian’s style, overcoming a bad cut to the eye in the sixth round, brought about by Sirotkin’s reckless head-first assaults. Ryder – known as ‘The Gorilla’ – could now be in the midst of world title challenges and could the next mandated opponent for Smith’s WBA ‘Super’ title. Ryder ought to get that opportunity in 2019, but could also get a call-up to face the winner of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Rocky Fielding, the Liverpudlian set to defend his WBA ‘Regular’ 12st crown against the Mexican star at Madison Square Garden on December 15.