Kubrat Pulev came to fight against the heavyweight champion Saturday, never backing down, roughing him up, suffering some heavy blows and coming right back to land some big shots of his own. It was exactly what we’ve been hoping someone might do to Wladimir Klitschko someday.
Klitschko withstood it all, and responded to every second of Pulev success with even more punishing blows. He knocked out Pulev in the 5th round with a crushing left hook that’s a Knockout of the Year contender.
Make no mistake, Klitschko (above left) was the better, bigger, more experienced athlete here. He should’ve won. But ever since he suffered his last knockout loss back in 2004, Klitschko has been fairly unstoppable. Only one man, in 2005, Samuel Peter, even challenged him. Klitschko has perfected his style — jab, grab, big right hand, in whatever order — such that his chin woes of old have been purely academic. Nobody has done what they’ve needed to do in a sustained way to make the academic a reality.
Pulev (above right) did. It’s not that he fought a perfect fight (his oddly meandering right hand did him no favors), but he did what he needed to do to figure out how Klitschko reacts to someone who came after him in a way few have. Pulev was winning the 1st round, only for Klitschko to put him down with a left hook, then put him down again with more of a shove.
Pulev won the 2nd round on some people’s cards in a clinch-filled stanza. He got caught with a big right hand in the 3rd, though, that immediately bruised his eye. Another semi-shove led to another knockdown.
Yet Pulev kept putting on pressure. In the 4th, he landed a left/right combination that might’ve shaken the Klitschko of old. In the 5th, he landed another couple quality shots — and then came the massive left hand KO.
As we noted in advance, Pulev was the most qualified opponent in the division Klitschko hadn’t yet defeated. There may come a day where a younger challenger proves himself worthy of Klitschko, and would have an even better chance of beating him; a Deontay Wilder, an Anthony Joshua. But after tonight, we know plenty more about what Klitschko might do if he gets a real challenge. And it makes him losing seem all the more implausible.