Can Anthony Joshua cope with the lack of fans against Kubrat Pulev?

The countdown is on for Anthony Joshua’s long-awaited return to the ring. The British heavyweight champion will defend his WBA (super), IBF, WBO and IBO titles against mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev at London’s SSE Arena, Wembley.

The bout was first scheduled to take place at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff back in 2017. However, Bulgarian Pulev pulled out with just days to go until the fight, and 36-year-old Carlos Takam stepped in to take on AJ on short notice.

It was revealed earlier this year that a fight between the pair had been scheduled to take place at the state-of-the art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20th, although the coronavirus pandemic put paid to those plans, and it has since been rescheduled for December 12th at the SSE Arena in North London.

It will be the first outing at the SSE for the heavyweight champion, who is the heavy favourite in the Joshua - Pulev odds. However, somewhat more worrying, for the first time in his career, AJ, who is one of the most supported boxers in the world, will be fighting in a mostly empty arena – something that has raised concerns from his fans and camp alike.

AJ thrives off big entrances and roaring crowds, but as we have seen in recent fight nights, like the bout between Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois at Church House in Westminster, the environment can be quite low-key and the ring walks are far from the explosive entrances that Joshua is used to.  

Whilst there still will be a limited number of fans in attendance, with London’s tier 2 status in the current government guidelines allowing a maximum of 1,000 people, Eddie Hearn has admitted that he is ‘extremely nervous’ about the fight given the circumstances.

"To think that Joshua will box in that kind of an environment in a couple of weeks is actually making me extremely nervous,” Matchroom’s Hearn said.

"He is used to fighting in front of 90,000 people with fireworks going off in an electric atmosphere.

"Can he get himself motivated and disciplined in the same kind of way, when you can hear a pin drop?

"But what you will hear is the sound and the thud of some of the fastest, most brutal hands in boxing landing on Pulev.

"It will be fascinating to watch."

Even with 1,000 fans, it is a far cry from what Joshua has been accustomed to. The Watford-native’s last four fights on home soil have been at Wembley (x2) and the Principality Stadium (x2), and almost a whopping 340,000 people cheered him on to victory against Wladimir Klitschko, Takam, Joseph Parker and Alexander Povetkin.

And, aside from the lack of fans, Joshua’s camp is also worried about the opposite corner overhearing their tactics in between rounds, due to the quietness of the arena.

“When you're in a world title fight and your boxer is in the ring, you can hear the other corner advising their boxer,” AJ’s trainer Rob McCracken said.

"It's part of the game, it's part of what makes the sport. You want to be careful with the advice you give him because the [opponent] and their corner will read off that.

“But the message between rounds had got to be right – not too much, just the right information for the next round.”

As we have seen, not just in boxing, but across all sports, the lack of crowds can have an adverse effect on the outcome, and Joshua needs to be fully prepared for the challenges that await him on December 12th if he wants to beat Pulev and move on to a much-anticipated all-British bout against Tyson Fury.