Kubrat Pulev (16-0, 8 KOs), the European heavyweight champion (EBU belt) from Bulgaria. As a professional, he fights out of Germany in the Sauerland Event promotional stable.
2. Why should I care?
Because Pulev, 31, may become one of the best heavyweights over the next decade.
3. Why have I never heard of him?
How many Bulgarian-born heavyweights have you been tracking?
4. Who trains him?
Otto Ramin, a house trainer for Sauerland Event.
5. He's already 31. Why does he have only 16 fights and what about that low KO percentage?
Pulev was a decorated amateur, winning notable tournaments like the Strandja Cup, the Chemiepokal and the EU Championships. He represented Bulgaria in the 2008 Olympics and had his first professional fight in September of 2009.
He's been moved very fast as a pro, defeating notable heavyweights such as Alexander Dimitrenko, Dominick Guinn, Derrick Rossy, Travis Walker, Michael Sprott and Matt Skelton. Because of the relatively high level of his opposition, his knockout percentage isn't padded like those of so many other prospects. But make no mistake; he has real power and earned stoppages over Dimitrenko, Rossy, Sprott and Skelton.
6. Describe his ring style.
Pulev is a pocket fighter who will win rounds on account of his solid jab and power shots, specifically his right hand. He features a lot of upper body movement and is very spry on his feet for someone of his build (6'4 1/2" and 240-250 lbs.). He's not a typicial, lumbering European heavyweight. He does use his physicality to impose his will on opponents but he also has good agility and boxing skills. He places his punches very well and gets stronger as fights progress. He doesn't have one-punch knockout power; however, he has very heavy hands.
7. What makes him special?
Pulev has a lot of special attributes: poise, physicality and strong finishing instincts. His right hand can cause real damage. He's patient in the ring and won't force action. Defensively, he has excellent skills and will showcase a variety of moves. He can slip punches or roll with them. He can step back from oncoming aggression; he also ties up very well in the inside. His variety of defensive moves and his lack of predictable patterns make him unique in the division. In short, his entire package of skills makes him more than the sum of his parts.
8. What does he throw?
Pulev most often relies on a compact, stinging jab and a right hand. However, that description may not fully do Pulev justice. He throws four different right hands. He features a straight right hand thrown in between the guard. It's his shortest punch and very effective. He throws an overhand right against taller opponents. In close range, he fires a sharp right hook. But Pulev's signature punch is a sweeping right hand where he extends his arm out about 45 degrees from his body and slings it towards his opponent. He tries to place the punch directly behind his opponent's left ear. The punch comes from such an unusual angle that it's hard to defend; it's his most damaging blow.
Pulev also throws a left hook to the body on occasion, but hardly ever to the head. His uppercut is more of an idea than an actual punch, where he reaches with it and is out of position both offensively and defensively whenever he throws it. During some fights, Pulev won't even attempt an uppercut.
9. What are his weaknesses?
He can be very deliberate. He doesn't throw a lot of punches per round and conceivably could be outworked. He leaves his right hand down a little too low on defense and is susceptible to lead or counter left hooks. Pulev's also not a natural counterpuncher. Opponents who get off first and often could trouble him. He protects himself fairly well (with the caveat about incoming left hooks) but he doesn't always transition from defense to offense as smoothly as he could.
10. Who would trouble him in the division?
Obviously the Klitschkos would, with their high punch output. Wladimir's left hook would certainly cause problems. A fighter like David Haye could be very difficult because of his athleticism and his lead left hook. Slick boxers who don't remain in the pocket could frustrate Pulev, although I'm not sure how well they would land on him – they would certainly stifle his offense. (These fighters don't really exist in today's heavyweight division. This was more of a theoretical point. Think vintage Chris Byrd for a recent example)
11. What does he need to work on?
A real uppercut would be nice. Also, a little more activity, especially in the early rounds of a fight, would benefit him. I wouldn't mind seeing a lead left hook to the head every once in a while as well. As I mentioned earlier, he could improve his glove placement of his right hand although I highly doubt this will be corrected.
12. How far could he go?
I have no doubt that if not for the Klitschkos Pulev could win multiple titles and become one of the premier heavyweights in the world. With that said, Vitali will most likely retire in the next year, which will put a heavyweight belt in play. Pulev is still getting better and his timeline for a world title shot dovetails nicely with Vitali's imminent departure. Many heavyweights still improve throughout their 30s and if Pulev stays in shape and continues to add wrinkles to his game, he has as good as a chance as anyone in the division to become the top dog after the Klitschkos retire. And he won't win that award by default. He's a very good fighter right now.
13. What's next for him?
Pulev fights in September against fellow undefeated European Alexander Ustinov (27-0) in an IBF Eliminator for the sanctioning body's number one-ranked contender position.
14 Will Pulev win that fight?
Yes, by a fairly comfortable decision.
15. If he beats Ustinov, whom should he fight next?
I'd like to see him against Alexander Povetkin or Tomasz Adamek. I think Pulev's size, power punches and aggressive temperament will grind Povetkin down and stop him. He also matches up very well against Adamek, who doesn't have the power or size to win that fight.
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