Anthony Joshua was booed and told he will lose his world heavyweight title for a second time at the weigh-in ahead of Saturday’s fight with Kubrat Pulev.
The pair almost came to blows and twice had to be pulled apart by security with plenty of words exchanged between the champion and IBF mandatory challenger.
Pulev was first to weigh-in and tipped the scales at 17 stone 1lbs, six pounds lighter than his last bout with Rydell Brooker in November 2019.
While the Bulgarian had plenty of vocal support from his team at the back of the room, when Joshua made his way in he was roundly booed by the 39-year-old’s entourage.
Briton’s champion looked irked by the entrance and the continued shouting in his direction by team Pulev before he weighed in at 17 stone 2lbs, slighter heavier than his rival and three pounds more than when he outpointed Andy Ruiz Jr in December 2019.
Even before Joshua stepped onto the scales there was plenty of chat between the fighters, but that only increased once the Olympic gold medallist had officially weighed-in.
The duo went face to face immediately with a security guard putting his arm around the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO holder and yet he was still able to point repeatedly in the face of Pulev, who was happy to talk back despite both wearing face masks.
When they did finally separate, it was short-lived and seconds later they were back involved in another heated exchange with numerous security and promoter Eddie Hearn in between the heavyweights this time.
A bump of their fists appeared to be the end of a fiery weigh-in, only for Pulev to state: “Tomorrow I show you buddy. I like you, respect you but tomorrow I show you because I am better than you.”
Joshua responded by telling Pulev he could try before he imitated with his hand the veteran talked too much.
Plenty of the focus ahead of Saturday has been on a potential ‘Battle of Britain’ between Tyson Fury and Joshua in 2021 and while the latter has insisted on several occasions he is completely focused on this fight, this heated encounter reiterated he must have tunnel vision this weekend.
There has been plenty of respect between the two fighters in the build-up to the main event at Wembley’s SSE Arena, but Pulev has now made it clear the pleasantries are over.
This clash was originally meant for October 2017 but a shoulder injury saw the challenger replaced by Carlos Takam and a date for June this year at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium had to be scrapped.
With the coronavirus pandemic in full flow, the bout was pushed back to December and Wembley’s SSE Arena was settled as the venue despite O2 Arena initially being pencilled in to host the champion’s homecoming.
It has meant Joshua has had to bide his time in 2020 and his year-long wait to get back in the ring again is the longest he has ever gone without a fight in the professional game.
Previously his biggest period out of action was the nine months between his victory against Alexander Povetkin and his shock loss to Ruiz Jr at Madison Square Garden.
Eager to not allow another big blot on his copybook, the 31-year-old has taken a leaf out of old champion Wladimir Klitschko in his preparation.
Joshua was one of the Ukrainian’s sparring partners when he faced Pulev in 2014 and produced a devastating knock-out against the Sofia-born boxer. It remains the only loss on the Bulgarian’s career but the Briton is out to add a second and in spectacular fashion.
During Joshua’s time under Klitschko’s wing, he learnt the importance of sparring and it has resulted in the Watford man having double sessions in the build up to this contest; including as recent as Wednesday night.
Many would not advise getting in the ring 72 hours before fight night and while trainer Rob McCracken played down the risks, it perhaps shows the determination of the Olympic gold medallist to put on a show.
Earlier in the week promoter Hearn spoke about Joshua being “edgy” and that may have been evident on Wednesday when he used a 30-minute open workout to get his laces tied up and hands wrapped before another sparring session, which the media could not witness.
A trick up his sleeve? We will have to wait and see and for the first time since March there will be fans in attendance at a boxing event this weekend.
The relaxation of lockdown restrictions plus the approval of local authorities means 1,000 people will be in attendance on Saturday, but will they see a message sent to the rest of the heavyweight division or Pulev fulfil the wish of his late father.
Named after a Bulgarian king, the friend of Hristo Stoichkov has been trying to become a world heavyweight champion for 11 years and this seems to be his last shot.
Friday’s heated weigh-in has lit the touchpaper and ensured at least for now, talk of Fury is on the back burner.