AJ v Pulev: Meet the Sparring Partners


As we head into a massive fight week for WBA, IBF and WBO Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua, his training camp manager David Ghansa, has given Sky Sports a list of all the sparring partners the champion has been using to prepare for his IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev. 


It’s an interesting list that gives useful insight into the preparation that’s going into the huge fight in London this weekend. 


I will go through the list one by one in order to assess what each brings and how effective they are likely to be in replicating what AJ will be coming up against this Saturday night. 


Martin Bakole 15-1 


The Congolese heavyweight is 6 ft 6 in (198 cm) and trains in Airdrie, Scotland with trainer Billy Nelson. Best known to U.K. fans for his losing effort to former cruiserweight contender Micheal Hunter at the York Hall in 2018, Bakole has since gone 4-0 and will be competing alongside AJ on Saturday nights card. 

Although he is not yet world level he has respectable wins over Kevin Johnson and Marius Wach, both of whom praised his ability. He is one of three men to stop the vetran Johnson (Joshua being one of the others) and despite having faced the likes of Wladimr Klitschko, Wach described Bakole as the best fighter he has faced. 


His contribution to the camp will be his physical size and intensity. Bigger than Pulev he will be able to give Joshua the physical preparation he needs heading into this bout. His upright style and high guard are also fairly similar to Pulev, although less refined. I assume Rob McCracked has used Bakole to ensure AJ can still land his desired shots while under the physical pressure. 


Bryant Jennings 24–4


Jennings is a vetran campaigner who has become a staple of the British sparring circuit. Having fought the likes of Wladimir Klitschko, Louis Ortiz and Joe Joyce  as well as sparring the likes of Derek Chisora there are very few things Jennings hasn’t seen inside the ropes. 


A well educated boxing mind in a smaller physical frame (6”3, 225lbs) I assume Jennings has been used mostly for the tech spar elements of the camp. Working on fine tuning technique and distance management. Jennings will be good getting AJ to hone in on the intricacies of the game plan. 


AJ, Stewart, Jennings and Adeleye

Hosea Stewart 0-0


Hosea Stewart is one of the less familiar names added on to the list. An amateur with the Wolverhampton gym his sparring seems to be as much for his benefit as Joshua’s. Added at the behest of Team AJ coach Joby Clayton, he said of the spars; 


"He wanted to give Hosea a taste of what his own life could be about if he is willing to do the work that it takes to be a champion.”


Fabio Wardley 10-0


English Champion Fabio Wardley is on a hot streak at the moment coming off his back to back wins over Simon Valily and Richard Lartey. Managed by former Joshua foe Dillian Whyte, Wardley is a more recent addition to the camp. 

Physically he is a very good approximation of Kubrat Pulev. Although not nearly as nuanced or well schooled as the Bulgarian, his stature, stance and style draw clear comparisons. I think his being brought in at the end of the camp for Joshua to try and put his whole game plan together and grow in confidence as he can feel all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. 


Frazier Clarke 0-0


Frazier Clarke is one of the country's best and most accomplished amateur boxers. 2018 Commonwealth Gold, 2017 European Silver, 2018 and 2014 European Gold, 2012, 2014 ABA silvers and 2015 ABA Gold. 


Narrowly missing out on both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics to Johusa and Joyce respectively he was a favourite to compete at the 2020 games (now Tokyo 2021) and he has been a stablemate  of AJ’s for the duration of his pro career.

Clarke however, is not just included for continuity. He is a 6”6 technician who is extremely skilled and nuanced. He will be able to replicate Pulev’s European style and ask Joshua difficult technical questions in the spars. 


Gerald Washington 20-4-1 


A former NFL player for the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, Washington is another physical specimen. 

6”6 with an 82 inch reach he has fought; Wilder, Miller, Kownacki, Helanius and Martin. 


Experienced and physically capable I’m not sure what Washington can offer that the likes of Bakole and Jennings can’t. That said, if McCracken has been changing out sparring partners mid spar putting Washington in for a few intense rounds may just give Joshua the variety he needs to win come Saturday. 



David Adeleye 4-0 


Powerful, raw and explosive Adeleye was brought in by team Tyson Fury to replicate the wild swinging bombs of Deontay Wilder in anticipation for their showdown in February. 


Although technically he has very little in terms of being able to imitate Pulev I feel he will have gained a lot from sparring Johusa as he embarks on his own career. That considered I think his biggest asset to AJ is his insight, the cross pollination of information that comes with his association with the other camp, looking forward to the much anticipated 2021 showdown. 


Christian Thun 6-0


Thun has been brought in specifically as a result of his physical dimensions. 6”8 ½, Ghansa explained; “AJ said to me, 'Get someone taller than me’, Even though Pulev is shorter, AJ wanted a wildcard - someone tall with a good jab” 

Kubrat Pulev’s best punch is his jab and getting inside of it is going to be key for Joshua, thus having Thun is in my opinion a well calculated move. If you learn how to evade and counter a longer stronger jab, when Pulev throws on Saturday the counters will seem even more accessible. 


Delicious Orie 0-0


Orie is another Wolverhampton prospect who is a decorated amateur on Team GB who first aided Joshua as a sparring partner last year prior to the Ruiz Jr rematch. 


Peter Kadiru 10-0


The former Olympic Youth champion and current German champion was sent over by his manager Bernd Boente, who made his name as chief aid to Wladimir Klitschko. 

6”4 and ½ he is almost identical in dimensions and background to Pulev, only 16 years his junior. Another fighter with a classical European style he will be an asset to McCracken’s endeavours to prepare AJ. 


———————Conclusion———————


I believe this list gives us a unique perspective into the planning that has gone into the AJ camp, the tactical decisions that have been made to try and engineer a victory this Saturday night. 


It is clear team Joshua are taking Kubrat Pulev extremely seriously and have adopted a no expense spared outlook for ensuring Johusa is properly prepared. They have brought in a parade of interesting and unique heavyweights all of whom offer an ever so slightly different style, but all of whom have a specific purpose.  


Ewan Breeze for SimBoxx. 

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