Joshua could fight without fans in first title defense

Anthony Joshua’s first fight as the restored world heavyweight champion could take place in front of no spectators.

British boxing’s governing body told promoters on Thursday it hopes to be able to have shows back from July after months of inactivity because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Initially, though, Bouts are expected to be held without fans, meaning Joshua’s fight against Kubrat Pulev — the first since the Briton regained his WBA, IBF and WBO belts by beating Andy Ruiz Jr. in December — would surely be switched from its planned venue, the stadium of English soccer club Tottenham which can hold more than 60,000 spectators.

The Joshua-Pulev fight had been scheduled for June 20 before being pushed back to an as-yet-unconfirmed date because of the pandemic. A rearranged date of July 25 has been touted.

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Joshua wanted the first defense of his belts to take place in London.

Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, said his Matchroom Boxing organization was planning to stage “two or three” Saturday fight nights in July before returning with a bigger show, provided boxing and other sports get the go-ahead to return from the British government.

Hearn said he wouldn’t want to stage a fight in an enclosed location like a TV studio because he doesn’t see how it “does anything for the sport.”

“I want to build a fight camp, a different kind of environment, more dramatic,” Hearn said in an interview with the BBC. “It will look spectacular on TV. We need to dramatize it.

“It’s about taking over a hotel, testing all the teams, creating a sterile fight camp where no one goes in until we know they’ve had a negative test. It’s about creating changing room areas, ring walks. It will add to the story.”

The British Boxing Board of Control said if boxing was to return in July, there would be an emphasis on “minimal numbers” of officials and broadcast personnel. Medical staff were required at ringside, too.

Anyone at the events will have to have been in pre-fight quarantine and had tests for COVID-19. There will initially be a maximum of five fights in a show.

The BBBofC said it continues to follow advice from government and medical authorities.

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