- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Bulgarian heavyweight contender Kubrat Pulev is one win away from getting a shot at the title when he meets veteran American contender Tony Thompson.
They square off in a final eliminator on Saturday in Schwerin, Germany with the winner becoming a mandatory challenger for one of the belts held by Wladimir Klitschko.
Pulev (17-0, 9 KOs) is 32 already, but was a top amateur and only been a pro since 2009. He holds the European heavyweight title, although likely will vacate it since he probably won’t be able to make a mandatory defense against Dereck Chisora by the deadline because he is fighting on Saturday.
A potential shot at the heavyweight title, however, is much bigger anyway than defending the European title. Pulev said he is not concerned by Thompson’s tremendous experience advantage, which includes two title shots already at Klitschko (although both resulted in knockout losses) and back-to-back knockout wins against England’s David Price.
“That does not fluster me in the slightest,” Pulev said. “I am motivated to finally step into the ring again and get my job done. My aim is to become a world champion."
Pulev has not fought since September 2012, when he dominated previously undefeated Alexander Ustinov en route to an 11th-round knockout in a semifinal eliminator. Problems putting together the final eliminator, with various opponents dropping out, have kept Pulev on the shelf for almost a year.
Tomasz Adamek and Tyson Fury (who got a much bigger payday to face David Haye next month) both declined opportunities to face him in the final eliminator.
“I guess that they have fear of losing against me,” Pulev said. “Maybe these fighters see an easier chance to get a big fight. I have no problem with it as I just want to go toe-to-toe with fighters who have the ambition to go up against the best and Thompson is somebody like that.”
Thompson (38-3, 26 KOs), 41, of Washington, D.C., polished off Price via fifth-round knockout on July 6 for his second win against him this year. Then the southpaw quickly accepted the offer to face Pulev, hoping to land yet another shot at Klitschko, who is scheduled for an Oct. 5 bout against Alexander Povetkin.
“This is really huge for me,” Thompson said. “That would be third time’s the charm [against Klitschko]. My confidence is running high after having stopped Price not once but twice this year. It was also good to see that my body is still able to compete at such a high level. This fight is going to be over inside eight rounds with me being the winner.”
Pulev is just as confident.
“I not only have to beat him, I must beat him,” he said. “It does not matter if I win on points or make it an early night. Afterwards, nobody can talk about a worthy world title challenger without using the name Kubrat Pulev.”