Kubrat Pulev suffered the only defeat of his professional boxing career when he last challenge for the world heavyweight championship. This time, however, he believes he is smarter, stronger and, more important, that his opponent is weaker.
Pulev (28-1, 14 KOs), was one of the few opponents who managed to force long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko to exchange blows back on Nov. 14, 2014 in Hamburg. Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, "Dr. Steelhammer" won that duel with a fifth-round stoppage.
Two other notable Klitschko foes who were able to breach the Ukrainian's infamous defence and open the fight up were American Tony Thompson, who did it twice and was floored and halted both times, and the current WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua — Pulev's opponent on Dec. 12.
Unlike Pulev and Thompson, Joshua (23-1, 21 KOs) picked himself up off the canvas and finished Klitschko off in the penultimate round of a thrilling passing of the torch at Wembley Stadium in 2017.
However, Joshua's subsequent title loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. before regaining the belts in a rematch has Pulev confident there is a key weakness he can utilise to become champion.
"I have been watching his fights carefully," Pulev said, via Betway Insider. "He has a good style and he is a good specimen, but he has not shown any mental toughness.
"Yes, he has skills, but he hasn't shown the mental strength. This is something from within, in the blood of a man, and he does not have it.
"Whatever mental toughness he’s got, I know I'm the harder person. This is the difference — my toughness will prevail.
"This is going to be a mind game and a chess game for as long as it lasts — a master chess game — but the only difference is the end is going to come like lightning.
"I can tell the fans that I will expose AJ again and prove they have been idolising the wrong guy. I will expose him to the world for a second time.”
Pulev was also quick to point out that he has improved since that loss to Klitschko six years ago, while he feels Joshua has regressed since his starmaking retirement of the man who dominated the division for so many years.
"I learnt many, many lessons against Klitschko," admitted Pulev. "I had the wrong strategy; I didn't hold my distance and I made so many mistakes.
"It was almost like a comedy because I was unable to show what I was capable of doing to Klitschko. Let me tell you, that will not happen again.
"I was too green to be at world championship level. I wasn't ready, period. I could have gone 25 rounds physically, but I was too green to be on the big stage. But it was a learning experience and now I'm ready.
"The experience I've added over the years will be priceless."
Joshua recently claimed he would "steamroll" Pulev in what looks to be the champ's last remaining hurdle before he can finalise a 2021 date for a meeting with WBC titleholder Tyson Fury.
"He must have learnt that from Andy Ruiz because that's what happened to him," was Pulev's reponse to that interview. "Let’s see what happens."
At 39, this could be Pulev's final chance at the gold. And he is taking the opportunity very seriously, with a gruelling training regimen to be at peak physical and mental condition.
"I have been running 10km in a 50-minute range in the Pirin mountains in southwestern Bulgaria to prepare my stamina," he explained.
"I have also been climbing the famous ‘Tooth’ peak, which has really tough terrain and gets to around 2600m-2700m high, where the air gets very thin.
"I have also been training at a famous Belmeken Olympic sport complex up in the mountains. It was built for the old East German outfit that was looking for the best conditions anywhere in Europe.
"It's a high-altitude base camp away from the noise of the city, a place to build the mind and the body while isolated in the mountains. AJ said he will steamroll me. Well, we bring an avalanche back down the mountain.
"Physically and mentally I feel the best I've felt in my life. I feel amazing and ready. He can try his best, but I can assure him one thing: He may have seen some very good opponents, but he hasn't seen anything like me in the ring ever before."