Kubrat Pulev has denied making a racist comment about Anthony Joshua’s skin colour.
Pulev, who will challenge heavyweight world champion Joshua in London on December 12, said earlier this week that his rival had a “better tan”.
Pulev’s comments were heavily criticised and the Bulgarian challenger has now released a statement in response.
He said: “I would never, under any circumstances, allow myself to show disrespect to another human being on racial, ethnic or religious grounds.
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“That’s what I’ve been teaching my little nephews all the time. Each of us is born on this earth with equal rights, and skin colour is completely irrelevant.
“I can’t believe how my words about Anthony Joshua have been taken out of context. It never even occurred to me to discredit another sportsman because of the colour of his skin!
“Amongst my friends there are people of different races and ethnicities. They are all great and worthy people, as well as my very good, long-standing friends whom I respect and love.
“It is 2020 and I very much hope that people would stop this small-mindedness and that human beings would evolve intellectually to realise that the truly valuable human qualities in this world are not manifested externally, but through the power of the human spirit and the virtues we carry within ourselves!
“Therefore, if somebody has been offended by my words, I hope they would try to understand exactly what I meant by them and if they cannot understand me, then accept my sincere apology.”
Pulev made the comment after being asked about Joshua’s strengths.
“His strengths? I’d say he has a very powerful punch undeniably,” he said.
“What are his other strengths? His tan is better than mine.”
Joshua and Pulev were due to clash four months ago before the coronavirus crisis cancelled the bout.
The rivals will now clash behind closed doors at The O2 arena, unless restrictions are lifted and fans are allowed.
Joshua said: “December 12 is the date and once again the Heavyweight belts go up in the air and it is my sole focus to make sure that come December 13 they are in their rightful place in the UK.
“The O2 is the original lion’s den, I have a lot of history with the arena, but without the fans something huge is missing. I am really hoping that, safety permitting, we might be able to bring some boxing fans in, but we will have to see. I respect every opponent and I respect Pulev. I wish him well during his preparation.”
And Pulev added: “For a small country of Bulgaria to stand up for the heavyweight titles is a great accomplishment.
“This fight is for my late father and all Bulgarians around the world! I’m coming to London to seize the heavyweight championship of the world.”