By Craig Bradshaw
Rarely do massively hyped fights live up to their billing, but Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday had the record breaking crowd of 90,000 watching live in Wembley Stadium off their seats.
Ukranian legend Klitschko came into this fight as a slight underdog, despite an illustrious career of 68 fights and 64 wins. His record shows more successful heavyweight title defences in his career than any boxer in history aside from Joe Louis, and he has effectively dominated the heavyweight division for the last decade. His previous fight had been a defeat to Tyson Fury, and some claimed that at 41, he was a fading force. Joshua, on the other hand was British boxing’s rising star. Still in the early stages of his career having only fought 18 professional bouts, his record was perfect. 18 wins, with every one of those 18 coming by way of knockout. The vacant WBA title was on the line in this fight, along with Joshua’s IBF title.
The first two rounds were comparatively measured from the two fighters, as they felt their way around each other, only landing a few clean shots of note. The third and fourth rounds saw more aggression from Joshua, with both fighters landing heavy blows on each other, as Klitschko countered expertly whenever Joshua’s flurry of punches led to gaps in his defences. The older fighter was expertly using Joshua’s aggression against him, but couldn’t avoid having to weather heavy shots along the way.
Having edged out a slight lead on most score cards, Joshua then exploded into life in the fifth round. Klitschko seemed taken aback by the ferocity of Joshua’s change of speed, as a powerful right hook from the young Briton split open the eyebrow of Klitschko. Dazed and bloodied, he gamely attempted to protect himself from the torrential blows that followed, but the clubbing right and left hands of Joshua sent the Ukranian crashing to the floor. The crowd cheered with delight, as it seemed that Joshua had added another knockout to his record and claimed the scalp of one of the modern era’s greatest heavyweights. Klitschko however, had other ideas.
Having managed to get back on his feet, the former champion stumbled towards Joshua, seemingly ripe for the taking. But, as the Briton charged forward swinging wildly in search of the punch that would end it, he almost found exactly that – in the form of a devastating right hook from Klitschko which impacted Joshua’s jawline with the sort of force that might uproot a small tree. Suddenly, the fight was turned on its head as Joshua began to wobble and stumble across the ring on unsteady legs. With his head clearing, Klitschko seized the initiative, forcing his opponent back onto the ropes with a barrage of punches, leaving Joshua clinging on desperately as he tried to avoid being knocked to the floor.
Having held on to hear the bell signalling the end of the round, Joshua had a moment to regroup. But, as he walked out for the sixth, it was clear that his legs were still unsteady. His opponent wasted no time in capitalising, unlashing an onslaught that was capped off by a thunderous right hand to the jaw of Joshua, who crumpled onto the canvas. Slowly getting to his feet, the younger fighter beat the count, before once again clinging on for dear life as Klitschko sought to end the match. Once again though, he hung on to hear the bell, and over the next two rounds, regained his composure.
After a more guarded few rounds in which the Ukranian fighter picked out intermittent accurate, well-timed shots to gain a slight lead on the scorecards on the commentary team, we were soon into the eleventh round, and Joshua seemingly would need to win both to have a good chance of taking victory. In the end, he would only need to win one.
For the second time in the fight, Joshua came out of his corner like a man on a mission, driving his opponent back with sheer aggression and power. Throwing a combination of big rights and lefts, he once against sent Klitschko sprawling, but stoically, his opponent rose again, refusing to be beaten. The referee signalled for the fight to resume, and Joshua accepted the invitation with relish, ploughing in with more huge hooks and uppercuts. Klitschko was swaying about on the ropes like a man stuck in a gale, as punch after punch found its mark. One huge left hook from Joshua connected with his jaw, and once again the Ukranian was laid out on the canvas. Nobody would have blamed him if he had stayed there as the referee counted him out, but with incredible spirit, Klitschko struggled back to his feet for a third time. His courage could not change the momentum however, and the pendulum had already swung too far. Forcing the battered old warrior onto the ropes once more, Joshua waded in with another flurry of punches, before the referee finally stepped between them, stopping the fight and protecting Klitschko from the dangers posed by his own courage.
In front of a roaring crowd, Anthony Joshua held his arms aloft, having fought a magnificent fight, scored yet another knockout and announced himself as a global star of boxing.
From drug offender to champion
Life has not always been so sweet for Anthony Joshua, writes Ella German.
Born in Watford in 1989, he had a troubled youth. When he was 16 he swung a fellow footballer player over his shoulder with his arm wrapped around his neck — and was cautioned by police for assault. And after repeated fights and drug offences he ended up on remand in Reading.
But boxing, or more specifically Finchley Amateur Boxing Club, saved him. Joshua repaid all those who believed in him by winning Olympic gold for Britain in 2012 as a 22-year-old when he defeated Italian Roberto Cammarelle for the super heavyweight title in London.
Saturday’s fight against against Wladimir Klitschko for the unified world heavyweight title — Klitschko held the IBO title and Joshua the IBF and WBA titles — was undoubtedly the fight of his life. He has came a long way.