Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko both covered themselves in glory tonight, producing a heavyweight classic in front of a beyond-capacity crowd of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium in London.
Joshua showed immense fitness, poise and resiliency to rebound from a seemingly terminal crisis in the middle rounds and finish Klitschko in the 11th.
Klitschko took the centre of the ring from the get-go and backed Joshua up with regularity. The enormous Englishman was surprisingly comfortable on the unfamiliar back-foot, though. Still, there was very little clean work done by either in the opening round.
In the second, the 41-year-old Klitschko continued to push Joshua backwards, but also frequently bounced on his toes with an obvious freshness that suggested he hadn’t lost much in a 17-month absence from the ring. He did seem a little hesitant to let his hands flow, however.
In the fourth, Klitschko started fast, landing a pair of solid right hands that momentarily stunned AJ. But Joshua handled the first test of his doubted whiskers very well.
In the fifth, AJ followed Klitschko’s lead from the previous round and launched a ferocious attack in the opening seconds, badly hurting and dropping Klitschko with a savage but scrappy barrage. However, he seemed to punch himself out during the frenetic chaos that followed. Astoundingly, Klitschko subsequently landed a sequence of left hooks that seemed to stagger Joshua and the round ended with the home fighter struggling for breath on the ropes.
Joshua was still sucking wind when the sixth began and he soon found himself on the floor courtesy of a massive right-hand from the Ukrainian veteran. AJ appeared to be living on borrowed time, but he somehow survived the round.
In the sessions that followed, Klitschko pushed Joshua back consistently and seemed to be winning the rounds but, through his reluctance to pull the trigger, allowed the Watford walloper to replenish his energy reserves. This set up a remarkable and dramatic conclusion.
Most felt that a Joshua win was likely to occur early and that a longer fight favoured the vastly experienced Klitschko. That Joshua weighed in at 250lbs, the heaviest weight of his career thus far, only solidified this idea in the minds of the sport’s observers.
However, Joshua was the one who closed the show late.
Towards the beginning of the 11th round, Joshua hurt Klitschko with a right hand and landed a solid left-hook moments later. With just under two minutes remaining in the round, Joshua landed a massive uppercut eerily reminiscent of the one Lennox Lewis landed on Wladimir’s brother Vitali in another classic battle years ago. Like his brother did against Lewis, Wladimir somehow remained upright. However, he was bludgeoned to the canvas in the seconds that followed. When Klitschko rose, he was on wobbly legs. Moments later those legs betrayed him again as Joshua landed another hail of powerful punches along the ropes. Klitschko, whose heart has been questioned in years past, once again ascended to his feet but was chased into a corner by the younger Joshua and battered until the referee called a halt to proceedings.
It appeared to be a come-from-behind KO, but, taking away from the drama just a little, two of the judges actually had AJ ahead at the time of the stoppage.
You can watch the finish of the fight below…
This finish though
— Mark Wix (@Mark_Wix_GASB) April 29, 2017
With the win, Joshua adds the WBA ‘Super’ title and an IBO trinket to the IBF belt he already owned.
In recent years, ballyhooed heavyweight fights have all-too regularly failed to deliver. But tonight in London, Joshua vs Klitschko delivered on the pre-fight hype in spades.