Wow! Did that really just happen. What a night, what a fight, what a performance from Anthony Joshua as he painstakingly won a mesmerising fight against Wladimir Klitschko, a man 14 years his senior in what was a sure fire thriller of a fight.
It wasn’t easy for both boxers as the referee stopped the fight in the 11th round in an epic contest that saw Klitschko go down three times and Joshua hit the floor once.
The Brit added the WBA world heavyweight title to his IBF crown with an enthralling knockout win over the Ukrainian.
The new Wembley has rarely seen such scenes if ever as a post-war record 90,000 fans at the national stadium were treated to a battle of the brave, Joshua dropping the former unified world champion in the fifth round, before being put down, for the first time in his 19-fight career in the sixth round.
Joshua was hesitant from the beginning of round one and looked frankly like a nervous rabbit caught in the headlights. Klitschko looked like a man who had twice been world champion and was in fabulous shape for a 41 year old veteran of the ring.
It was nip and tuck by the two gladiators in the opening few rounds, I had Joshua winning the first two and Klitschko winning rounds 3 and 4 and it was looking close.
The Ukrainian swung a beautiful right hand early in the fourth that caught Joshua, who responded with the same shot later in the round, nodding at his rival on the bell.
Everything went ballistic in the fifth round though. The Briton unleashed a brutal uppercut which sent Klitschko to the floor as though he’d been hit by a bulldozer.
The crowd sensed blood, urging the Briton forward, only for Klitschko to show the heart which has made him the most dominant heavyweight of the 21st century. Hitting the canvas only egged Klitschko on and it was a red rag to a bull as he pinned Joshua to the ropes, turning the round on its head with some pinpoint brutal shots.
Klitschko looked astounded by it all at the bell and made it back to his corner with marks above and below his left eye.
The older boxer then came out in the sixth to administer an overhand right, a demolition job on Joshua that put the Brit down and not a million miles from out. In uncharted waters, Joshua answered the count and faced a stiff examination before the bell. I’m not sure Joshua knew what time of day it was but the 27 year old clung on literally to Klitschko. He survived the round but the Ukrainian was back in the driving seat.
This was a classic make no mistake, living up to the hype, heavyweight boxing at its most captivating and both boxers giving everything.
The pace dropped, it had to and round 7 saw Joshua getting his breathe back and getting out of the way of any serious Klitschko shits. though any fear of Joshua’s career-high weight slowing him down was unceremoniously put to bed in the 11th as his power unified the titles.
The sweat flew from Klitschko’s head as the telling uppercut landed crushingly, before Joshua hunted down his opponent to seal a historic win.
Joshua threw his arms into the air as roars rolled down the Wembley tiers. He had come through a masterclass with aplomb, while Klitschko too had answered questions, showing he remains competitive at world level, even at 41.
Klitschko will be disappointed to not finish the job when he floored Joshua and appeared tantalisingly close to reclaiming two of the titles he lost in his last fight against Tyson Fury in 2015.
At the time of the stoppage, Joshua was up 96-93 and 95-93 on two cards, with Klitschko leading 95-93 on the other.
Less than three years ago, Joshua fought here low down the Froch-Groves undercard, but 13 fights later he stood centre stage, seeking a win promoter Eddie Hearn said would make him “the biggest star in British sport”.
Through his litany of knockout wins there have been question marks. Could he withstand punishment? Did he have the skills to match a world-level fighter?
He answered emphatically, complementing solid technique early on with resistance when troubled and brutal power down the stretch.
This bout was televised by two networks in the US, only the third time in history such a deal has been struck, and the Las Vegas fight nights enjoyed by Lennox Lewis – the last undisputed heavyweight champion – look to be on the cards.
The wild celebrations of those closest to him underlined just what this meant. A man carrying a huge weight of expectation had delivered.
Such a steely demeanour hinted retirement in the short term was out of the question, and he is understood to still have three fights left on a contract with German broadcaster RTL.
He looked a different fighter to the one beaten by Fury, and markedly better than in his latest points win over Bryant Jennings, but the size of his task was huge. He was the underdog with bookmakers, with only George Foreman having won a recognised world title past the age of 40.
The trademark jab and power right hand were on show, as was guts aplenty in getting up three times. And, despite losing the richest bout in British boxing history – with an estimated £30m pot shared by the fighters, it is clear the man is up for it.
Joshua said after the fight: “I knew it was possible to hurt him, but I am learning round by round. I’m learning under the bright lights.
“I don’t come to box, I come to hurt people. With all due respect, I came to hurt him. At the end of the day, I figured out what I had to do and got him done. I’m coming back to Wembley. I’ll look forward to seeing you here again.”
“There’s been many a time in training when we go into the 11th round and I’m tired but I know I have to keep it up because I have to go the distance. I showed tonight that fights are won in the gym. It gets tough and boxing isn’t easy. You have to have the whole package.”
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