Heading into the 12-round heavyweight contest on April 19 with the IBF, IBO and WBA world titles on the line, 27-year-old British boxer Anthony Joshua was the overwhelming favorite with the bookmakers because of his undeniable talent and surrounding hype. His opponent, Wladimir Klitschko, should not have been underestimated while on a mission to reclaim two title belts he held for four-plus years. Klitschko may be 41, but with those years comes great experience and smart game plans to frustrate opponents.
In perhaps the biggest heavyweight fight since Lennox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson to retain the world title in 2002, Joshua, the young British star, and Ukraine’s Klitschko, the regal former longtime world champion and future Hall of Famer, collided in a once-in-a-generation showdown. The fight took place at sold-out Wembley Stadium in London, England, with 90,000 sports fans in attendance.
Youth prevailed, and the odds makers rejoiced when Joshua defeated Klitschko by TKO in round 11. Joshua retained his IBF heavyweight title and won the vacant WBA and IBO belts with his victory. Joshua dropped Klitschko twice in the 11th round before the referee stopped the bout with Joshua punching Klitschko against the ropes.
Joshua had Klitschko (64-5, 54 KO) in big trouble early in the fifth round, dropping him with a combination. Klitschko gathered himself and rallied late in the round, landing a left hook and right uppercut to stun Joshua. The Ukrainian rode the momentum into the sixth round, knocking Joshua down with a straight right early and hurting him badly. This was the first time Joshua had ever been knocked down.
Klitschko was by far Joshua’s toughest opponent, but was coming off a disappointing performance 17 months ago when he lost his title belts to England’s Tyson Fury by unanimous decision in a major upset – and then had Fury twice call off the rematch.
Klitschko was valiant in defeat even after failing in his quest to join brother Vitali as a three-time heavyweight champion.
“The best man won tonight, and it’s an amazing moment for boxing,” Klitschko said in a post-fight press conference. “Anthony was better today than I. It’s really sad that I didn’t make it tonight. I was planning to do it. It didn’t work. But all the respect to Anthony.”
The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Klitschko, who extended his heavyweight division record by participating in his 29th world title fight, did damage in the sixth round with Joshua bent over and exhausted as the round ended. The pace slowed starting in the seventh round as both fighters had poured out tons of energy by this time.
In the 11th round Joshua (19-0, 19 KO’s) took complete control, blasting Klitschko with a right uppercut and he went down hard. Joshua continued to rain punches on Klitschko before landing a huge left hook that knocked him down again. Klitschko showed heart by getting to his feet, but Joshua hammered away at him along the ropes and referee David Fields stepped in and waved it off at 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
Joshua landed 107 of 355 punches (30 percent), and Klitschko landed 94 of 256 (37 percent). Joshua led 96-93 and 95-93 on two scorecards, and Klitschko was ahead 95-93 on the third scorecard. The fighters have a two-fight deal, so there is a possibility of a rematch if Klitschko desires to pursue it.
Joshua’s camp has expressed interest in a future bout with Tyson Fury.
After the slugfest, Klitschko was uncertain if this was his last time inside a boxing ring. Joshua and Klitschko put on a show labeled as the best heavyweight title fight in a very long time.
Who wouldn’t mind seeing another one?