Anthony Joshua has been built in to a commercial monolith -painstakingly and masterfully- by Matchroom Sports over the last four years and last night justified it all by giving us a real big-drama-show in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. More impressively, he did it by beating his first legitimately world class opponent, a man history will appreciate more than his contemporaries; former two-time heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
A string of predictable preparatory bouts preceded the main event. They did little to pique interest or elicit notable reaction. How could they, with what was to follow looming so large? But even the most optimistic viewer, perhaps still floating above the pool of cynicism that naturally gathers in one’s guts after years of false promises before the biggest occasions, even he could not have expected the battle we witnessed between the new king and the man he banished, possibly for good, from the throne room.
Make no mistake, Anthony Joshua was in serious danger of losing this fight. The first four rounds were a fencing match in which handful of spearing blows made their way through, punches delivered from huge men who know how to hit. Any one of them could have ended the night. There was a sense that Klitschko was steadily taking the reigns, growing comfortable with the pace. He picked and stabbed away with the kind of innocuous looking punches that gradually destroy a face if left unchecked. His 41-year-old body, leaner than we’ve seen it in years moved well, those blinding white boots of his bouncing succinctly.
In the fifth Joshua’s bullish strength told for the first time. A fast swiping left knocked the first bricks away and the rest crumbled under the blur of hooks and uppercuts that followed. Hand-speed in combinations; Joshua’s calling card. Klitschko careened forward and ended up bowing at Joshua’s feet in a visceral forebode of what was to follow.
It has always been said that Klitschko is delicate around the whiskers. Hit him right and he’ll go, so says the theory. Ever since those dark days in the early 2000’s, when he was knocked out by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster within a single twelve month span, his entire approach has been tailored to blast his opponents out from the safety zone. So what of we to make of what happened after he was put down by Joshua here?
Not only did he recover and finish the round but he went after his man in the sixth. Springing on still-strong legs he waved his left out, a momentary distraction that bought him enough time to lampoon a right hand through Joshua’s guard and onto his jaw. Joshua shuddered and folded from the impact and fell straight down. It was a moment that elicited collective shock, probably a drop of two from Klitschko himself. Joshua pulled himself up but looked to have been seriously diminished by his fall. Over the next five rounds, he seemed a touch disconnected as lethargy and pain poisoned his system while Klitschko looked to be comfortable completing a distance he had done many times before.
Had the judges been called upon to show us how they allocated their points it seems likely they would have awarded Joshua the win. Heading into that beautiful eleventh round two of the three had him ahead by two and three points apiece. I am delighted we were given a conclusive ending instead.
Whatever thing Anthony Joshua possesses that enabled him to do what he did next under the heat of 90,000 microscopes, if only they could bottle it up and sell it to the rest of us. Tired, unsure and with the result of his most important fight possibly slipping out of his grip, he took matters into his fists and killed any illusions Klitschko had of claiming his third world title. A straight right to the body, a cuffing left to the head, then a right uppercut that made Klitschko go jack-in-the-box. Joshua rushed forward, hurling his bunched gloves at the wobbly shadow of the confident figure from seconds before. Klitschko had to fall again. This time he was slow, timorous in getting up. Bravely he did and tried everything within his power to survive but there was no escaping the right uppercut and left hook that scrambled his brains shortly after, two direct hits that hurtled him down again for the heaviest knockdown of the fight. Unaccountably he managed to stand again and his legs seemed firm under him as he moved and weaved away from his intent pursuer who continued to launch blow after blow. The most exciting heavyweight fight in recent memory came to a close with Klitschko trapped in the corner, Joshua on top of him throwing punches and prepared to not stop himself. The referee did that for him.
It was a stunning rarity. Eleven hard rounds of justification for the man who must now be the biggest star in world boxing. He showed us just how much he wants to win when he steps into a boxing ring, something he has never been called upon to do before and could never have displayed against the overmatched quarry he has been slaughtering up to this point. He finished one of the three best heavyweights in the world did so in a way that revealed to us the depths of his character and ability. A lot of boxes ticked for one night’s work.