By Thomas Nicholls
On April 29th 2017, 90,000, yes 90,000 fans descended upon the UK’s iconic Wembley Stadium in anticipation for what was billed to be – and proved to be, a historic night in British Boxing history.
Klitschko entered the gauntlet a dethroned and wilting 41-year-old, who had been out of the ring for 17 months since his defeat to Fury in November 2015. Still, the bookmakers had Joshua an ever so slight favorite and the fight took many twists and turns.
Fighting for the vacant IBO & WBA crowns, as well as Joshua’s IBF strap, this was a calculated risk by the Joshua team, who were beginning to receive smatterings of criticism by the Boxing cynics with their supposed “cherry picking” of opposition.
Joshua had been faultless on his way to 18-0 (all via KO). However, the temporary wobble vs Dylan Whyte and his questionable resolve at world level was more than enough to ignite huge belief within the Klitschko camp.
Throughout the crowded press conferences and the sold-out weigh-ins, there was an honorable respect between both men, no pushing, shoving or flying tables. Just two supremely confident and highly charged heavyweight handfuls.
Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina offered no yardstick in where ‘AJ’ was as a World Champion, this was his acid test and by the time Klitschko and his imposing and seemingly endless entourage had stormed to the ring, the bookmakers had changed their tune once more. We had a 50-50.
As anticipated, the early rounds were a cautious and cagey affair. Joshua accommodating Klitschko’s vast experience and IQ and Klitschko avoiding Joshua’s ferocity and power. By the end of round four, the 90,000 had quietened somewhat, it was a stalemate.
Into round five and the tippy-tap, feeling out process had been swept aside. Joshua barraged Klitschko to the canvas with a flurry of precise and powerful punches, Wembley rose to it’s feet once more. Plot twist – Klitschko beat the count and dominated the rest of the round.
Round six and Joshua had retreated to a cagey approach, Klitschko had regained the centre of the ring and began to take charge, overwhelming a tiring Joshua, who seemed spent of energy since his onslaught the round before. Klitschko simply could not miss with the jab and then sent a crunching right hand on to chin of Joshua who folded like a cheap suit.
Brother Vitali made himself accountable for what happened at the end of that round. “I feel guilty because I told Wladimir in the corner, please don’t be so active. I expected with such big muscles an athlete never to recover, I was surprised. If I hadn’t stopped my brother, in my opinion Wladimir would have knocked him out, maybe in round seven”.
Rounds seven to eleven went trickling by and the outcome was perched on a knives edge, both men were fading, both had been floored and recovered and neither man could gain a noticeable advantage. It was anyone’s fight and despite the dip in action, you simply couldn’t take your eyes off it.
As the bell rang for the beginning of round eleven, Joshua seemed revitalized, the demons of round five had drifted off into the arch lit sky and he began to stamp his authority once more. As ‘AJ’ narrowly missed the target with a swarm of meaningful hooks, he found the gap and landed a debilitating uppercut on to the chin of Wladimir, who hit the canvas once more.
With the Wembley faithful bouncing in anticipation down, Joshua ramped up the pressure once more and stopped Klitschko on his feet towards the end of round 11.
Both men were applauded by the sold-out stadium, Joshua had consolidated himself as a champion and Klitschko’s efforts in his last hoorah had captured the hearts of many, if not all.
The acid test was passed, the calculated risk had paid off and the world took notice of it’s new heavyweight king. It was Joshua’s night and it was Britain’s to cherish. A true fight for the ages.