It was like a scene from out of a gaudy Hollywood movie production. 2001's “Ocean's 11” to be exact, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
In it, a young Wladimir Klitschko makes a cameo and faces then heavyweight king Lennox Lewis, as a major heist is being pulled off in Las Vegas.
I'll be damned if one wasn't nearly pulled off in London.
As new unified world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua entered the ring in spectacular fashion on Saturday to face a 41 year-old Klitshcko, it almost seemed too gaudy for what was to be a mere formality. If we were to measure Klitschko by the last year in which we saw him– 2015, in a desultory win over Bryant Jennings and a dreadful defeat to “Fatman”, err, Tyson Fury, “Dr. Steelhammer” had nailed his own coffin.
The answer to the heavyweight division for well over a decade, seemed resurrected from the dead against Anthony Joshua. His gray apparel was emblazoned with the word “Obsessed”, which according to sources close Klitschko, characterized his approach to training after appearing nothing but dead against Fury. It seemed to imply that he was living with a simple question forged out of steel: “Why live when you can rule?” But after what unfolded and because he no longer rules- he can live.
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Klitschko obviously read the book of Joshua. And in so doing, went into the 11th round as if he'd mastered the 10 Commandments. Though he was then drowned in front of an ocean of humanity fervently in support of the 27 year-old blossoming superstar, Klitschko managed to snatch victory in defeat, while gaining the adulation of all in attendance at Wembley Stadium and boxing fans around the world.
Going into this bout, I felt what we'd see was a modern version of Joe Louis V Primo Carnera. Make no mistake about it, Joshua is a great fighter, and has the look of this era's most dominant heavyweight. What we saw instead, was more adjacent to Joe Louis V Max Schmeling I, where Schmeling schooled and gave Louis a long homework assignment after a classic 12th round stoppage.
Any heavyweight now eager to face Joshua thinking Klitschko (64-5, 53KOs) revealed massive chinks in the armor, should be warned: Klitschko just made Joshua (19-0, 19KOs) a scarier fighter. Just as Louis got better after being beaten by Schmeling, so too will Joshua; for Louis massacred Schmeling in the rematch because of all that he learned.
An initial, seesaw chess match of length and distance control ever so slightly favoring Joshua, turned into the kid pushing the adult off the merry-go-round in round 5. Joshua emptied the gas tank trying to get rid of the experienced Klitschko, who then reloaded between rounds. The right hand Wladimir nailed Joshua with in the 6th to drop him (and turned ringside partner Hayden Panettiere a crazy rockstar groupie of screaming joy) was perhaps the best punch the Ukranian all-time great KO artist has ever thrown.
Understand that Joshua was completely spent and now knocked senseless, while never having gone past seven rounds. He's in with a legend hell bent for redemption and is losing the faith of his fans. Not only did he rise, but he then rose to the occasion.
Though now being clearly bested leading up to the championship rounds, Joshua started jawing with Klitschko and reinventing himself. After regaining command in the 10th, Joshua completely set-up Klitschko for a massive uppercut that froze him, before two knockdowns and a merciful stoppage.
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Personally, I'd love to see Wladimir Klitschko retire, and hope Hayden Panettiere feels this way and encourages him to do so. He just competed in the best heavyweight fight since his brother, Vitali, valiantly lost to Lennox Lewis in June 2003. For anyone wondering why Klitschko and Lewis never fought again, it was because Lewis's wife, Violet Chang, lovingly urged him to do so. He listened. He had nothing left to prove. Neither does Wladimir, especially after making Joshua earn the torch and breathing new life into a suddenly glamorous division once again.
What we now know about Klitschko, because of this remarkable performance at 41, is that he would've been competitive against any heavyweight – regardless of era.
His movie is complete, history will probably judge it as a classic, and the director– whoever that may be, can go ahead and yell “Cut!” Emanuel Steward is proud.
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