A graduation ceremony unfolded at Wembley Stadium in London, England on Saturday evening, as Anthony Joshua, heavily hyped as fight fans craving a standout heavyweight able to rep the sport with familiar fury, sent Wladimir Klitschko to the mat twice in round 11, and then flurried on him, forcing the ref at 2:25 elapsed to halt the event, in a heavyweight clash which did indeed live up to the anticipation.
With the win, Joshua went from potential pack leader in a sport crying out for someone to fill the leadership role vacant since Floyd Mayweather exited the stage to THE MAN at heavyweight, someone who look and acts the part as a plausible baddest man on the planet.
Showtime, affiliated with Joshua, won the rights to show the scrap live in the US. HBO will show a replay of a fight that lived up to the billing at 11 pm ET.
There was for sure an ebb and flow to the scrap; Wlad, who showed peppy legs and was by no means shot, it was apparent early, went down in round five and we thought maybe his days were done.
But he hung tough, proving that all his talk of “obsession” wasn't simply self motivating emptiness, and sent AJ to the mat in round six…and the fight looked like Wlad's to win. AJ, though, got a second wind and they fought tight rounds down the stretch. But Joshua did what too few in this age do, and that is remove oft blind or inept judges from the equation, by drilling his foe with furious launches thrown with destructive intent. Joshua elevated himself in a manner most pleasing to folks who have been to such ceremonies before–he left no doubt as to who the better man was on this occasion. And of graduating…his win lifted the spirits of a slightly dispirited fan base who've seen #Maypac flounder, and PBC stall somewhat as a free TV entity, in a bid to restore luster to the sphere…Yes, Joshua's win infused the UK and the planet of boxing rooters with a jolt of optimism.
“It's about character,” said AJ after, as he made sure to laud Wlad. “I fought my heart out and got him out, that's what I'm about baby,” he said, before calling out Tyson Fury. “I just want to fight everyone, I'm really enjoying this right now,” he said. Props to him, he admitted he's not perfect, and will keep improving.
Wlad after thanked the fans. “London…I love you too guys. I hope you enjoyed the fight…The best man won tonight,” said the ultra classy hitter, who cemented an upsurge in his legacy with a ballsy showing. “All the respect to Anthony, and congratulations…you are awesome,” Wlad told the fans. He said there is a rematch clause, and will need to see what happened in this tango.
Klitschko came in beset by a massive overhang of question clouds hanging over his head. At 41, was the 64-4 hitter too far past his prime? Or would the 6-6 nullification specialist summon enough to dow the youn gun? AJ (entering at 18-0 with 18 KOs; age 27) came in with pundits predicting he’d wrest the baton from the Ulrainian born boxer, whose reign was a stranglehold, but not one that really helped build the brand of the sport. Wlad’s risk averse style didn’t excite the casuals, and proponents of the sweet science who hoped for a resurgence in the sport wanted the Brit to win in conclusive fashion.
AJ, detractors noted, his best win came against…who? Dillian Whyte? Dominic Breazeale? Even a diminsihed Klitschko would be a step or two up from those athletes, they argued.
They waltzed in semi open air, with a temp of about 52 degrees.
AJ was 250, to 240 for the elder, on Friday. (Video at the end of article)
In the first, AJ, also 6-6, a pro since 2013, clinched 30 seconds in. AJ scored some to the body and Wlad mostly stayed smart defensively.
In round two, Wlad (a pro since 1996), who’d been undefeated from 2004 until 2015, when Tyson Fury out-maneuvered him, kept the range he wanted early. A right landed right away. The AJ jab was stronger and more apparent. Wlad saw the one twos coming at him, and pulled straight back, mostly.
In the third, AJ started out more fierce. His body work brought out red on the torso. Wlad wasn’t throwing, he was just staying smart defensively.
In the fourth, a right by Wlad landed right off. Sharp shot. AJ then landed a right. Wlad was moving more, would that sap him? A right counter landed on Wlad. Did AJ win the last two thirds and win that round?
In the fifth, AJ came out hard and fast. Wlad went down. His left cheek was cut and there was 2:20 left. They were now fighting! Lefts landed by Wlad. AJ was hurting, and looking gassed.
In the sixth, Wlad tried left hooks, and missed big. Wlad was now confident, attacking. Down went AJ, off a right. He finished the round, though.
In the seventh, Wlad was stalking, sensing fatigue. Wlad was jabbing and his legs were peppy. AJ was talking at Wlad…AJ was maybe getting a second win. He was able to move, land to the body, tight round.
In the eighth, AJ’s right to the body was back. He jabbed to the body, too. Wlad then picked up the jab. One at a time, though, he stayed smart. But the jab didn’t cease. Wlad was busier with the jab, and took the round. To 9; Wlad started with the hard right, as per usual, then sought to grab. Wlad wasn’t gassed and AJ was hanging tough, too.
In round ten, AJ’s right to the body was present. Wlad’s legs were still spry! He jabbed, didn’t often throw the two after the one. Was he the busier man, and snagged the round?
Round 11, AJ had Wlad buzzed, off a right, then another. A right uppercut hurt Wlad, a left hook and clubbing right sent him down. A flurry, right upper-left hook, down again was Wlad. Then Wlad was up…but AJ flurried and the ref hopped in and ended it.
Again, this one was one if not one for the ages, and not the sort of busy-body all-action tangle that wins usually Fight of the Year, truly a compelling face-off. Wlad talked the talk, about obsession and being fairly confident that he'd rise above, again, and actually burnished his rep with a massive showing of heart and guts. As for AJ, yes, he's not perfect, but all due respect, he looked like he was crapping out, and then got that second wind and lived up to all who are hoping he can lead us into a resurgent era.