Sunday, April 30, 2017

Big Fight Report: Anthony Joshua Knocks Out Wladimir Klitschko and Brings The Heavyweight Division Back To Life


By Peter Silkov

Last night at London’s Wembley Stadium (April 29) a post-WW2 record crowd of 90,000 watched, and were enthralled, as Anthony Joshua (19-0, 19koes) overcame Wladimir Klitschko (64-5, 53koes), and crowned himself the new king of the Heavyweight division. While the enigmatic Tyson Fury remains the ‘linear’ champion due to his November 2015 defeat of Klitschko, there can be no doubt that Joshua is now clearly the champion in the eyes of the general public. In beating Klitschko Joshua added the vacant WBA world title belt to his IBF strap, but most importantly, in this era of multiple titles, which can befuddle even the most die-hard boxing follower, Joshua gained victory with a truly championship performance.

Once the leading beacon of boxing, with champions who basked in worldwide acclaim, the heavyweight division has struggled with mediocrity and a lack of competition for the past two decades. Yet, Joshua’s defeat of Klitschko has sparked off renewed interest and excitement in boxing's heaviest division, the kind that some had doubted we would ever see again. It is not simply that he won, but how he won, and just as importantly, how Klitschko lost.

The fight itself lived up to all expectations, and then surpassed them. We saw a duel between two highly-conditioned athletes. There was skill, heart, and brutality, all the ingredients that make boxing such a challenging, exciting, and unique sport.

Wladimir Klitschko, so often maligned in some quarters, for his perceived lack of durability and heart (even after a decade long run of beating the best which the division had to offer) produced a performance at the age of 41, that should finally silence the insults. Although he was beaten, Klitschko displayed the kind of heart that many have for so long claimed he did not possess. Wladimir also displayed the boxing skills that he ruled the division for well over a decade, until his November 2015 foray against Tyson Fury.

The story of this fight is not that of a faded, former champion losing to a younger, but more powerful novice. To say this would be a slight upon both boxers. At the age of 41 Klitschko is a prime example of how a life of dedication to his sport can preserve an athlete's skills. Technically it was hard to fault Klitschko last night. What he might have lost in the freshness of youth, he more than makes up for with his wealth of experience, earned with a record breaking, 29 world title fights. Yet to the naked eye, Klitschko is as good as he has ever been. In last night's defeat, he produced one of his finest performances.

As for Joshua, viewed by some as a product of media hype and strategic match making at its best, in victory, he proved himself to have the kind of qualities that only the genuine champions possess. In many ways he is still a novice, after 40 amateur, and only 19 professional fights, however, he has revealed something against Wladimir that no amount of experience can give a fighter, the ability to comeback from the brink of defeat. As the legendary world heavyweight champion of the 1920s, Jack Dempsey, once said, “A champion is someone who gets up when he cant.” Last night saw both boxers get up from knock-downs when they seemingly should not have, but in the end, Anthony Joshua got up the better.

The fight started off cagily, with Klitschko looking sharp and showing good movement, while Joshua steadily stalked his elusive foe. Both men used their jabs well, with Joshua’s being slower, yet heavier, while Wladimir’s was faster and more accurate.

Joshua had a better round three, as he looked to exert more offensive pressure upon Klitschko, who was still looking to work behind the jab, and connect with harder pot-shots. The action really started to simmer up in the fourth round, with both looking to land more telling punches, but Wladimir being the more active and accurate, and his extra speed and mobility, gave him a distinct edge.

Photo: Round by Round Boxing
In the fifth round the simmer finally started to boil, as Joshua came out with the intention of trying to take control of the fight, and finally began to unleash his full strength upon Wladimir. Suddenly the former champion was having trouble holding Joshua off and a prolonged barrage of punches sent Klitschko to the canvas.

Wladimir rose from the canvas slightly unsteadily, and with a severe cut over his left eye but, what followed was perhaps the bravest and most memorable minutes of the Ukrainian’s long career. Despite being bloodied and hurt, and with Joshua trying to finish him off, Wladimir launched a fight-back that turned the round onto its head. Several sharp blows to Joshua’s face, including an uppercut to the chin, suddenly took all the steam out of the British fighter. The final half minute of the round saw Joshua flop backwards onto the ropes, where he was forced to take several punches before being saved by the timely bell ending the round. As both fighters returned to their corners, after what must go down as top contender for ‘round of the year’ it was Joshua, rather than Klitschko, who looked the more worse for wear.

Photo: Reuters
Joshua still hadn’t fully recovered by the six round, and it was Klitschko who was now the hunter, rather than the hunted. Midway through the round he dropped Joshua onto his back with a huge right hand. Although he beat the count, Joshua looked ready for the taking. As Klitschko pressed his advantage, and tried for the finishing shot, Joshua showed his own steely resolve and heart as he stood his ground, held and fought back, and lasted the round. Klitschko, perhaps feeling the effects himself of the high voltage action, also missed with some shots in this round, had they connected, may well have ended the fight there and then.

In rounds seven and eight Klitschko seemed more circumspect, as he seemed content to out-box Joshua, who was still showing the effects of the previous rounds. In the years to come, Klitschko may well ask himself what might have happened had he forced the action more in these rounds, especially in the seventh, with Joshua still looking vulnerable in the extreme. As he was to say later, Klitschko felt that he could bide his time and that the longer the fight went, the weaker Joshua would get. Certainly this is how the contest seemed destined to go at this point.

Photo: Round by Round Boxing
However, the ninth round saw Joshua recovering his composure and the strength in his legs, as he began to fight back again, rather than just surviving. By the tenth round the fight was there for either man to take, as each seemed to be both dangerous, and weary in equal degrees.

It was Joshua who finally showed that decisive spark that is often the difference between victory and defeat in such bitterly fought fights. Starting the eleventh round the aggressor, he put Klitschko onto the retreat with his biggest attack since that tumultuous 5th round. Wladimir looked to ride out the storm, but once again, could not contain Joshua. The courage of Wladimir’s performance on this night was encapsulated by a huge uppercut that caught him squarely under his jaw, and seemed almost to take his head off, yet this man, who has for years been labelled as ‘heartless’ and ‘weak chinned,’ kept his feet, and attempted to fight back. However, Joshua was relentless, and several more punches to the head finally put Wladimir down. Wladimir beat the count, only to be floored again, seconds later, by another brutal barrage of head punches.

Photo: Daily Mail
Once more Klitschko defied logic, regained his feet, and walked again into the firing line. Joshua showed himself to be a merciless finisher, as he drove Wladimir onto the ropes, and landed several more punches upon Klitschko, who now appeared to be defenceless. Referee David Fields (who did an excellent job throughout the fight) finally stepped in and called a halt to the action at 2:25 of the 11th round.

It can be a cliché to call a fight a ‘classic’ or ‘thriller’, yet this match was worthy of such a label. While it did not contain the full-on ferocity of an Ali vs Frazier, or Bowe vs Holyfield, it was a heady cocktail of skills, mixed with violently swaying fortunes, and underlined with a slam bang brutality, plus as much heart as you can rightfully demand from two courageous warriors. This match was a throwback to the great days of the division. The hope is that we also saw a promise of things to come in the future.

Photo: Irish Mirror
As refreshing as the action inside the ring, was the mutual respect from both men during the build up, and then the aftermath of their classic fight. This was a match that has really underlined that boxers can treat their opponents with old fashioned humility and respect, and still attract the crowds to watch them fight. When the top fighters meet in the ring there should be no need for the kind of crude, and often distasteful, build-ups which so many recent fights have seen.

The mutual respect continued in the aftermath of the contest. With both men voicing their respect for one another, and recognising what they had both put each other through.

Joshua was impressively eloquent in the ring, straight after the hardest won victory of his career so far.

I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I got a bit emotional because I know I have doubters. I’m only going to improve. Sometimes you can be a phenomenal boxer, but boxing is about character. When you go into the trenches, that’s when you find out who you really are. I came out and I won, that’s how far I had to dig. I came back and I fought my heart out. As boxing states, 'you leave your ego at the door and you respect your opponent.' A massive shout out to Wladimir Klitschko for taking the fight. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t know if he wants to come back and fight me. He’s a role model in and out of the ring.”

The defeated Klitschko was upbeat in his post-fight press conference interview.

I think we both did great, Joshua and I… I think we did a lot for the sport, the way we promoted this fight. How we respectively treated each other and it was a great night. A great night for boxing, for the fans, and it was exciting, an exciting fight. So I am happy about that and that’s what I’m taking with me. You will probably be surprised by my statement, but I don’t feel like someone who has lost. I feel tonight we all won, even if I didn’t get the belts, but I don’t feel that I lost, my name, my reputation, my face. I definitely gained rather than lost. Even if the result was not on my side.”

Photo: Global Publisher

While there is no doubt that this is not the golden era of the 70s, or even the 80s, revisited, this is a new era for the heavyweight division that promises to be exciting while it lasts. For the first time in many years we have a collection of young heavyweights with diffuse characters and differing styles and skills, and now one has emerged from them all with the potential to be an outstanding champion.

It is perhaps a too easy after such a fight, to get a little carried away, and over enthusiastic about the future. Yet historically, boxing has always thrived during the times when it has had an exciting heavyweight division. In Anthony Joshua, the division has the promise of an extremely marketable, and charismatic, champion whose strength and punching power is tinged with a rawness and vulnerability. As a fighter, he is everything boxing fans want to see from their heavyweight champion, something which can be pared down into one simple word. Excitement.


Joshua can only improve from last night's experience, and he will need to improve if he is to clean up the division, and remain champion. Although he showed great qualities by coming back from the brink of defeat like he did against Wladimir, there are only a limited number of times that a fighter can turn defeat into victory, before eventually they are finally faced by the reality of defeat itself. Joshua needs to improve his mobility, and his defence, and look at not coming into fights as heavily muscled as he was against Klitschko. That said, despite his weaknesses, Joshua still looks to have an edge over his main rivals, Joseph Parker, Deontay Wilder, and Luis Ortiz. The main threat to Anthony looks to be from Tyson Fury, who if he can get into physical and mental shape again, has the kind of size, speed, and style which could give Joshua fits. Joshua has proved now that he can end a fight at any time between the first and last bell of a contest, so even if Tyson Fury was to out-box him for 10 rounds, it would only take one punch to turn the contest onto its head.

Little wonder then that a proposed Joshua vs Fury match is already being talked about as developing into the biggest fight in British boxing history. It could also be the biggest fight the division has seen for decades. It would be a fascinating clash of different characters and fighting styles. The knockout bomber against the elusive boxer.

Ironically, the rebirth of boxing’s once most popular division, is taking place in the country which has over the past 100 plus years been ridiculed for its ‘horizontal heavyweights.’ The heavyweight division has returned to the place where boxing was born and a new era has began not just for the division itself, but the sport as a whole.

The indications are already that Anthony Joshua’s next fight may well be a rematch with Wladimir. No one who saw last night's fight would make any protest against such a match taking place.

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