Anthony Joshua came back from a darkening place in Wembley Stadium into the dazzling light of heavyweight greatness as he ended the Klitschko heavyweight era.
Already the people’s hero in this, his homeland, the young British lion gained a whole new planet of admirers as he stopped the legendary Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of an epic world heavyweight title war.
Both these heavyweight giants went down from sledgehammer punches in the first half of a brutal battle between two men steeped in mutual respect, Klitschko in the fifth round, Joshua hitting the deck even harder in the sixth
A right uppercut from hell halted Klitschko’s clever approach to victory in the penultimate round. He rose but the 14-years younger man who had looked exhausted for some time took an energy charge from that success and dropped him again with vicious left hook.
Again the Ukrainian regained his feet, the way a true champion should go out. But joshua anthony brand he lurched back into a torrent of blows and American referee David Shields rightly intervened.
Joshua, a 27-year-old saved from the mean streets by boxing only eight years ago, was now the unified world heavyweight champion by virtue of his 19th knock out in his first 19 professional fights.
Although he did not decide on retirement as the huge assembly saluted his courage as well thundering their acclaim for the home-town superstar.
The perceived wisdom had been that Joshua would win early or Klitschko late.
It was heading that way until the Joshua lightning struck. He had looked out on his feet since landing his first knock down on Klitschko and it was his strength of will-power rather than his physical conditioning upon which he called for his miracle.
Even after the referee stopped it he staggered back to his corner, bereft of the breath to join the throng in their exultatations.
WBC champion Denontay Wilder was also an intense observer at ringside.
In the dressing room corridors at Wembley and the tunnel entrance to the pitch notices are posted warning that anti-noise ear protectors must be worn inside the stadium.
They are meant to guard against the high-decibel levels at concerts but the largest crowd in the history of British boxing gave Klitschho and Joshua a fairly deafening reception as they came to the ring.
The hype generated prior to this night had been more electrifying than for any previous fight in this country and the 90,000 in attendance were super-charged in expectation.
The new, young and ever-smiling British world champion against the veteran Ukrainian gentleman who until recently reigned over the marquee heavyweight division had caught the public imagination even more vividly than Our ‘Enery Cooper’s tilt at Muhammad Ali nee Cassius Clay and Frank Bruno’s persistence in finally winning his world title.
Earlier forecasts of rain and single digit temperatures come time for the big fight mercifully gave way to clear skies and a relatively mild evening.
As night fell Wembley was transformed from a sunlit paradise into a vast electric light theatre-in-the-round with the illuminated ring almost beating at the heart of the darkness and twinkling photo-flashes from tens of thousands of mobile phones lending a magical air.
The two gladiators looked to be the calmest people here as they were interviewed back-stage before making their entrances.
Both had scouted out the lengthy walk to the centre of the pitch beforehand. Neither Joshua nor Klitschko had left the so much as the tiniest detail to chance in their preparations.
For good reason. Joshua was coming to the threshold from IBF heavyweight title-holder to potential greatness, Klitschko bidding to extend a glittering career by joining the elite pantheon of three-time world heavyweight champions.
The first growl from the stadium’s throat came as pictures of Joshua having his hands wrapped appeared on the giant screens.
There were cheers from a sizeable German and Ukrainian presence as Klitschko was shown limbering up in his quarters. But the home fans were roaring as all Joshua’s 18 knock-outs were screened in quick-fire succession.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, to whom Klitschko had likened Joshua in his body-building prime was among the many celebrities, as was heavyweight royalty in Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and David Haye.
There was bedlam as AJ embarked on the latest journey, pausing to pose on a platform between blazing effigies of those two initials. He then touched gloves with that familiar grin. That whole performance kept Klitschko waiting in the ring for more than ten minutes.
There was a further delay, accompanied by loud music, before the national anthems were sung by 2015 X-Factor winner Louisa Johnson – and about 80,000 choristers – and Natalya Klitschko, the singer-songwriter wife of Wladimir’s former world heavyweight champion brother Vitali.
Finally, Michael Buffer got us Ready To Rumble.
Surprisingly, Klitschko had weighed in lighter than Joshua, by a full ten pounds. Presumably the older man was looking for more speed but although the first feelers came from his left hand the more meaningful of the early punches came from Joshua in flurries. A reasonable start for AJ.
Klitschko appeared to be looking to extend Joshua into his longest fight to date and he needed all those expert defensive skills to ward off the first really two-fisted charge from Joshua. But he was not entirely passive, even though Joshua extended his lead.
Klitschko upped the ante at the start of the fourth, connecting with a two-fisted attack early on. Although Joshua steadied himself he was having difficulty landing cleanly and was out-boxed for the first time.
Now came the Joshua everyone loves. A barn-storming onslaught which lowered Klitschko to his knees for an eight count. But the old man wasn’t done yet.
Joshua looked troubled and alarmed at the start of the sixth. His instincts were correct. Even with a nick on his cheek Klitshcko looked the stronger and proved it with a huge right which dropped him on to the seat of his pants, then his knees. Joshua climbed upright but the Ukrainian was the hunter now.
Klitschko had been accused of being the jabber and grabber but it was Joshua who was holding – and gasping – now as Klitschko took control with his experience and ring generalship.
Joshua needed to find a second wind and he showed signs of recovery in the eighth. Klitschko’s left eye had been damaged earlier and was swelling now. But after more lefts from Klitschko the Englishman’s left eye was showing signs of wear and tear.
Remarkably the 41-year-old was moving more fluently on his toes. The crowd were roaring for every Joshua swing but by no means all were landing. Even so, enough got through to give him a share of my first even round.
Klitschko had been expected to dominate the championship rounds. Joshua challenged that theory with another early burst. But he was missing a lot now and was received a second warning for hitting low as his frustration grew with Klitschko’s jab.
Joshua had gone back to his corner shaking his head. But after a lecture from trainer McCracken he mounted a magficent do-or-die effort.
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