From the moment the final blows of a magnificent fight rippled down Anthony Joshua’s 27-year-old arms on to the bleeding and battered head of the 41-year-old Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round, there could be no more arguments about who is the best heavyweight in the world.
It was not just that Joshua, unbeaten in all 19 professional fights, had added the WBA “super” version of the title to his own IBF belt, or even that he had stopped one of boxing’s finest old champions. What secured the winner’s acclaim, surely, by everyone but the WBC champion, Deontay Wilder (who sat ringside) was that he got up from a right cross in the sixth that would have felled an elephant. Probably unsure what city he was in, he fought on through a daze to bring the contest to the most dramatic conclusion, and will rule until someone of equal stature unseats him. There is nobody of that calibre on the horizon.
There was little in it as they came out for the 11th round. Klitschko, perhaps, had an edge, using every trick garnered over 68 fights, 29 of them as champion in an 11-year stretch, to bring anxiety to his young opponent’s work. That changed in the crack of a single uppercut to the Ukrainian’s jaw, which all but toppled him. A left hook and a grazing right put him down for a count in his own corner and Joshua went for the kill, calmly and with fixed purpose. He sent him over like a dead tree with a left hook, yet somehow Klitschko got up for more.
When Joshua moved in with rapacious instincts to let loose that volley of pain in his own corner, his trainer, Robert McCracken, was screaming himself hoarse – along with the rest of the stadium.
Joshua celebrated in the ring with a message that sounded like a recruiting call for all the lost youth he likes to represent: “If you don’t take part, you fail. Boxing is about character. There is nowhere to hide. No complications about boxing. Anyone can do this. Give it a go. You leave your ego at the door. Massive respect to Klitschko. He’s a role model in and out of the ring and I’ve got nothing but love and respect for anyone who steps in the ring. London, I love you. Can I go home now?”
The response from the 90,000 present was rapturous – as it was for Klitschko when he took the microphone to acknowledge: “The best man won. It’s really sad I didn’t make it tonight. But all respect to Anthony.”
In the 10 minutes or so Klitschko had to wait in the ring while the champion sashayed through the crowd, the Ukrainian bounced to Joshua’s music. He did not dance to his tune for all of the fight but Joshua had his measure when it mattered.
Joshua had to call up all the things he had learned – about boxing off the lines, moving in and out, waiting for gaps – but Klitschko had that hard-wired already. He had 50 fights on the young champion, and 14 years. Still, the mutual respect of the buildup carried over to the combat, and neither man took early risks.
Klitschko, always marginally fancier than his elder brother Vitali, got up on his toes and moved into hitting range in the third, looking to pressure his opponent, but Joshua kept his shape and composure.