The Road to the Heavyweight Championship Must Now Pass Through Watford
The Heavyweight Division has always been the glamour division of the sport, the global superstars produced by Boxing, those that have captured the publics imagination have been the great Heavyweights such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and Mike Tyson. Sure, the marquee division of Boxing has been the Middleweights, currently and in the recent past it is the Welterweights enjoying the sports limelight, but no matter how skilled and how fast the men of these divisions are, it is always the big brutal power displayed by the sports biggest men which draws the public in more than any other weight class. There is something about seeing the biggest men producing brutal displays of punching power which mesmerizes audiences around the world.
On Saturday 29 April the world would see one such display of powerful punching, enough to make us reminisce of past Heavyweight punchers such as the aforementioned Mike Tyson and the man Tyson said one of Saturdays participants reminded him of, Big George Foreman.
Watfords Anthony Joshua took on the Legendary and future Hall of Famer Wladmir Klitschko infront of 90,000 screaming fans in Wembley(a post war record in Britain), England for the WBA and IBO titles. Joshua was already the IBF Champion, but having won the title against a very mediocre fighter in Charles Martin there was plenty of concern about his level of competition and his abilities as he geared up to fight a far more experienced and skilled Boxer than he had ever encountered before. Klitschko may have looked poor in his last two outings and was coming back from a layoff of almost 18 months since losing the titles to Englands Tyson Fury, but any version of Wladmir would be far better than anything Anthony Joshua would have ever faced in his career. How would AJ handle fighting Klitschko and how would Klitschko handle fighting AJ, a man who may be inexperienced, but who carries ferocious punching power and the exuberance of youth, 14yrs his junior and someone who was bigger than him, Would Klitschko have the legs and the passion to carry him through this fight at age 41?
We’ve all seen it in the past, the torch is passed from one older fighter to another younger fighter, in with the new and out with the old, as one era ends another begins. In the past we have seen this at the Heavyweight level plenty of times, Rocky Marciano announced his dominance on the divison with his 13th Round knockout of the 37yr old Heavyweight Champ Jersey Joe Walcott, the 22yr old Muhammad Ali shook up the world to kickstart his grip on the division when he forced Sonny Liston to quit on his stool and it was Muhammad Ali who was on the receiving end when an aged Ali having come back from a hiatus of 2yrs was pulled out of the fight at the 10th round against Larry Holmes signalling the end of Ali and the recognition which Holmes so richly deserved as he continued on his streak of 20 title defences.
So how would this title fight play out? The 1st few rounds showed a much more cautious Joshua than we had been accustomed to, clearly showing the respect Klistchko deserves and not jumping right in, each took their time feeling their opponent out and looking to set the traps they would use later in the fight. In round five AJ looked like a man on a mission, steaming in he increased the pace and took the fight to Wladmir, the end result was a knockout as punches rained down on the former champion and a cut was opened above his eye. The problem was though, by increasing the tempo of the fight and throwing so many big punches, the heavily muscled AJ had punched himself out and he was unable to continue to take the fight to Klitschko for the rest of the round as the Ukrainian got up from the knock down and managed to even recover from the shots he had absorbed. This is the difference in Boxing when you step up a level, you will inevitably find Boxers who can take your punches and it is there you have to come up with different plans to stay on top.
AJ gassing in round five was a forewarning to what was about to come, Klitschko, despite his age was looking strong again, and coming in to this fight relatively light by his standards looked to have paid off as he was back to moving around the ring, feinting his shots and moving his head, thinking clearly again. The setup was beautiful as Dr.Steelhammer pummelled AJ with a vicious right hand, the same right hand that for so many years ruled the heavyweight division and had knocked out over 50 of his opponents, the crowd gulped as Joshua was floored for the first time in his professional career, an almost befuddled look was on his face as the man mountain came tumbling down. Wladmir would not have been expecting it, but AJ somehow summoned enough strength to get to his feet, still gassed from round five he was now firmly in survival mode, luckily for AJ his fall meant the ensuing left hook from Klitschko just grazed him and when AJ got to his feet he was aware just enough to duck under another incoming left hook. Joshua was spent, it was clear for all to see, his arms were down, his head had stopped moving, he was on unsteady legs but he was mentally alert enough to know grabbing his opponent was a good strategy to kill time and conserve energy. Klitschko though, missed a trick, instead of sensing victory he decided against forcing himself in to continue his attack against AJ, perhaps wary of the wounded tiger having already felt Joshua’s power in the previous round. The last thing he would want is to get caught with an AJ counter but you would have thought the more experienced man would have smelt blood and gone in for the kill.
Joshua fought the next few rounds on empty and was getting out boxed, but his plan looked to be clear, he was trying to save himself for the ‘championship’ rounds to have another run at Klitschko, this is where the lesser experienced man outsmarted the more experienced man, Klitschko seemed content to jab and grab his way through the rest of the fight and win on points, something he had done so often before thus allowing AJ the chance to regather himself, clear his head, get his legs back and build up his gas tank. In round 11, we had already been treated to a sensational fight but the best was yet to come, Klitschko’s defense of holding his arms out, preventing AJ from getting his shots off fully as their arms entangled and forcing the grab position left him open to the uppercut, something AJ had noticed earlier in the fight when he had just missed with these shots, now though AJ was to strike gold, a brutal uppercut, much like his fellow Brit Lennox Lewis had landed on Wladmir’s brother Vitali so many years earlier found its spot, snapping Wladmir’s head back. More than any other division, because of the sheer size of the contestants, heavyweight boxing can be turned upside down by a single punch and that was what exactly happened here, against the run of the tide, with Klitschko looking like he would squeeze out a points win, the uppercut from Joshua changed the whole fight, Wladmir was rocked and it was now his turn again to experience the jelly legs and it would not be long before he collapsed in a heap. The champion in Klitschko got him up again but now AJ was the one who correctly sensed blood, knowing only another round was left he took the decision to go for it and continued his assault on Klitschko, the result was another brutal knockdown following a right cross and a left hook which sent the man giant Klitschko sprawling to the canvas, amazingly he was to get up again but the result now was inevitable, AJ knew the end was near and in he came again as Klitschko tried to dance around the ring, it was cut off by Joshua who pounded Klitschko against the ropes, the referee jumped in, the fight had ended, AJ stopped, gave Wladmir a knowing look of the sweet taste of victory and simply and calmly turned around and walked back oblivious to the fact he was surrounded by 90,000 raucous fans who exploded into delight.
Joshua was already the IBF Champion, but this fight acknowledged him as the real World Champion and everyone has been forced to sit up and take notice. AJ was forced to dig deep in this fight, to come back from a knockdown, to come back from being gassed and then to knock out a former great champion in Wladmir Klitschko shows he is not all about brute strength, he showed his heart and his character in this fight, AJ would have learned more in this fight than in the previous 18 fights combined. You can’t teach someone the heart and will required to be a champion and Joshua seems to have it, many questions were answered and he will now go from strength to strength armed with added confidence and experience. The rest of the Heavyweight division have been warned. Tyson Fury is still the man to beat and hopefully he can beat his demons and get back into the ring and we can get to see the showdown between the two.
For Klitschko, he only confirmed what we already knew about him, he is and was a great fighter, its easy to say had he been 5yrs younger he would have won the fight but even at 41yrs of age he showed how good a Boxer he is, he fell short this time with some questionable decisions but its easy to say that on hindsight and perhaps he will decide to call it a day after a long and illustrious career or perhaps he will want one last shot at the title and trigger the rematch clause in the contract, either way his legacy and name is firmly entrenched in heavyweight boxing.
For the rest of us, lets just look forward to hopefully another 10yrs of Anthony Joshua.