By Iain Dolan
Wembley 29th April 2017
What to say? An absolutely epic event that outstripped the expectations and huge pre-fight hype. A truly great occasion. Wembley was blessed with good weather for the occasion and the atmosphere was convivial as the thousands upon thousands swarmed towards the stadium. The undercard was never going to be stellar with such a massive main event but Scott Quigg and Katie Taylor notched routine wins and Luke Campbell recorded a more significant crossroads victory over Darlys Perez after shipping a few of the early rounds.
In the weeks before there fight there was much discussion amongst boxing fans (a very difficult to please bunch) about the merits of a stadium fight and the lack of view afforded by the nosebleed seats and it’s a valid point but most in attendance were revelling in the sense of occasion. They knew they could watch a replay the next day, this was all about being there and being part of the event.
The inevitable chorus of Sweet Caroline was fun and the 90,000 crowd was at fever pitch by the time the ring walks started. Klitschko entered in business like fashion but Joshua’s ring walk felt more like a rock concert with 15 foot, flaming initials and various other pyrotechnics. The national anthems were, as always, a terrible idea where at least one kills the crowd completely but the hiatus was temporary and the place was bouncing come the first bell.
After all the build up, all the talk and all the hype, there was a nagging feeling that the fight might turn out to be a bit of a damp squib. Wlad hadn’t been in an exciting fight in over a decade and Joshua was untested at this level. We needn’t have worried. After some tentative opening rounds, the fight exploded into life in the 5th as a big left hook from Joshua, followed by a right, sent Wlad to the canvas. Joshua looked for the finish but Klitschko decided to meet fire with fire and stiffened Anthony with a big left hook of his own and the rounds finished with Joshua hanging on and the crowd frantic.
Wlad continued in the ascendency in the 6th and dropped Anthony hard with a big straight right from which many would not have risen in under ten seconds. Joshua did and managed to hold and spoil his way to the end of the round but the tide had well and truly turned. Whether because of his age or a return to his cautious style, Wlad did not move in for the finish in the 7th, pawing the jab and looking to set up another big right hand. It offered Anthony the necessary respite to get his head clear though.
Joshua had ridden the storm but while he recovered, Klitschko was putting a couple of rounds in the bank and maybe nudging ahead on the cards. By round 11 the Joshua camp had decided they needed to make a statement and Anthony came roaring out at the start of the round intent on doing just that. An early barrage was followed by a huge uppercut, reminiscent of the one Lennox Lewis landed on Klitschko senior in 2003, and a left hook sent Wlad crashing to the floor. Wlad beat the count but another left hook decked him again. Again the brave Klitschko beat the count but the writing was on the wall now. A follow up flurry from Joshua and the fight was waived off with just over 30 seconds left in the round.
It was a fantastic fight between two huge men who put it all on the line showing great heart and bravery and no little skill. Should Wlad choose to retire he can walk way with his head held high with a spot in the Hall of fame nailed on. If he chooses to continue, we’d all watch the rematch. The respect for Klitschko from the crowd was apparent during the post fight speeches and well earned.
For Joshua now, the sky is the limit. There are flaws to be worked on and vulnerabilities to address but he could well unify the division if politics allows as you’d back him against Parker or Wilder. Wladimir Klitschko may have something to say on the subject yet, and so might Tyson Fury, but for now at least, AJ is the man.