Writers and analysts across the spectrum of boxing publications and media outlets declared the heavyweight division to be back on Saturday, April 29, when in an 11 round thriller, burgeoning champ Anthony Joshua defeated Wladimir Klitschko by TKO.
Joshua, 27, has quickly risen to prominence in the sport, if not on account of the muscles on his massive 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame, for his smile and gentlemanly demeanor. And with an 18-0 record comprised of all knockouts, coming into the fight, his credentials weren't so bad either, although he had never faced an opponent of the pedigree of Klitschko, who has dominated the heavyweight division for nearly two decades. In Klitschko, Joshua was defending his IBF world title for the third time, only this time it was against a man who up until his loss to Tyson Fury in 2015, had gone 9 1/2 years without a loss.
Despite returning from a 17-month layoff, Klitschko looked good after settling in midway through the fight. He was relatively dormant the first three rounds, and neither did Joshua make much of a splash, as both former Olympic gold medalists took their time sizing one another up. Joshua was the more busy man, however, and the fact that he had never taken a fight past the 7th round did begin to show when in the fourth round Klitschko began to finally apply pressure. But before he could turn the tables and take control of the fight, Joshua came out roaring in the fifth, with a barrage of blows that sent Klitschko to the canvas. Within that same round though, Klitschko regained his balance and answered back, stabilizing and then overwhelming the younger fighter, who appeared to have punched himself out. In the sixth round, Klitschko really made a statement by putting Joshua down for the first time in his career.
By the eighth round, the unofficial judges had Klitschko evening up the fight, with a streak of three rounds leaning in his favor. Joshua appeared to be searching for a means to take the veteran's confidence away from him and began to do just that as they closed in on the final rounds of the tight contest. After a convincing 10th, AJ came storming into the 11th round with a second wind, prompting the commentators to comment on his youthfulness affording him the late rounds jolt. And with two straight knockdowns, and an early stoppage via referee intervention, the 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium were in pandemonium, having witnessed their man reign victorious in what was the most hyped up fight in the UK since Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson in 2002.
"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," said Joshua after the fight. "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."