The transition of power was far from peaceful. Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko traded knockdowns and momentum Saturday as the new beat the old in the best heavyweight match of consequence in ages.
Joshua, the future, is now. But Klitschko, the past, made him prove he deserved it. And they delivered thrills you just don’t see in the moribund land of big men these days.
The Showtime-televised bout began with a prolonged period of both men figuring each other out — four rounds of mostly hunting-and-pecking, with Joshua taking three of four thanks to work rate but Klitschko coming out increasingly hot each round before winning the 4th with a patented straight right.
Joshua countered in the 5th by starting hot himself, jumping on Klitschko with a right/left combo and follow-up flurry that cut Klitschko and dropped him for the first time in, what, a decade? The pre-formed Klitchko of those days would’ve rolled over. But the man who became the best big man of his generation wasn’t finished. You might’ve wondered, given that he was coming off his first loss in forever against Tyson Fury.
No need. Klitschko got back up and dominated the rest of the 5th, turning a 10-8 round into a 10-9 won.
Then, in the 6th, Klitschko nearly delayed the future of heavyweight boxing with a knockdown thanks to the 1-2 that has been such a big part of his career. And he stayed in control for several more rounds as Joshua was on unsteady legs and Klitschko’s jab made it so Joshua could never get back into a rhythm. Joshua seemed to take off the 7th to regain some energy, but couldn’t regain control even in the 8th.
The two men traded two narrow rounds with not much happening, but it set up the massive 11th.
Joshua started fast with a right uppercut that rocked Klitschko, then dropped him with a right hand. When Klitschko got up, Joshua had another uppercut waiting for him, this time with a left, and a sweeping right put Klitschko down. Another flurry of punches once the wobbly Klitschko rose forced the referee to step in and award Joshua the career-best victory.
Klitschko has a rematch clause, and it was such a good fight it’d be worth seeing. But the truth is, a domestic showdown with the man who last owned the clearest claim on the true heavyweight championship, Tyson Fury, is even more interesting.
Joshua now is in a wonderful position. He’s a knockout artist in boxing’s most visible division, however little it’s impressed anyone in the United States lately. He’s got personality, looks, and now a great win in a great fight before a huge U.K. crowd. This fight got some decent mainstream press in America beforehand. Let’s see how much they talk about it once they’ve seen it.
And believe it or not, as massive a peak in his career this is, he’s got room to grow. The division has some attractive opponents, like Fury or Joseph Parker or Deontay Wilder, who could cement Joshua as not just the next big thing, but the biggest thing in boxing, period.
(LONDON — Anthony Joshua reacts after knocking down Wladimir Klitschko during a heavyweight bout at Wembley Stadium; Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)