As Anthony Joshua admitted himself after getting off the canvas to finish Wladimir Klitschko and unify heavyweight title during Saturday’s dramatic slugfest, he’s not perfect.
But his record remains so as Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) proved he just might be the perfect fighter to make boxing’s heavyweight division relevant once again.
In front of an electric crowd of 90,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium, Joshua scored a pair of knockdowns in Round 11 to finish off an incredibly game Klitschko (64-5, 53 KOs) by TKO in a bout that marked the former champion’s return after losing his trio of world titles 17 months ago.
“[I’m] 19-0, three and a half years in the game,” Joshua said. “As I’ve said, I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I dig deep. It is what it is. As I’ve said, if you don’t take part, you’ll never know the outcome.”
Joshua, 27, a rising star who won gold for England at the 2012 London Olympics, made the third defense of his IBF title and picked up the vacant WBA belt in the process. But he was forced to overcome severe adversity to get there after running out of gas and suffering a mid-fight knockdown — the first of his young career.
In a big-time heavyweight showdown that not only lived up to but exceeded expectations, Joshua closed the show emphatically after entering the championship rounds leading on two of three scorecards.
Joshua rocked Klitschko, 41, with a vicious right uppercut and sent him down with a flurry that followed. Klitschko was knocked down a second time after a combination against the ropes, but he continued to fight back despite being hurt until referee David Fields jumped in to rescue him as Joshua was teeing off.
“Both fighters gave their best. The best man won tonight, and it’s amazing event for boxing,” Klitschko said. “Two gentlemen fought each other. Anthony was better today than I. It’s really sad that I didn’t make it tonight. I was planning to do it. It didn’t work. But all the respect to Anthony and congratulations.”
Klitschko put forth an incredibly gutsy performance despite proving unsuccessful in joining Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield as the only men to win the heavyweight title three times. But he redeemed himself from his lifeless loss to Tyson Fury in 2015, which ended his 10-year reign on the division, one that included 18 consecutive title defenses.
After getting up from a knockdown in Round 5 with blood trickling from a cut above his left eye, Klitschko rallied to put Joshua on his heels to close the round. In Round 6, with Joshua beginning to fade, Klitschko caught with a right hand from distance that knocked him down for the first time in his career.
“This is boxing. I’m only going to improve,” Joshua said. “Sometimes you can be a phenomenal boxer, but boxing is about character and when you go to the trenches, that’s when you find out who you really are. In this sport, there is nowhere to hide. As I said from the get go, it will be a boxing classic and the best man will win.
“As you can see, I fought and I won. That’s how far I had to dig.”
Joshua outlanded Klitschko 107-94, according to CompuBox. Two judges had Joshua ahead (96-93 and 95-93) at the time of the stoppage, while the third had Klitschko leading (95-93).
Outside of the flurries that hurt him to open Rounds 5 and 11, Klitschko did well to control the pace and distance of the fight with his jab. He also didn’t rely on holding and leaning, as he has in recent fights. In fact, it was Joshua who initiated more of the clinches over the second half of the fight.
“As boxing states, ‘You leave your ego at the door and you respect your opponent,'” Joshua said. “A massive shout out to Wladimir Klitschko for taking part. I’m not going to say too much because I don’t know if he wants to come back and fight me again, but in terms of the boxing Hall of Fame and the boxing arena, he’s a role model in and out of the ring.”
Both fighters signed a two-fight deal ahead of the bout, and Klitschko appeared interested in a rematch when asked about it after the fight.
“Of course, we have it in the contract,” Klitschko said. “I am right now interested. [I need to] analyze what the heck has happened. I did enjoy the night. I wish I could raise my hands instead of being someone who didn’t make it and win the titles back. But congratulations to Anthony. He fought back and won the titles.”
Joshua used his time in the ring after the fight attempting to hype up another heavyweight showdown, this one against Fury, who gave up his titles last October to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues.
“Tyson Fury, where are you at, babe?” Joshua said. “I enjoy fighting. Tyson Fury, I want to give 90,000 people another chance to witness another lovely night of boxing. I just want to fight everyone in the division.”