Wembley roars for young lion Anthony Joshua
Wladimir Klitschko magnanimous in defeat after a heavyweight clash for the ages
The entire fight played out vicariously through the crowd, Wladimir Klitschko venerable and aging, Anthony Joshua buoyed by almost 90,000 chanting his name to the riff of The White Stripes tune ‘Seven Nation Army.’
Joshua, the young lion, and a fresh Klitschko at 41, trying to kick start his heavyweight championship career after a defeat by Tyson Fury, fell and rose and fell. The fight lurched each way over 11 rounds and finally ended in heavyweight championship nirvana for Joshua in a thrumming Wembley Stadium.
Two boxers who refused to engage in the now hollow exchanges of pre-fight insults served up a contest that began as chess and ended in Joshua somehow climbing to his feet in the sixth round before coming back to burn the house down.
In a dazed mode of survival, Joshua clung to his boxing instincts, his legs barely capable of holding his body weight as Wembley fell to a hush, his mind still a fog from the dramatic fifth round that had set up the first knock down of his career.
While the sixth defined the fight, the bipolar fifth is where it sprung into life over three minutes of almost car crash boxing, memorable and barely understood.
Coming straight from his corner, Joshua waded in for the first time, having been shaken by Klitschko in the previous round and a blizzard of rights and lefts put the older man down for the first time. The crowd lifted Wembley.
From that despairing sequence the Ukrainian shot back. Muhammad Ali had his ‘phantom punch’ against Sonny Liston in 1965, Klitschko’s was an uppercut from the grave that landed flush, staggering Joshua to the point of near collapse.
Within the space of seconds, the trembling iconic arch that spans the great stadium had stopped trembling as Wembley fell into a concerned murmur.
But Joshua held as a weakened Klitschko could not close the deal, then he fell in the sixth round, where the hushed concern turned to panic before he found his legs.
Over six minutes boxing in north London paradise was lost and regained.
The fight then resumed a pattern, Joshua now alert and scheming and banging in the left hand that had kept him safe and scoring in the first three rounds.
It seemed then the two had packed away the gunpowder for the night and fallen into a scoring game, looking for the judges to separate them at the end of 12 rounds.
There again everyone was proven wrong as the younger man found bounce and energy with Klitschko turning to a tying up and routine and using everything from a vast career spanning over 68 fights, 29 of them as champion in an 11-year stretch.
It was the 11th round that will be shown and burned into boxing history, the 11th that has placed Joshua as the best heavyweight in world boxing with the IBF, WBA and IBO belts.
And it came with a shuddering crack of the upwards sweep of his arm to the Ukrainian’s jaw, which should have, but didn’t, knock him cold.
A left hook and a grazing right put Klitschko down for a count before Joshua seized on his vulnerability and again put him on the canvas, tens of thousands of flashing phones capturing the moment, the entire stadium seemingly staggering forwards.
Somehow Klitschko got up for more as his bravery, shot with desperation and panic, trumped any caution he may have had.
But it was all over, the referee jumping in and frantically waving his hands to save him from further punishment.
Immediately Joshua called out Tyson Fury, who has been inactive since his defeat of Klitschko in 2015, having most recently struggled with depression.
“(Tyson) Fury where you at, baby?” said Joshua from a crowded ring.
“I came out and I won, I didn’t go into the slugfest, I came back and fought my heart out. Fury where you at, baby?
“I love fighting. Tyson Fury, I know he’s been talking. I want to give 90,000 a chance (to see us), I just want to fight.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn discussed Joshua’s next move on Five Live’s Sportsweek on Sunday morning with a schedule that could make Katie Taylor’s life even more interesting.
Taylor has been on the undercard of two of Joshua’s bouts and with her tie in with Hearn and Sky could continue to piggyback along with Joshua’s success.
Hearn said Klitschko can have a rematch if he wants one and revealed that Joshua and his team are in talks to fight at China’s National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.
He added that Joshua, of Nigerian and Irish background, wants to also conquer Africa as well as America and will fight no more than twice a year.
Other names were also mentioned. Deontay Wilder, who was at ringside at Wembley, Joseph Parker and Fury are all on the list.
“Both fighters were really giving it back. The best man won tonight and it’s an amazing fight for boxing,” said a gracious Klitschko.
“Two gentlemen fought, I say gentlemen because we’re in England...I was planning to do it, but it didn’t work. All the respect to Anthony. Love and respect to you guys.”
Old school honesty and personnel integrity somewhere, somehow slipped back into heavyweight boxing to the backdrop of an occasionally brutal fight.
There were more winners than Joshua on Saturday night in Wembley Stadium.