What a heavyweight fight for the ages, and what a night at the national football stadium as Anthony Joshua finished Wladimir Klitschko after 11 dramatic rounds.
It had everything. Joshua showed us over those pulsating, thrilling rounds that there will be drama in his career, and that his powers of recovery are extraordinary. Heavyweight boxing is like no other sporting competition on earth. It is about knockouts, knockdowns and power. We got all three as two huge men, giant human beings and athletes, let their hands go. Neither man disappointed.
When the referee David Fields stepped in between them to rescue Klitschko at two minutes 25 seconds of the penultimate round, two judges had the London tyro ahead, the other Klitschko. It was headed to a close finish. Yet Joshua made it emphatic, after encountering demons himself. He will study those long and hard, and has said that a challenge like this would bring out the best in him. He was right. It did.
Felled in the sixth round himself by a long, long right hand through the middle from Klitschko which found its home and crumpled the Londoner – after he had downed the Ukrainian himself in the fifth – the 27-year-old came through almost nine horrid minutes when his body went missing, but when his head and his heart kept him in there.
You cannot teach that. This is the Joshua the public wanted to see.
Indeed, it is the Joshua that he wants to be. A fighter’s heart drove the Londoner on and on, and come the 11th round, with the vim back in his body and his head clear, Joshua did as he had promised and ‘‘unleashed hell’’, two left hooks poleaxing Klitschko as the young warrior, recovered, went hunting for the finish.
It was impossible to predict how this contest would play out given the imponderables and, in the end, the younger man by 14 years had to endure a learning curve of a fight and the heavy hands of a great former champion, with his youth seeing him through. Joshua will take so much away from this.
From first to last, the fight was absorbing, pulsating, with all the thrills and spills that will carry a nation and a generation along on Joshua’s journey. There is clearly something special about Anthony Joshua.
With this triumph, cheered into the night sky by an adoring public, Joshua moved to 19 stoppages in 19 contests in his four-year heavyweight career. But oh, what a lesson in boxing he was forced to come through against Klitschko who summoned something great from those 41-year-old legs of his. Hurt in the fifth and on his haunches, Dr Steelhammer displayed deep reserves, and the epitome of a champion’s heart. The way Klitschko came back in the sixth was extraordinary as this respect-fest turned into a boxing chess match for the ages.
“I’m not perfect,” admitted the young pretender to the entire heavyweight fraternity. Last night, ‘AJ’ retained his International Boxing Federation crown, added the vacant World Boxing Association belt and drew more plaudits as a sports figure who demands that respect play a part in the sport. “When you go to the trenches you find out who you really are. You see someone’s character.”
Out in a white robe aping Muhammad Ali himself, so relaxed, Joshua had raised a white gloved hand to friends and family sitting ringside. From there, it was a cagey start and a night that began the coronation of a new sporting star, given the interest generated globally in 140 countries and particularly in the frenzy of attention in the last 72 hours. The respect levels in this promotion were down to the two men, who deserve acclamation for both performance in the ring and out of it.
Oh how the stadium erupted at the finish and when the triumphant Joshua took to the microphone. “What can I say, first and foremost,” he said in that way of his, fired still by adrenaline. “If you don’t take part you’re going to fail so I want to give a massive shout out to my trainers in Finchley, to the 90,000 people in here, and lastly as boxing states, you leave your ego at the door and a shout out to Wlad Klitschko for taking part. I’m not gonna say too much, in case he wants a rematch, but in terms of the boxing hall of fame, he’s a role model in and out of the ring.”
There was more. “Boxing is about character, as I said from the get go it will be a boxing classic, find what you believe in and give it a go. It is what it is, I came out and I won. I came back and fought my heart out And Tyson Fury, where you at baby? I love fighting. Tyson Fury, I know he’s been talking. I want to fight everyone, all the challenges.”
Klitschko was magnanimous in defeat. Proud, stoical too. “London, I hope you enjoyed the fight, he beat me at his best, the best man won tonight, and two gentleman fought each other. Anthony won tonight. Of course we have a rematch in the contract. I wish I could raise my hands but congratulations to Anthony.”
The dust will have to settle before rematches are discussed, but Klitschko was close to winning this fight, having hurt Joshua at the midway point. But if the man who dominated the division for a decade wanted to go out with a great performance, there was a level of redemption in this showing which may not require those old bones to rattle again. It felt huge, this event, and Joshua took centre stage and delivered. Joshua was already a world champion. But this was his real arrival at the head of the division. The nights will only get bigger and better from here.
Scott Quigg vs Viorel Simon (IBF World Featherweight Championship Eliminator)
In his first fight under new trainer Freddie Roach, Scott Quigg laboured to a unanimous decision victory over Romania's Viorel Simion to edge closer to facing IBF featherweight champion Lee Selby.
Despite being unexpectedly sluggish against a game and ambitious opponent, he was judged the winner via two scores of 117-111 and a more accurate 115-113.
If he has had a significant impact, the respected Roach is yet to correct Quigg's habit of starting slow.
He was repeatedly caught early on, and it took until the fourth round before he began to make an impression on Simion, who was as willing as Quigg to exchange.
It was in the ninth when the former world champion, having pinned Simion to the ropes, landed a powerful right hand, but he then took a similarly concussive right cross in the 11th.
Crucially, over an even fight Quigg secured the victory he needed, but he will need to vastly improve on this performance and hope his work with Roach pays off if he is to succeed against Wales' Selby.
Luke Campbell vs Darleys Perez (WBA World Lightweight Championship Eliminator)
Luke Campbell defeated Colombia's Darleys Perez in nine rounds at Wembley Stadium to earn his shot at WBA lightweight champion Jorge Linares.
The Olympic gold medallist, whose fight was watched from ringside by Venezuela's Linares, secured the finest win of his career by appearing to win all but the first of the full eight rounds of the title eliminator until Perez withdrew in the ninth.
His superior skill-set and natural power had gradually built a convincing lead as he landed to both head and body, and from the eighth round Perez became increasingly uncomfortable.
Wearing the look of a fighter being worn down and unable to stop the flow of Campbell's attacks, in the ninth he complained to referee Steve Gray he had injured his left arm before attempting to fight on.
He did so with little conviction, and as Campbell applied further pressure, Gray intervened and waved the fight over after one minute and 28 seconds of that round.There was also a win for Wales'
Katie Taylor vs Nina Meinke (WBA Inter-Continental Lightweight Championship)
Ireland's Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor inflicted the first professional defeat of Nina Meinke's career by stopping the German in the seventh of 10 two-minute rounds.
In the latest demonstration of the impressive variety of her punching, she consistently outclassed Meinke until referee Howard Foster halted the increasingly one-sided action with Meinke suffering heavy swelling by her right eye.
There was also a win Joe Cordina, the Rio 2016 Olympian, stopped Russia's in the first round to earn his second stoppage from two professional fights.