Believe the hype. Anthony Joshua is still the heavyweight champion of the world but more significantly, for the first time, he is unquestionably worthy of that most storied title.
At the start of the eleventh round of this, the biggest test of his short professional career to date, it looked likely that the golden boy of British boxing was about to lose his gilded edges. There was certainly nothing special about his laboured footwork, his rigid stance or the dull, confused look on his face.
Yet in boxing, all of that matters little if you keep a stock of brutal, devastating power in reserve. A 41-year-old Wladimir Klitschko, once this division’s supremo, had been masterful in those closing rounds, comfortably edging towards regaining his titles. Then the penultimate starting bell went. Boom.
Joshua came out like a train, firstly stunning his elder opponent with a hook, but it was the magnificent right uppercut that followed shortly after, an utterly monumental punch, that brought the champion back from the brink. Klitschko’s poise evaporated. He rose from the canvas at the count of six, but was soon down again after Joshua landed several sweet combinations. Once the Ukrainian was pinned in the corner, failing to defend himself against more heavy hits, referee David Fields had to intervene.
However, to focus on this fight’s ending is to ignore perhaps two of the best rounds of boxing we will see this year, the fifth and sixth. When Klitschko hit the canvas after a terrific left hook in the former, this fight looked likely to be the formality that the majority of Wembley’s 90,000-strong crowd had wanted and predicted. One big shot from the champion would end it, but he had emptied his clip. There was over a minute left in Joshua’s first 10-8 round of the night, but he was the one desperate for the bell.
Improbably, Klitschko rallied and ended the round stronger. Incredibly, he began the next with an almighty right that sent Joshua down to the mat for the first time in his professional career. Wembley’s response could only be described as a howl. Joshua rose and attempted to react in the same collected and composed manner that Klitschko had shown a round earlier, but his gasps for air and unsteady legs betrayed him. He was scared.
Fittingly, Joshua threw next to nothing in the seventh. He was ‘taking it off’, he claimed to his corner, but Klitschko was the only one who could afford to act leisurely. The Ukrainian had began to take a hold of the contest, keeping his distance, showing nimble footwork and picking a tired and formulaic Joshua off on the counter.
The eighth was unchartered waters for Joshua and he was suitably uncomfortable for its duration. Only in the ninth and tenth did he start to threaten again after a notable improvement in his movement. It was a hint of hope for the champion but no more than that, and certainly no indicator of the final, brutal denouement that was about to come.
Joshua may have began the night as the favourite on account of his power, but plenty of us doubted whether he would be able to administer it as he tired in later rounds. We were wrong, and as dumb as Klitschko felt when his head was sent snapping backwards by that stunning aforementioned uppercut. In the eleventh, Joshua knew he had to dig deep and did so, hurling his right hand down then dragging it back up and into his rival.
Klitschko had no reply this time. His careful and considered attempt to eke out a points victory in the later rounds had been blown out of the water by brute force. “An absolute animal,” was how two young men from Skipton summarised Joshua while making their way home on Wembley Way, overawed after witnessing what their hero had just done.
After all, for once, nobody could accuse Joshua of having it easy. He met an older and slower Klitschko, but also a hungrier Klitschko than we have known in recent years, and on more than one occasion, he looked out of his depth. It is in moments like those that a title holder's validity is tested, when bubbles can be easily burst. Joshua answered, and emphatically so, to prove he is a deserving champion.