Forget Federer-Nadal or Super Saturday - Joshua vs Klitschko rivals 50 years of British sport

Nick Howson
anthony-joshua-and-wladimir-klitschko-speak-after-historic-battle

Anthony Joshua is on the floor, desperately attempting to scramble to his feet. Wladimir Klitschko stands in wait like a black mamba ready to consume its prey.

The Briton's boxing career is hanging by a thread and he is facing his first defeat since turning professional and losing his heavyweight crown. Klitschko, meanwhile, is sensing one final salvo of a career spanning a quarter of a century.

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Many sportspeople would have buckled under Klitschko's dominance. The Ukrainian was as loose and as dangerous as he had been at any juncture of his decade-long dominance of boxing's blue ribbon division. There was an effortlessness, slickness and grace to the 41-year-old which perhaps only Roger Federer on the grass of Wimbledon can rival.

But instead of considering the prospect of his life crashing down around him as he crawled hands and knees on the Wembley canvass, Joshua gave an enormous smile which dwarfed the pre-fight pyrotechnics and shone throughout the national stadium. A fight whose build-up had been supplemented by months of respect between the two competitors was to be finished in the finest of spirit.

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What followed will go down in the annuls of British sporting history.

Joshua showed superhuman powers of recovery to first nullify the Klitschko threat and then go on the offensive. The 11th round stoppage after Klitschko had hit the canvas for a second and third time in the contest was the perfect climax to a night when London's status as the sporting mecca of the world was confirmed.

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Anthony Joshua

Few will be surprised to see Joshua's global status now reach stratospheric levels. He possesses every component necessary to rival the greats of world sport: composure, charisma, good looks, hunger and humility are all characteristics which could see him one day compared to the likes of Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Michael Jordan and the irrepressible Federer.

Now that the dust has settled and Joshua has finally finished signing autographs – he spent over an hour after the fight on the Wembley outfield satisfying the requests of paying spectators before fulfilling anti-doping and media duties, let alone showering – the magnitude of the event can start to be put in some kind of context.

Joshua-Klitschko was already assured of being the biggest, richest and most watched boxing event on British shores but the pure drama of the occasion thrusts it into a different league altogether.

With the United Kingdom very much the epicentre of elite sport, there are dozens of events worthy of a chapter in the annuls of history. Since England won the football World Cup in 1966 with an extra-time victory over Germany, the country has been blessed with swathes of sporting excellence, with Joshua-Klitschko joining some of those stellar events.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Given the way the 11-round marathon united the nation, captivated an audience and delivered on entertainment and class in equal measure there are arguably only two events which rival it in the last half a century. The summer of 2008 saw us treated to the greatest Wimbledon final of all, spanning over seven hours, as Rafael Nadal outlasted Federer in five sets in the SW19 gloom.

The dynamic of that contest mirrors that of Joshua and Klitschko, with the legendary figure downed by the muscular young pretender.

And only at Super Saturday at the London 2012 Olympic Games has the UK played host to anything like what we saw at Wembley or Wimbledon. The surprise of Greg Rutherford's long-jump gold, the euphoria of Jessica Ennis-Hill's heptathlon title and the drama of Sir Mo Farah's victory in the 10,000m was all things to all people. It may not have ebbed and flowed like the aforementioned events, but it remains one of the British sport's crowning moments.

Sir Mo Farah

That Joshua joins these illustrious names tells you all you need to know about the sheer scale of his achievement. Lennox Lewis and Tyson Fury are the only men from the UK to hold multiple heavyweight titles and yet neither of them did it in quite the same manner as the Watford-born fighter.

That gives Joshua not only a place in the history books, but the hearts of a nation. Global stardom beckons.

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