Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko was a fight regarded as the jumpstart heavyweight boxing has needed for years, since even AJ’s professional debut.
And in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, they delivered on the hype.
What unfolded was perhaps the finest bout the division has seen this century. It may even stand the test of time and be given the same fond nostalgia as such pivotal slugfests as Ali vs Foreman.
Of course, time will tell on that one. We may be getting ahead of ourselves in that respect, but AJ-Wlad was certainly a fantastic encounter which enhanced the reputations of both competitors, regardless of outcome.
Klitschko is 41. He was seen as a cert to retire if he was blasted out of world title contention by Joshua, and it was difficult to imagine what was next for the heavyweight ranks if he were to return to its summit.
And yet, he proved after a pounding fifth-round knockdown what only a minority of his previous victims, such as Tony Thompson and Kubrat Pulev, could have warned you about: Wlad can be a devastating puncher – WHEN he absolutely has to.
Backed into a corner like the proverbial wounded animal, Klitschko proved such cliches are classics for a reason when he not only dropped AJ himself in the sixth, but even finished round five strongly after his meeting with the canvas.
It was there that the storytelling dovetailed with the physicality. As the two pulsating, hard-hitting rounds that followed four three-minute sessions of feeling out and range-testing electrified the capacity crowd, the two gentlemen they had paid to see where experiencing all-new worlds for the first time.
Joshua had been troubled by Dillian Whyte and forced to extend his work by Dominic Breazeale, but for the first time he was in serious danger of becoming the victim, not the hunter. It was clear that this would indeed be the test many had waited over three years and 18 fights for AJ to be forced to take.
Klitschko, on the other hand, was at a crossroads. He may have shown just what a ‘past-it’ fortysomething ex-champion could do at the halfway stage, but in the ensuing rounds it was clear he was torn between going in for the kill or jabbing Joshua to oblivion, as he did with so many foes.
It’s why rounds seven through 10 were so much more engrossing than the first four, despite the tempo being pretty similar. Two incredible middle rounds had not only appealed to our primitive thirst for adrenaline as fight sport fans, they had reeled us straight into the heads and the hearts of the combatants.
That alone is why Joshua-Klitschko deserves comparison to the all-time great heavyweight fights. Even if you honestly believe it slots in just beneath your personal top five, it brought us closer to Klitschko than a decade’s worth of routine defences did, combined. It invited us inside the mind of Joshua more than anything he’d achieved before, pro or amateur.
Joshua vs Klitschko was an emotional rollercoaster and a pulverising adrenaline rush, at the same time. The result gave us the heavyweight figurehead the division has needed for some time, and it also made us realise that his predecessor wasn’t quite as bad as the heavyweight slump had us believe at times. And it did so without an ounce of patently-fabricated ‘hatred’ or silly object throwing at press conferences.
There’s a rematch clause Klitschko can trigger. There’s also very good motivation to call it a career. Whatever he chooses to do, I’ll always be grateful that he reacted to losing his suffocating stronghold over the heavyweight crowns with a rousing “what the hell”, made the trip over to these shores for the first time since 2000 and gave us a night to remember, and a fight he can be proud of even in demoralising defeat.
As for Joshua, the remaining pieces of the unification jigsaw await. If we’re lucky, his expected coronation as the one true heavyweight champion of the world will coincide with the return to physical and mental health of another Brit – the last man able to make that claim, Tyson Fury.
Fury seldom needs a reason to sound off, and he’ll no doubt feel jaded and bitter that the nation has already embraced AJ as their next sporting superstar when Tyson’s fighting style, lifestyle and controversial comments arguably cost him that very same superstardom, even when he proved Klitschko was beatable 18 months before Joshua did.
An all-British heavyweight showdown for the undisputed heavyweight championship is a fantasy scenario that needs to become a reality. If we’re ever to encounter a visceral thrill ride to match April 29, 2017, Joshua vs Fury could well be the one to do it.
Until we find out what’s next for the renewed heavyweight division, I’m going to rewatch AJ and Wlad’s gentlemanly war. Probably several times.