On This Day: Joshua Defeated Klitschko
By Sina Latif
Michael B. Jordan in “The Wire”. Thierry Henry at Arsenal. Eminem with his breakout album, The Slim Shady LP.
Every star or athlete has that defining moment in their career when they let the world know they have arrived. They show the world that greatness could be on the horizon, and people should sit up and take notice, following a journey that may lead to something special.
For a boxer, this would be the fight that would lay the path for the rest of their career, and on this day, 29 April 2017, Anthony Joshua had that breakthrough moment against Wladimir Klitschko in an epic battle at Wembley Stadium.
The moment when the final blows of an incredible fight were rippling down the Brits’ arms and onto the beaten head of the 41-year-old Ukrainian legend, it felt like the birth of the new heavyweight ruler.
Joshua was now unbeaten in 19 pro fights and had stopped one of the finest heavyweight champions in history en route to adding the WBA “super” title to his collection. This was a terrific achievement. However, what really stood out and showed Joshua possessed the heart of someone special, was the 6th round onwards.
Throughout, the fight was a captivating spectacle.
Joshua had to use everything he had acquired and learned in his short career thus far. Except, everything ‘AJ’ had learnt and was putting into practice, Klitschko had hard-wired already. He had 50 fights on Joshua, and 14 years in age. Nevertheless, the mutual respect in the build-up carried over into the fight, and neither man took any early risks, with skill prevailing over power.
Klitschko was light on his toes in the third round, rolling back the years. However, Joshua was starting to open up, landing quick combinations and making us wonder if Klitschko will continue to keep pushing back the clock before he looks all of his 41 years.
The fourth started with Klitschko immediately catching an off-guard Joshua with a clean right at the start of the round. Joshua was rocked, but he weathered it well. Klitschko looked enlivened in this round.
In round five, all hell broke loose. This will go down as one of the great rounds in heavyweight boxing history, alongside round four of George Foreman vs Ron Lyle, round 15 of Larry Holmes vs Ken Norton and round 10 of Riddick Bowe vs Evander Holyfield.
Joshua came out and hammered Klitschko with a series of lefts and rights which put the Ukrainian on the canvas. Klitschko got up, his face showing bruises and cut over his left eye.
However, this is where AJ’s inexperience showed, both in his celebration, holding his arms aloft in the air, and emptying his tank whilst getting the knockdown. Now Klitschko was coming back with a series of clean shots being landed on an exhausted Joshua, but the Brit managed to see out the round.
Joshua was saved by the bell and went back to his corner smiling, but the first real crisis of his pro career was beginning.
Round six started and Klitschko picked up where he left off in the fifth. Joshua was on the canvas for the first time as a professional after being dropped by a right cross from “Dr. Steelhammer” that would have felled a horse.
Klitschko is one of the hardest punchers in boxing history, particularly with that right cross. Probably unsure what day of the week it is, Joshua pushed his gloves into the canvas and somehow managed to push himself up, and fought through a daze.
Joshua was clearly unsteady and many would have expected Klitschko to seize the opportunity and pour on the pressure on AJ, making it impossible for the fight to resume, but he didn’t.
Emanuel Steward, Klitschko’s former legendary trainer, said a few years ago prior to Klitschko’s showdown with David Haye:
“He’s got to come out and be more aggressive this time himself, and not be too intelligent, too conservative, too analytical.”
Steward felt that Klitschko was too conservative in his approach to fights and in this sixth round, that caution-first approach was again shown by the Ukrainian.
Joshua looked unsteady on his feet in the seventh round, but as the fight progressed, and the pace slowed after the storm in the previous rounds, the Brit was finding his legs again.
Then came that vicious uppercut, the defining moment of the fight, in the 11th round, setting AJ up to deliver an immediate flurry and send Klitschko down to the canvas.
The Ukrainian stood, and got dropped again moments later by a left hook. Klitschko got up once again, but the referee David Fields stepped in to stop the fight with Klitschko pinned on the ropes, absorbing punishment and not firing back.
Joshua showed that he possessed the killer instinct that Klitschko lacked. Once AJ had his man hurt, there was no way he was letting him off the hook.
Since this incredible fight, the heavyweight landscape has changed drastically.
Joshua is no longer viewed as the consensus heavyweight ruler. Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder have stepped up.
Wilder has fought and knocked out worthy opposition in Luis Ortiz before controversially drawing and then losing to the returning Tyson Fury, who after that victory, is at the peak of the mountain with a phenomenal performance for the ages after an incredible comeback.
Joshua has since suffered his first pro loss to Andy Ruiz Jr, a monumental upset, before becoming only the fourth heavyweight in history after Floyd Patterson, Muhammad Ali and Lennox Lewis to regain his belts in an immediate rematch.
Joshua’s performances haven’t reached the same standards since the Klitschko fight in terms of raw aggression and all-out action, but he has become more disciplined and smarter, and has shown glimpses of different facets to his game against good opposition.
He showed against a smart and durable veteran in Alexander Povetkin that he is one of the best predatory finishers in the heavyweight division for a long time.
After an uncomfortable first few rounds, Joshua became the first man to knock out the Russian once he had him hurt in the seventh round, a man who Klitschko had also beaten but was unable to stop, using negative tactics to ensure victory.
With Joseph Parker, he showed poise for 12 rounds with a controlled performance to pick up a unanimous points win for the first time against a top-10 heavyweight.
Against Ruiz Jr, he showed great discipline and maturity in the rematch with a faultless performance en route to a slick points victory, not to mention the mental fortitude he displayed with his career on the line.
For a champion who achieved so much but was always adored so little, Klitschko was greeted at the conclusion of this fight, and ultimately his career, by 90,000 people at Wembley by something rare but beautiful to see, loud and widespread applause and endearment.
This 41-year-old signed out on a seismic high, summoning up a performance of boundless grit and courage in possibly the greatest fight on British soil since prize fighters first covered their knuckles in leather.