If one were to take a poll of Boxing fans who ranged from the casual fan to the die hard enthusiast on what is one aspect about the sport of Boxing that most can universally agree on, you would probably get varying answers because of course, the question in itself is general in nature and does not center around a specific subject regarding the sport. One topic however, that usually draws the interest of both the enthusiast as well as the casual fan is when a special occasion is on the horizon. The type of occasion that epitomizes the “Big Fight” atmosphere. Of all the “Big Fights” that take place in Boxing, one thing most folks would say whether casual fan or enthusiast is there is nothing quite like the anticipation that precedes a World Heavyweight championship fight.
A discussion regarding two hard-hitting Heavyweights each with knockout power entering the ring to do battle alone is enough to draw varying opinions as to what may or may not happen when the two fighters square off. When the storyline of the encounter centers on a former longtime champion, who lost his crown returning to the ring after a lengthy absence to attempt to regain the championship as well as his standing in the sport against a young unbeaten “Knockout Artist”, it is certainly understandable how anticipation can only increase as the days, weeks, and at times months prior to a showdown go on. When a fight not only draws interest among each fighter’s respective fanbase, but interest on a true global scale the ingredients of a special occasion are present that more often than not turns a highly anticipated fight into an event. When those ingredients include a legendary venue and a massive crowd of spectators to witness the encounter, you have the very definition of the “Big Fight” atmosphere.
On April 29th, over 90,000 people packed the legendary Wembley Stadium in London, England to witness such an event as undefeated “Knockout Artist” Anthony Joshua made the third defense of his International Boxing Federation (IBF) Heavyweight world championship against former longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko. Prior to this encounter, this observer stated that this was a classic scenario of youth versus experience. Although there were questions that surrounded both fighters, I felt the focus would be on the former champion Klitschko due in large part to his lackluster performance in losing his championship to Tyson Fury in 2015 as well as his being inactive since that loss.
Of course, some could make an argument that for a fighter who was as active as Klitschko was at the height of his dominance over the Heavyweight division that perhaps an extended hiatus would be appropriate to allow the fighter’s body adequate time to recuperate from the riggers of training and other injuries that can occur over the course of a long career. The counter argument however, which has just as much validity is that as a fighter gets older, extended time out of competition can actually do more harm than good due to the effects age can have on one’s reflexes as well as reaction time, which are crucial in all of sports, but especially with regard to combat sports.
It surprised me to see Klitschko begin this fight coming forward working behind his jab. Although this had not been uncommon for Klitschko throughout his career, I felt strongly prior to this fight that he would elect to allow Joshua to come forward and look to counter his normal aggression as the champion looked to apply pressure. It was nevertheless an interesting tactic implemented by the challenger from the outset. One thing that the champion did early on that I felt was an effective strategy was Joshua focused part of his offense on Klitschko's body, which has been something that some previous Klitschko opponents have been unable to have consistent success in attempting against him due to Klitschko usually having a height and reach advantage as well as his ability to control distance with his jab and straight right hand. Even though the two fighters were equal in height, it was an element of offense that was executed well by the champion. What was also evident was that Joshua was not awed by the occasion of fighting in a legendary venue such as Wembley Stadium and did not appear pressured by the support of the massive crowd in attendance.
Although both fighters were able to have their share of moments early on, it appeared as though the champion had a slight edge due to landing the harder punches of the two. Joshua was also able to withstand the Klitschko jab/right hand combination, a focal point of Wladimir Klitschko's offense for many years in the early rounds. Despite showing more aggression and more of a willingness to engage than he had against Tyson Fury, Klitschko seemed to have some difficulty landing power punches early due to Joshua choosing to box and not look for a quick knockout.
What was an exciting yet tactical battle in the early rounds however, would change as the bout progressed. At the beginning of the fifth round, Joshua was able to stun the former champion with a left hook to the jaw setting off a barrage of offense, which opened a cut over Klitschko's left eye and resulted in him going down on his knees to the canvas. Upon scoring the knockdown, an energetic Joshua pressed forward looking for the stoppage, but under circumstances where previous Joshua opponents were unable to recover and ultimately crumbled under the power of the twenty-seven year old “Knockout Artist” Joshua, Klitschko withstood the assault and by the end of the fifth round appeared to turn the tide as Joshua looked to have punched himself out. Despite suffering some knockout losses early in his career where some including this observer questioned his ability to take a punch, Klitschko deserves much credit for his ability to recover under such circumstances and it would be the challenger who would have his say in round six.
It would be at this stage in the fight where Klitschko would force Joshua to answer a question that inevitably follows all fighters who are labeled “Knockout Artists.” What happens to the fighter once they are hit flush and more specifically, how will that fighter respond after being sent to the canvas? Despite being the victim of a knockdown in the previous round and in serious trouble for half of that round, Klitschko was able to take advantage of the momentum he was able to build late in round five by dropping Joshua for the first time in his career with a flush straight right hand to the jaw behind a jab.
The unbeaten champion was able to show that he was not only capable of getting up from a knockdown, but also proved that he could withstand punishment as Klitschko pressed forward and continued to find success in landing his right hand. This fight clearly was one where some long sought answers to questions surrounding both fighters were answered. Following his knockdown of the champion in round six, Klitschko was able to dictate the combat by controlling distance and generally seemed to get his punches off first and land more effectively than Joshua in the second half of the fight and after ten rounds this observer had the fight even on my scorecard.
In round eleven however, the fight would come to a sudden and dramatic conclusion in a fashion that most think of when they think of the Heavyweight division at it’s best. As was the case in round five, Joshua staggered Klitschko at the beginning of the round, but did not pressure Klitschko as aggressively as he did in the fifth round likely due to not wanting to risk being badly compromised by putting himself in a position where he punched himself out and thus allowing his hurt challenger the opportunity to recover. The champion instead took a more calculated approach and staggered Klitschko badly with a devastating right uppercut to the chin setting off a barrage of punches that sent the former champion down to the canvas. Klitschko, showing his mettle arose from the knockdown only to be dropped for a second time by a follow up barrage from Joshua. Klitschko again was able to get up from the knockdown, but it was academic as Joshua pressed forward and after landing a few more solid blows the bout was stopped.
It was a thrilling encounter where both men proved something to their critics. For Anthony Joshua, the third defense of his world championship also earned him the World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Organization (IBO) Heavyweight world championships that were previously vacated by Tyson Fury following his scheduled rematch with Klitschko never becoming a reality, but more important in this eyes of this observer and any critic of Joshua before this bout took place, he proved he belonged in the ring with a fighter who for over a decade ruled over the Heavyweight division as it’s unified world champion. Despite only having nineteen professional fights, Joshua showed not only the ability to overcome adversity to win a fight and retain his championship, but he did so by knocking out his opponent and proved he belongs at the top of the division as one of three fighters who currently hold a claim to the World Heavyweight championship along with the World Boxing Council (WBC) world champion Deontay Wilder and the World Boxing Organization (WBO) world champion Joseph Parker.
Although he came out of this fight having suffered his second consecutive loss, an argument can be made that Klitschko in this defeat may have finally earned his just due from Boxing fans who simply did not appreciate his dominance and/or Boxing style during his second reign as a Heavyweight world champion, much in the same way as other dominant champions such as Larry Holmes and Evander Holyfield received overdue recognition only after they lost their championships and are now rightfully regarded as two of the greatest Heavyweights of all-time. Klitschko was also able to show despite some setbacks early in his career where he suffered knockouts where he was knocked down and was unable to recover, that he could fight on and nearly was able to come back after the first of what became three knockdowns to nearly end the fight himself by knockout. The former champion also deserves praise, in my opinion for being able to get up from an uppercut that would have ended the night for most Heavyweights and valiantly try to fight on, Even though there were punches that followed the crushing right uppercut from Joshua, there is no disputing that it was that blow that led to Klitschko going down in the eleventh round in the second of what became three overall knockdowns he suffered over the course of the fight.
In the near two weeks since Joshua-Klitschko took place I have had one question running through my mind. How long will it be before there is a second encounter between Joshua and Klitschko? It is after all a fair and logical question to ask not only given the exciting combat these two fighters produced, but also the overall success the fight generated in producing over one million pay-per-view buys in the United Kingdom as well as over ten million viewers on German television network RTL in addition to producing over a million combined viewers here in the United States on both Showtime and HBO, who each produced separate broadcasts of the event for the first time in history.
After an encounter that exceeded every possible expectation both as an event as well as what took place inside the ring in addition to the fact that there was a rematch clause in the contract for this fight, it seems logical that a rematch between the two take place. Given the interest that preceded what became a classic encounter, this observer has no doubts that interest would be as high or maybe greater in a potential rematch. Joshua-Klitschko was after all a “Big” or “Super Fight” that did deliver. In an era where many of the sport’s “Big Fights” have failed to live up to expectations leaving the ultimate authority, the Boxing fan feeling at minimum disappointed and at worst cheated, why not give Boxing fans an encore of what was a legitimate “Big Fight?”
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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