JOSHUA VS. KLITSCHKO, AN INSTANT CLASSIC — Some predicted Joshua would win it quickly, others thought it would be a slow waltz with clinching and holding as Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko lumbered around the ring. Others said it was too early for Joshua and too late for Klitschko. As it turned out, it was a little of both and the fight was more action packed and fan friendly than anyone predicted. In this space I said prior to the fight that both punched too hard for the bout to go the full 12 rounds, but never did I think it would be a battle of attrition with both guys going down and then getting up to seize control of the fight.
Let’s address Wladimir Klitschko first. His two-handed punching power is well known. But never let it be said again that Wladimir didn’t have heart, wasn’t a smart boxer or doesn’t belong in the conversation of the greatest heavyweights in history. Down the road if Anthony Joshua goes on to achieve greatness, he’ll owe a great deal to Wladimir Klitschko for pushing him and making him answer questions of himself that before the fight AJ didn’t know for sure that he could answer.
Klitschko fought perhaps the most complete fight of his stellar career against the best opponent he ever faced. Wladimir came to fight and knew what he had to do. His strategy of keeping his left hand out front while leaning back enabled him to move forward – something he needed to do because he was cognizant that if Joshua had him going back he was in trouble. Wlad’s mechanics somewhat stymied him offensively but that was the trade-off because they kept Joshua from really getting to him and allowed the fight to go rounds which enabled his experience to become a factor.
Klitscho’s bouncing and feinting mixed in, blunted Joshua’s aggression and assertiveness. As for extending the bout, Wladimir was beautiful strategically. His movement and energy exceeded all pre-fight expectations. When he got caught in the 5th round and went down, everyone figured it was over. However, Klitschko got up and assaulted Joshua to where I scored the round 10-9 Joshua. In the next round, when he dropped Joshua, I think it can be argued that Wladimir’s tendency not to empty the wagon and cut loose enabled Joshua to survive the round and regroup a few rounds later. Unfortunately for Klitschko, after looking finished Joshua got his second wind and began forcing the fight, resulting in him winning on an 11th round stoppage.
Wladimir Klitschko lost, but definitely restored his legacy. He’s a good guy and I believe boxing history, based on his decade of complete dominance and his terrific showing against the best heavyweight in the world entering his prime, will be kind to him. It’s time for the boxing public to acknowledge that when he’s focused and in shape, Wladimir would be a handful for any of the heavyweights who came before him.
How about Anthony Joshua? Outside the ring, based on his looks, personality, physique and smile, he’s the genuine article, a man with mass appeal. The questions pertaining to Joshua centered on whether he was the genuine article inside the ring. We knew he could box, has great form and is a good two-handed puncher. Along with that he can throw every punch in the book and is a smart boxer.
Joshua did something I never saw another Klitschko opponent do, and that is rip Wladimir with body shots so hard that he had welts on his body by the end of the first few rounds. And you better believe they paid dividends later and had a role in Joshua’s late stoppage victory.
We also knew that until April 29th Joshua hadn’t fought anybody. The questions the critics ask most often about potential superstar fighters are….who did they beat, how good of a punch do they take, can they handle adversity when things don’t go their way, and can they get up off the deck and come back and win a big fight? All questions answered.
Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, both certifiable greats, never got off the canvas and rallied back to win a fight they were down in. And no other past great heavyweight champ ever faced an opponent as experienced and dangerous as Wladimir Klitschko in just their 19th bout. Think about all that Joshua did this past weekend. The way the bout unfolded serves him much better than if he scorched Klitschko in two-rounds.
For the first four rounds, sensing that it was too risky to go at Klitschko with reckless abandon, Joshua boxed and took what Klitschko gave him. In the 5th round Joshua got through and dropped Wladimir. Only he sold Klitschko short and thought he was done. Klitschko beat the count and out-fought AJ for the remainder of the round and dropped and hurt him real bad in the 6th. At the conclusion of the 6th round, it looked as if Joshua had an emotional letdown and was going to lose by stoppage.
During the 7th and 8th rounds he looked gassed out and at the point of no return. Then two things played out: (1) Klitschko didn’t go after him hard enough, and (2) Joshua learned how to fight and survive while being tired and rattled, hoping for his second wind, not knowing for sure that he had one. In the 9th round Joshua started getting some spring in his step and starts punching back. Fighting smartly at long range, he now starts beating Wladimir with the jab. The 10th round was pretty even but Klitschko nailed Joshua with a big right hand at the end of it. After 10 rounds I had Joshua up 6-4 in rounds and by a single point. Regardless of how the judges had it, the fight was still up for grabs.
In the 11th round, Joshua caught Klitschko with a massive uppercut as Wladimir was looking to clinch. Klitschko was really hurt and that led to him going down twice and the referee ultimately stopping the bout at the 2:25 mark. I thought the stoppage was slightly premature but I doubt Wladimir would’ve survived the last 35 seconds of the round. Joshua got the signature win he needed and marked perhaps the next heavyweight era.
Since the bout I’ve read some say they’re not as high on Joshua as they were before the fight. Others have suggested he can’t take a punch or that he has no stamina — things I’m not on board with. Actually, I’m more convinced now that Joshua has a chance to go onto greatness than I was before the bout…and if I were a heavyweight contender, I’d realize that to beat him it will take more than I originally thought.
For starters, I now know that Joshua is a very tough guy both mentally and physically. Maybe you can put him down, but keeping him down and convincing him he’s going to lose is another story. Seeing him look dead in the water at the end of the 7th round, and then summon great reserve for the late stoppage indicates not only that he can fight, but also that he likes to fight. Joshua showed the boxing world that he can get up off the canvas and deal with adversity. And he did it versus the biggest puncher and most experienced fighter in the division. I doubt there’s another heavyweight on the scene who can take Joshua so far out into deep water.
I’ve seen some say that Deontay Wilder would beat Joshua and that he matches up better with him than Klitschko did. Really? That’s not what I see. Klitschko is a bigger two-handed puncher than Wilder, yes even with the right hand. Wladimir is more accurate, stronger and much harder to hit than Wilder. Moreover, he has faced and defeated much better opposition. But Joshua-Wilder will be a fun fight to look forward to.
Anthony Joshua answered every question any critic could’ve had going into the Klitschko bout and he will be a much better fighter going forward because he now knows things about himself that he only thought prior to the fight. AJ is the man to beat in the heavyweight division, make no mistake about that. And like Mike Tyson in his era, Joshua will be a big favorite in every upcoming fight, and everybody will want to see him fight.
Lastly, Joshua’s post-fight interview was another layer of proof of his natural charisma. The way he got the crowd behind him and then called out Tyson Fury was genius. Joshua’s skill, toughness, personality and willingness to meet the biggest challenges out there insure the heavyweight division is in for some good times in the immediate future.
Wladimir Klitschko’s great showing fortified his legacy and Anthony Joshua answered any questions hovering over him as to what kind of fighter he is.
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Frank Lotierzo can be reached at GlovedFist@Gmail.com