Joshua-Klitschko: The Future is Now (Part Two)

THE HAUSER REPORT – The scene on fight night as Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko walked to the ring at Wembley Stadium seemed other-worldly, like something out of Star Wars. Lights were flashing. Music was blaring. Ninety thousand fans were in a frenzy. There was a WOW factor to it all.

Joshua was a better than 2-to-1 betting favorite. He’d weighed in at 250 pounds, one pound more than his previous high. Klitschko weighed in at 240-1/4, his lowest since fighting Ruslan Chagaev at the same weight eight years ago.

As the fighters waited for the opening bell, Joshua looked relaxed and focused. “I knew the significance of this fight before I took it,” he’d said three days earlier. “If I didn’t want to deal with this pressure, I would have taken another route.”

Early in the promotion, Klitschko had told the media, “It’s a perfect time for us to fight. In three years, Anthony will be too good, and I will be too old.”

Joshua was already too good. And Klitschko was already too old.

Klitschko fought tentatively in round one, and Joshua was cautious. In the second stanza, Anthony moved into aggressor mode. For the next few rounds, his confidence increased and he appeared willing to fight for three minutes a round while Klitschko wanted only sporadic engagements.

Because of Joshua’s size and ability, it was one of the few times in Wladimir’s career that he was unable to manhandle his opponent in clinches.

Round five was a time-capsule round reminiscent of round ten in the first fight between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. Joshua jumped on Klitschko at the opening bell, bounced a glancing right hand off Wladimir’s ear, followed with a hook up top, and unloaded a barrage of punches.

Klitschko had been on the canvas eleven times as a pro. Twenty-seven seconds into round five, it was twelve.

Wladimir rose on unsteady legs with a nasty cut above his left eye. But he fought back and, halfway through the round, landed a hook of his own that staggered Joshua and turned the tide. Now Joshua was holding on to survive. Anthony made it to the bell and won the round on the judges’ scorecards because of the knockdown. But he looked exhausted. Klitschko had gotten the better of him in those three minutes.

Klitschko’s newfound dominance continued in round six, escalating at the 1:07 mark when he drilled Joshua with a straight right hand.

“He got hit with the biggest punch of his career,” Joshua’s trainer, Rob McCracken, acknowledged afterward.

Joshua went down with a thud and got up slowly. He looked like a swimmer who was about to drown. Now he was the fighter struggling to survive.

For the remainder of round six, Klitschko kept trying to measure Joshua with his jab preparatory to throwing a fight-ending right hand. If he’d focused more on hitting Joshua with the jab, Anthony might not have been standing for long.

Klitschko was the aggressor again in round seven with Joshua still in survival mode. But like Anthony in round five, Wladimir couldn’t finish his man.

In round eight, the pendulum swung back in Joshua’s favor. Klitschko was tiring. Minute by minute, Joshua was fighting his way back into the fight.

“Boxing is about character,” Anthony said afterward. “When you go into the trenches, that’s when you find out who you really are.”

And equally important, as Joshua later noted, “As the rounds went on, I was learning things about Wladimir.”

By round nine, Joshua was in control again and Klitschko was starting to look like an old fighter.

Round ten was more of the same.

At the start of round eleven, Joshua came out aggressively and landed a right hand that put Wladimir in trouble. But Anthony had learned from his near-death experience in round five. This time, his assault was more measured.

Klitschko has never fought well on the inside. Over the years, his inside game has consisted largely of clinching to immobilize opponents and leaning on them to tire them out. In earlier rounds, Joshua had been able to go to the body more effectively than Wladimir’s previous opponents were able to.

One minute ten seconds into round eleven, a vicious right uppercut followed by a left hook up top dropped Klitschko hard. A minute later, Wladimir was down again, courtesy of another right uppercut and left hook. He pulled himself to his feet with an assist from the ring ropes and was being pummeled in a corner when referee David Fields intervened with 35 seconds left in the stanza to spare him from further punishment.

“Two gentlemen fought each other,” Klitschko said afterward. “The best man won. Anthony was better today than I. It’s really sad that I didn’t make it tonight. But all the respect to Anthony.”

It was the sort of fight that boxing needs more of. A grand stage, high stakes, good fighters, and a dramatic ebb and flow that made it special. The fact that Joshua was forced to climb off the canvas made his triumph more memorable and, in some ways, more impressive than if he’d ended matters more easily in round five.

Joshua showed that he’s mentally strong. He didn’t crumble when a lesser fighter would have. He fought through adversity after suffering a hurting knockdown and prevailed; something that many fighters, including Mike Tyson, were unable to do. He’s an exciting fighter. He can hurt an opponent with either hand at any time. In some ways, he’s reminiscent of the young Riddick Bowe. A big heavyweight with power who has a mean uppercut and knows how to fight on the inside.

One can argue that Klitschko at his best would have beaten this version of Joshua. But if Anthony continues to improve, he may well become a better fighter than Wladimir ever was. It will be interesting to see how much better Joshua gets and whether he’ll be able to sustain that level of excellence over an extended period of time.

“I’m only going to improve,” Joshua said after conquering Klitschko. “I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I’m learning so much and I’ve got ten years left in this game. So we’ll have fun together.”

The boxing world knows Wladimir Klitschko. It’s just starting to know Anthony Joshua.

As for the significance of April 29; prior to the fight, the promotion kept throwing around numbers like Wladimir wanted to win this number belt and that number title fight. Boxing fans were told that beating Joshua would make Klitschko a “three-time world heavyweight champion,” separating him from the likes of Ruslan Chagaev, Nikolai Valuev, John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, and Herbie Hide (each of whom had only two “championship” reigns). There was a lot of talk about “passing the torch” from one champion to another.

But Klitschko didn’t have a torch to pass. Tyson Fury took it from him seventeen months ago. Joshua didn’t beat the reigning heavyweight champion. He beat a former champion who hasn’t won a fight in more than two years.

And forget the belts. In today’s world, they’re marketing tools, not much more. On paper, Joseph Parker is also a “world heavyweight champion.” After June 3, either Shannon Briggs or Fres Oquendo will be too.

What’s important is that Joshua-Klitschko was contested for the right be called the best heavyweight in the world. With his triumph, Joshua moved from being a beltholder to a champion. Right now, he’s the #1 heavyweight in the world.

The Joshua-Klitschko contract contained a rematch clause exercisable by whichever side lost. Foolish greed would be the only reason for Wladimir to exercise this clause.

Prior to the bout, Vital Klitschko said of his brother, “If Wladimir wins, it’s a huge celebration. If Wladimir loses, it’s the time to think about stopping and not fighting anymore.”

Let’s hope that Joshua-Klitschko was a retirement party for Wladimir with a multimillion-dollar payday instead of a gold watch as the sendoff.

It’s unclear how Tyson Fury will play into the mix. Recent sightings suggest that his weight is north of 325 pounds. It will be a while before he’s in shape to fight credibly again at an elite level.

In the afterglow of April 29, Eddie Hearn said of Joshua-Fury, “We’re desperate for that fight because A.J. thinks he wins comfortably. It’s the biggest fight out there. There is no one who wants to see him back more than me. But Fury is miles away from fighting. He is in a terrible physical way at the moment. He doesn’t have a license. He needs to go back to the board [the British Boxing Board of Control]. And he’s under investigation for a failed [PED] test.”

Fury might also be an option for Klitschko if Wladimir decides to fight again. It would be a more winnable fight for Klitschko than a Joshua rematch and satisfy a desire for revenge. But it’s impossible to know which road Fury will travel, because not even Tyson knows where his head will be from day to day.

Don’t expect to hear Luis Ortiz’s name in serious conversations about Joshua’s next opponent. In theory, Ortiz is Joshua’s WBA “mandatory.” But the Cuban heavyweight fits into the high-risk, low-reward category. It’s easy to envision the WBA saying (at promoter Eddie Hearn’s urging), “Ortiz is the mandatory challenger for the winner of our ‘regular’ world heavyweight championship fight between Shannon Briggs and Fres Oquendo. He’s not the mandatory for Joshua.”

And of course, there’s the possibility of Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder. That’s the fight most boxing fans most want to see. But Wilder needs Joshua to make big money more than the other way around.

Don’t be surprised if Joshua takes a victory lap this autumn against a low–level opponent.

Meanwhile, boxing is flourishing in England.

“British boxing is booming at the minute,” Joshua said shortly before Joshua-Klitschko. “People said, ‘You have to go to America to be respected.’ Not any more. You come here. You come and fight us. It’s amazing how the tables have turned.”

Further to that point; Joshua-Klitschko served as a reminder of how important venue and crowd can be in energizing the sweet science. The much-publicized fact that 90,000 fans attended the fight contributed enormously to spreading the buzz far beyond London.

Joshua has been a winner throughout his time in the spotlight. He’s a talented, immensely likable young man who would be an excellent standard-bearer for boxing. Gareth A. Davies recently wrote, “There is no more watchable, marketable, or important heavyweight in the world right now.”

And that was before Joshua beat Klitschko.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.