Today–or tonight, as it was in London–heavyweights Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua combined for one of the greatest fights of modern times. Klitschko, at 41, is one of the great heavyweight champions. He held the undisputed title for nearly ten years, second only to Joe Louis. Klitschko came into the fight at 64-4.
It is hard to root against Klitschko. He and his brother Vitali–also a former heavyweight champion–dominated the division for 15 years. They are both smart, with Ph Ds to their credit, and both have been internationally ranked chess players. Vitali, whose wife sang the Ukrainian national anthem before today’s fight, is a leader of the pro-Western forces in Ukraine, and currently serves as the Mayor of Kiev.
Anthony Joshua, like Wladimir Klitschko an Olympic gold medalist, is a national hero in the U.K. Charismatic and intelligent, he came into the fight at 18-0, holding the IBF title belt. Like Klitschko, he is 6′ 6″ tall, and unlike Klitschko is extraordinarily athletic for a boxer of his size. Joshua entered the ring as the favorite.
The match took place at Wembley Stadium, before a crazed British crowd of 90,000. The pre-fight introductions alone were worth the price of admission. When it comes to spectacle, Las Vegas can’t hold a candle to Britain. Boxing is huge in the U.K., and Europe in general, and it will only be bigger after this classic bout.
The early rounds were more or less even, as the boxers felt each other out. Joshua began the 5th round with a burst of aggression, and put Klitschko on the canvas. But Klitschko, with blood trickling from a cut above his left eye, came back to take the offensive and win the rest of the round.
In the 6th, roles were reversed, as Klitschko caught Joshua with a right hand that would have dispatched an ordinary mortal. Joshua went down, but almost miraculously got up to beat the count. For the rest of the 6th and through the 7th, Joshua was barely holding on. Klitschko walked Joshua down and one well-placed blow from his mighty right hand would have ended the fight. But Joshua, who evidently possesses an iron chin, survived and regained command of his faculties.
The next three rounds featured a frustrated Klitschko. Revived, the 27-year-old Joshua was again moving his head, slipping potential knockout punches. Those rounds were pretty even, and going into the 11th, some observers had Joshua ahead on points, while others favored Klitschko.
In the 11th, Joshua rocked Klitschko with an uppercut and followed with a flurry of punches that put the Ukrainian down for the second time in the fight. Klitschko, clearly hurt, went down again. By that time he was finished, and the referee properly stopped the fight before he went down again.
So Joshua successfully defended his title and set up a potential bout with the American champion, Deontay Wilder. Or perhaps a rematch with Klitschko, which is contemplated in their contract. But at 41, I think the sensible thing would be for Klitschko to retire.
This was the best boxing match I have seen in years, and maybe the best heavyweight fight I have seen, ever. We could go back to the Thrilla In Manila, perhaps; but it has been a very long time since the heavyweight division has seen a fight like this. It was one of the all-time greats.
Both fighters were interviewed in the ring a few minutes after the fight ended. Remarkably, although both had been insensible at times during the previous half hour, Klitschko and Joshua were lively and articulate. Today’s title bout, attended by 90,000 screaming fans and televised around the world, was a reminder that at its best, boxing is the most exciting of all sports.