By Chris O’Brien: As the dust settles on Anthony Joshua’s sensational heavyweight showdown with Wladimir Klitchsko, it’s clear that their eleven-round classic at Wembley was exactly the contest boxing’s heavyweight scene needed.
The edge-of-seat entertainment value, the manner of AJ’s victory and the demeanor of the two giants combined to deliver a great sporting story, which enthralled the public far beyond boxing’s fan base, and leased fresh life into the sport’s heaviest division. Social media accounts across the UK have been abuzz with reaction to the fight, in a way which has not been seen since Facebook and Twitter accounts began to dominate much of daily life. Last Saturday’s action matched the pre-match furor, and everyone wants to talk about it.
The fight was outstanding – and the high drama dazzled millions, from boxing purists, to casual observers. A see-saw contest which wildly swung in favor of each fighter, it proved a breathless battle between AJ’s brutal power, and Klitchsko’s experience and ring-craft. This contest acted as a timely reminder to the masses as to just how entertaining our sport is, and how exciting the heavyweight division should be.
A lack of credible opponents for the Klitchsko brothers, and few truly skilled or entertaining match-ups saw the glamour surrounding one of sport’s great crowns fade for years. Yet, as prodigy Joshua justified some of his stratospheric hype, and statesman Klitchsko – underdog for the first time in his career – came so close, the Super WBA, IBF and IBO straps suddenly look the most prized gongs in sport.
Other ingredients, too, complimented last Saturday’s entertainment to cement this fight’s place as one of the great heavyweight contests of recent years.
With Joshua securing a brutal 11th round stoppage, the result of the fight was clear and unequivocal. Had the fight continued a few more minutes, and the judges settled the contest, it may well have been a different story. Joshua scarcely deserved the lead two of the three judges had decreed at the time of the stoppage, and a contentious victory would have brought controversy, instead of celebration, to the sport. As it was, the explosive TKO conclusion was stunning – and helped ensure we’re all talking about the fight, and not the scorecards.
Joshua and Klitchsko, too, both deserve immense credit for their wider approach. Trash talking has its place for some PPV shows; but these two men clearly had unadulterated respect for one another – and the fans responded warmly. In many respects, it was a breath of fresh air which put the focus purely on the action inside the ring – without the need for hyperbolic vitriol, amid instead an atmosphere of class and integrity.
Tyson Fury will rightly feel aggrieved at the scale of the plaudits for Joshua, following last Saturday’s win. He beat a younger Klitchsko, more comfortably, and away from home – yet got far less credit. Joshua has benefited from rigorous marketing since his 2012 Olympic triumph, and has reaped the rewards with a carefully-executed, but rapid rise to international stardom. As boxing looks to build on the public’s appetite following Saturday’s showdown, this recent double British win over Klitchsko potentially sets up one of the biggest domestic showdowns of all time, watched by another packed arena, with yet more global excitement for the heavyweight scene. Throw the unbeaten, belt-laden duo of Deontay Wilder and Joseph Parker into the mix – though the latter was highly unimpressive against Razvan Cojanu; along with the now-or-never Luiz Ortiz, and fans can excitedly speculate as to a series of fights which could pave the way for a truly undisputed king.
The Wembley War deserves to sit alongside some of the great heavyweight bouts. It has given the division the boost it has badly needed for some while, and a platform from which the sport must take full advantage.