With the dust now settled on a truly epic heavyweight battle, it is the loser of the contest who emerges with his reputation enhanced. Wladimir Klitschko, the man who according to so many killed interest in the heavyweight division with his jab-and-clinch boxing style, gave us the most enthralling and noble performance of his long and illustrious career. In fact, he deserved more than the kudos being heaped on him following one of the best heavyweight battles in years, the final stoppage a tad premature in the eyes of this observer. At the very least, he now deserves a rematch.
Klitschko, revitalized in his role as the underdog, backed up Joshua from the outset, snapping home his jab with authority and serving notice of his intention to reclaim the crown. The younger man appeared excessively cautious in the opening rounds and the result was a cagey affair loaded with riveting tension. Klitschko’s underrated boxing skills nullified Joshua’s attempts to attack and the Englishman looked to be struggling under the weight of expectations. The older fighter appeared imperious, his superior movement and defensive skills, coupled with fluid ring control and timing, giving him the edge.
But in round five the pendulum swung violently in the opposite direction as the inevitable explosion was activated by a Joshua assault that put “Dr. Steelhammer” on the canvas. After Klitschko beat the count, the Briton launched an all-out attack in an attempt to secure the win but Klitschko has been there before and weathered the storm expertly. Joshua burned himself out and suddenly found himself teetering on the precipice of disaster. And in the very next round a Klitschko win looked inevitable as he sent a gassed-out, wobbling Joshua crashing to the canvas with a perfectly-thrown right hand.
No doubt Klitschko will watch the video and regret not unloading all his artillery to seize the victory after a dazed Joshua climbed to his feet, but Wladimir has always been a patient and controlled finisher. He would have been confident that Joshua, mouth agape and seemingly spent, was finished, that it was only matter of taking his time and breaking his opponent down as the match went on. Indeed, at this point Joshua was struggling to get off any shots at all, as Wladimir probed and prodded for the opportunity to end the fight. However, Klitschko too was probably still in recovery mode from the violence of rounds five and six and would have been content to cruise to a points victory.
It was not to be. Joshua sprang from his stool at the bell for round eleven and ambushed the older man, a left hook appearing to stun Wladimir. He recovered, only to be blasted by a ferocious uppercut that mangled his neurotransmitters before Joshua’s follow-up assault put him down. Wladimir beat the count and tried to fight back as Joshua landed punch after punch, sending the veteran to the canvas for a third time with a vicious left hook. But Klitschko refused to surrender, hauling himself to his feet once more in an act that made a mockery of the critics who have always questioned his heart.
Joshua moved in for the kill but his punches lacked accuracy as Wladimir covered up and looked to neutralize the attack. But before Klitschko could establish distance and fully regain his equilibrium, referee David Fields moved in and stopped the fight. In my opinion, Wladimir appeared in full control of himself and deserved the benefit of the doubt. But there were no complaints from the gallant ex-champion; he never has been one to whine or complain. However, in this man’s opinion fight fans were deprived of a possible final round comeback by Klitschko over an exhausted Joshua. Speculation to be sure, but a big “what if” question which Wladimir deserved a chance to answer.
In the end, boxing has a fresh new face at the top of the heavyweight division, but the real story of the fight was how the man who ruled the big men for a full decade revitalized his career and his legacy with a courageous performance, losing valiantly to a young and devastating force of destruction in a battle that certainly stands as one of the most exciting ever held in the Land Of Hope And Glory.
Bottom line: Wilder and Fury can wait. The world needs the rematch.
— Gary Elbert