SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 1, 2018 – From super flyweight to middleweight to light heavyweight, 2017 proved to be a year full of outstanding fights for boxing fans to enjoy. The frontrunner for the 2017 Fight of the Year jumped out on an April night in London and was never surpassed: the dramatic passing of the torch from Wladimir Klitschko to Anthony Joshua in the heavyweight division.
British heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua staked his claim to boxing star status in front of 90,000 screaming fans at London’s Wembley Stadium. His 11th round TKO of Wladimir Klitschko after getting up off the canvas stood up for eight more months.
It wasn’t for lack of competition: the megafight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin ending in a disappointing draw; the breathtaking knockout by Srisikat Sor Rungvisai of the former pound for pound champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez; and a late contender, the memorable Mexican battle between Orlando Salido and Miguel Roman.
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For the first time in a long time, the heavyweight division matters in boxing. It could not be better timing for the charismatic Joshua, the 2012 London Olympic Games gold medalist, who came late to boxing and found it a perfect fit. The 28-year-old Joshua put his WBA and IBF titles on the line against 41-year-old Klitschko, the dominant heavyweight for over a decade with the longest tenure as a champion than anyone else in the division in history.
Despite Klitschko’s freaky loss to Tyson Fury, he remained the biggest test of Joshua’s career. The Ukrainian known as “Dr. Steelhammer” came into the fight in outstanding condition and appeared energized by the opportunity during the lead-up to the bout.
When the bell sounded, the stodgy, clenching Klitschko of recent fights was nowhere in sight. Instead, he employed excellent movement and refraining from the clinches he’d commonly used in recent fights. It seemed as if Klitschko had turned back the clock, and fans were elated as Joshua tried to get his bearings against one of the few opponents tall enough to look the 6-foot-7 Joshua in the eye.
In the fifth round, Joshua decided to release his hands and take some chances. Klitschko responded in kind. Joshua opened a cut over Klitschko’s eye, and to everyone’s shock, Klitschko was down in the first minute of the round. He got to his feet, and with two minutes left in the round, fans wondered if Joshua could finish the veteran off. But Klitschko shook it off and cleared his head in the way only a veteran boxer can manage. Joshua began to tire. As he gassed out near the end of the round, Klitschko made it clear he was far from finished, putting Joshua on the ropes.
As the sixth round began, Joshua showed what the effort had cost him, and 1:15 into the round, it was Joshua who went down on a perfect straight right hand landed by Klitschko – the first knockdown of Joshua’s career. Joshua looked vulnerable, but he kept his wits about him. As Klitschko did in the previous round, he survived to the bell.
In the seventh round, body language told us Klitschko felt in control of the bout. Joshua showed an air of despair about his situation. The young Brit could be seen talking in the ring. Was it a pep talk for himself? As the bout went to the eighth round for the first time in Joshua’s brief career, Klitschko was the fresher looking fighter despite being 13 years older than his opponent.
In round 10, Joshua got a second wind. Wherever it came from, he marshaled every bit of his reserves and started scoring with overhand rights. For the first time, Klitschko began tying up Joshua, likely believing he was ahead on the cards and just needed to finish the bout. Joshua used the opportunity to go to the body, and it would prove pivotal.
Joshua landed a stunning upper cut in combination with body shots to Klitschko, and the big Ukrainian toppled over. Klitschko barely made it back to his feet. This time, Joshua knew he needed to close the show. He blasted away, moved in, mixing up his punches beautifully. Klitschko awkwardly tumbled down again. He got to his feet on sheer heart, but the veteran had little left. Joshua backed Klitschko up against the ropes with referee David Fields watching like a hawk. When Klitschko showed nothing, Fields stopped the fight.
At the time of the stoppage, two judges had it scored for Joshua (96-93 and 95-93); the third had it for Klitschko, 95-93.
“This is boxing. I’m only going to improve,” said the elated Joshua after his victory. “Sometimes you can be a phenomenal boxer, but boxing is about character. When you go to the trenches, that’s when you find out who you really are. In this little ring there’s nowhere to hide. There’s no complications about boxing. Anyone can do this. Just give it a go.”
How did Joshua find what he needed to overcome the knockdown to score the stoppage in deep waters? “As I said it’s about character … I came out and I won, that’s how far I had to dig,” said Joshua. “I didn’t go into a 12 round slugfest and struggle to beat Wladimir Klitschko. I fought back, and I fought my heart out, that’s what I’m all about.”
Klitschko took the defeat with grace as he acknowledged the applause born of respect from the Wembley Stadium crowd with a smile. “London. I love you too, guys. I hope you enjoyed the fight. Both fighters were really giving his best. The best man won tonight. And it’s an amazing event for boxing. Two gentlemen fought each other.
“Anthony was better today than I, said Klitschko. “It was really sad I didn’t make it tonight. I was planning to do it, but it didn’t work. All the respect to Anthony. Love and respect to you guys, 90 thousand people present. You’re awesome guys. Thank you for your support of the sport and this fight,” said Klitschko.
There was a rematch clause in the contract. Joshua expressed enthusiasm for a rematch, while Klitschko expressed more cautious interest. But after giving it a few months of thought, Wladimir Klitschko surprised the boxing world on August 3 by announcing his retirement from boxing via his YouTube channel, despite an offer to fight Joshua for a $30 million payday in Las Vegas.
Klitschko leaves the sport with a record of 64-5 with 53 knockouts with tremendous respect, his career and reputation in high regard despite leaving after a loss.
Joshua went on to set an indoor boxing attendance record with his August fight against late replacement Carlos Takam of Cameroon, scoring a tenth round TKO. Joshua was originally scheduled to fight fearsome Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz in August, but Ortiz failed a drug screening. Joshua is expected to begin 2018 with a bout against New Zealand titleholder Joseph Parker.
Fans will now begin their vigil for the 2018 Fight of the Year. Perhaps it will be the anticipated showdown between Joshua and American heavyweight Deontay Wilder, the WBC titleholder. Or maybe the rematch between Alvarez and Golovkin. It could also be an unexpected StubHub Center gem. It will be fun to see where we are in 364 days from now.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News.
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