World heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua declared he was willing to give Wladimir Klitschko a rematch after his 11th-round win on Saturday, but the Ukrainian wouldn’t confirm he would box again.
The Briton successfully defended his International Boxing Federation (IBF) world heavyweight title for the third time and claimed the vacant World Boxing Association (WBA) belt against the former champion after an epic battle was settled by Joshua’s 19th consecutive stoppage.
In a wildly exciting fight, which swung one way and then the other, Joshua sealed victory during a thunderous 11th round.
“I don’t mind fighting him again, if he wants the rematch,” Joshua said at a press conference after the fight in front of 90,00 fans at Wembley Stadium.
“Big respect to Wladimir for challenging the young lions of the division.
“It’s up to him, I don’t mind. As long as Rob (McCracken, Joshua’s trainer) thinks it’s good I’m good to go.”
* From AFP
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko go head to head in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium tonight in what is the biggest heavyweight fight in years.
The clash pits Joshua, the division’s emerging force, against Klitschko, the cerebral veteran who ruled the division for more than a decade until a shock defeat to Tyson Fury in November 2015.
Here we look at the possible strategies the two men might employ.
AJ LOOKS TO SEEK AND DESTROY
In his flawless 18-fight, 18 knockout, winning streak, Joshua has been consistently aggressive and consistently successful – and he always starts fast. He’s an imposing figure, punches hard and fast with both hands, and rarely takes a backward step.
Joshua wants to command the centre of the ring, fire out his fast and powerful orthodox left jab, almost always looking to follow with the straight right. When it’s all going his way, the one-two will become a three with a left hook added for good measure, or he’ll start mixing it up with powerful right hand potshots or even the occasional lead uppercut.
Ultimately, AJ wants his opponent against the ropes, and that’s where he unloads his full arsenal, ripping to body and head and always looking to finish the job as soon as he smells blood. Joshua has promised to “go for the KO” and to “unleash hell”.
If he remains true to his word then expect the tried and tested – the type of brutal offence that has got him this far.
FURIOUS JOSHUA LEARNS LESSON FROM TYSON
If the book is out on how to beat this version of Klitschko, then Fury scribed it in Dusseldorf. Joshua’s fellow Brit executed a masterful gameplan, feinting incessantly and shifting from side to side to keep Klitschko off balance and unable to set his feet. Combined with Fury’s size and reach, it meant the champion barely laid a glove on him.
Rumours abound that AJ could borrow from this plan, tempering his aggression and looking to box Klitschko in the early rounds. Joshua appears a more rounded technician with every fight and, particularly in flattening Charles Martin, has shown he has those fast-twitch counters.
It’s perhaps logical that we’ll see a more circumspect AJ in the early going, but it would be a major shock if he persisted with a more measured approach.
KLITSCHKO TAKES CENTRE STAGE
After crushing defeats to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, Klitschko completely rebuilt his style under the late, great Manny Steward. The legendary Kronk trainer borrowed aspects of the blueprint that had proven so successful with Lennox Lewis and constructed a formula based around Klitschko’s formidable jab.
The Ukrainian’s left lead is a heavy punch, and usually stays in an opponent’s face as a deterrent.
Yes, when he misses he looks to clinch. And, yes, when his foe slips it then his first instinct is to spoil and then grab. But when he gets into a rhythm with the jab, follows up with the right hand or hooks off of the lead, then Klitschko can be a heavyweight’s worst nightmare. Just ask David Haye.
It would be a major statement if he could come out in the early rounds and claim the centre of the ring, fire out that famous jab, control Joshua with it, put some doubt into his mind and take tactical control.
WLAD PLAYS THE LONG GAME
In 18 fights, Joshua has only been past three rounds twice, taken to the seventh by both Dillian Whyte and then Dominic Breazeale, and questions remain unanswered about his engine.
For all his obvious athleticism, Joshua has to carry a lot of muscle mass and it’s possible that Klitschko could use movement, spoiling and clinching to frustrate AJ during the first half of the fight in the hope that he will eventually run out of gas and unravel in uncharted territory.
Klitschko, by contrast, is more than proven over the championship distance, and even at 41 years of age still has the gumption to tough it out and execute a game plan. Rumours have suggested that cardio, footwork and movement have been a big part of his training camp.
Anthony Joshua started late in boxing but has been way ahead of the curve ever since, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a major surprise that he will attempt to unify heavyweight titles against an all-time great in just the 19th fight of his professional career.
AJ began boxing at 18, was a world silver medallist at 21, won Olympic gold a year later and became a world champion, aged 26, in just his 16th professional bout.
So far, the stars have always aligned for him. He’s risen to every challenge, aced every test, beaten every man put in front of him and ridden an inexorable wave of momentum all the way.
With it has come fame, riches, glory and more hype than a heavyweight boxer has received since a young Mike Tyson hit the scene like a wrecking ball in the mid-1980s.
Thus far it has all been almost too easy, so naturally the sceptics label him untested, and ask what happens when he takes a clean shot? What happens when the man he hits doesn’t move? And what will happen when he’s taken into the soul-ravaging late rounds of a championship bout?
Some of those doubts may linger on afterwards, but victory over Wladimir Klitschko at a sold out Wembley Stadium on Saturday would go a long way to legitimising all of that hype.
Challenges don’t come much bigger in heavyweight boxing, with the Ukrainian, even at the age of 41 and coming off a loss to Tyson Fury, still operating at levels far above any of the vanquished on Joshua’s resume. One defeat doesn’t instantly make you a bad fighter.
The burning question, of course, is that is it too soon? Have Joshua and his team gotten carried away with the momentum, has he been fast-tracked into a situation he can’t handle against a man who has seen it all in a glittering career and is obsessed with proving he’s still the best in the game?
The answer will be played out in front of a record crowd at England’s national stadium, but what should give confidence to Joshua and all those who back him is the opinion of his mentor Rob McCracken.
Most famous for his work with Carl Froch, McCracken is perhaps the finest trainer in Britain, and has been honing Joshua’s craft for some time in his role as coach to his country’s top prospects at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield. Ultimately, it was McCracken who had final say in sanctioning this fight, and his judgement is seldom awry.
“Timing is everything in boxing,” said Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn this week referring to the perception that Klitschko’s powers have diminished, adding that: “Rob fancies the job.”
If indeed they are correct, and Joshua delivers, it will establish him as the biggest draw in boxing and push him to the threshold of global superstardom. Already the most popular sportsman in Britain, Joshua looks the part, acts the part, is dedicated to his craft and, above all, delivers highlight reel knockouts. His brand is thriving.