Boxing's heavyweight division has regained grandeur

Andy Lewis 30/04/2017
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Heavyweight champion: Anthony Joshua.

Anthony Joshua’s stunning 11th round stoppage of Wladimir Klitschko was a rarity in this modern era of prizefighting – a blockbuster bout which more than lived up to the hype.

Two years ago, an ultra-cautious Floyd Mayweather and a secretly-injured Manny Pacquiao contested the mother of all stinkers in an event which smashed all records but left a global audience shortchanged and disgruntled.

This couldn’t have been more different. This was an instant classic, a throwback, boxing at its cinematic best. It was the type of fight which draws new fans to the sport. This was the rebirth of boxing’s marquee attraction – the heavyweights.

Precious little in the whole of sport is as intoxicating as a genuine heavyweight thriller, and this one was played out in front of 90,000 live spectators and tens of millions more watching in over 140 countries worldwide.

This was both a tipping point for Joshua’s mass appeal and a watershed moment in the recent history of boxing’s top division.

The emergence of names like Joshua, Tyson Fury, Joseph Parker and Deontay Wilder has seen interest in the big men rekindled. On Saturday night, it caught fire.

This crop may not be on the same level as the fabled names of yesteryear, but is surely a massive improvement on the endless line of one-dimensional suspects who have been sleepwalking into Klitschko’s fists for more than a decade. And in Joshua, this new generation has a leader. A transcendent star with global appeal who has the potential to restore heavyweight boxing to something like its previous popularity.

Former champ Lennox Lewis was still “buzzing” last night as he sent out a series of tweets which encapsulated how most boxing fans were feeling. Almost 24 hours had passed and he was still trembling with excitement, unable to come down off of an almighty high.

Lewis had been sat ringside to watch the biggest heavyweight event since he knocked out Mike Tyson 15 years ago, and as it turned out, by far the best title fight the division has produced since he and the elder Klitschko sibling, Vitali, exchanged blows in five furious rounds in his final fight in 2003.

Lewis is often referred to as the last of the great heavyweights, such was the paucity of entertainment during the Klitschko era which followed his retirement.

The Ukrainian brothers will go down as all-time greats for their sheer dominance, but there’s no hiding the fact that in their hands, the heavyweight championship of the world went from being the most prestigious title in all of sport to virtual obscurity, a faded trinket fought over in the provinces of Germany to little or no acclaim.

And as Vitali retired and Wladimir grew older and more cautious, the knockouts dried up and what little interest remained evaporated. It was bad enough that the result was predeterminable, but without the consolation prize of a brutal finish, the tedium became almost unbearable.

Fury’s victory over Klitschko in 2015 cracked the division wide open and restored its unpredictably. Joshua has brought back the glamour and the knockouts.

Klitschko also deserves immense credit for his role in Saturday’s drama, his rare preference for a bold approach finally bringing the fanfare his talent deserves. It also proved once again that in boxing, legacies are built on much more than just a flawless record.

He’ll give a rematch serious consideration, but AJ has options. Wilder looms up ahead in a fascinating UK/US showdown, while the biggest fight to be made would be if Fury could return fit and healthy to settle a rivalry which has been simmering away.

These are no longer merely big fights in the division, these are some of the biggest fights in the whole of boxing. The heavyweights are back.

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WATCH all 19 of Anthony Joshua's pro KOs

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The Joshua train just keeps on going.

Anthony Joshua well and truly dethroned Wladimir Klitschko after dispatching the Ukrainian at Wembley on Saturday night.

Astonishingly it was the NINETEENTH consecutive knockout win of Joshua’s professional career.

Here, we dig out each and every one of those wins to date.

1) EMANUELE LEO (1st ROUND)

The Italian faced Joshua a year on from the Brit’s night of Olympic glory and was the first man to bear the brunt of his  power. This one didn’t last long and was the first of five instances where Joshua halted an opponent in the first round.

2) PAUL BUTLIN (2nd ROUND)

A bloodied, battered Butlin had his misery ended by a considerate official in the second round after Joshua showed his superiority over the 37-year-old, who was way beyond his best years by the time the two met.

3) HRVOJE KISICEK (2nd ROUND)

Another one where the ref had to step in as Joshua unleashed a volley of rights and lefts that left Kisicek stumbling against the ropes and in need of salvation. Joshua was fighting the Croatian on the Prizefighter card in what was his third and final bout of 2013.

4) DORIAN DARCH (2nd ROUND)

Darch portrayed a confident character as Joshua picked him off but the sight of him swaying, falling into the arms of the referee showed just how powerful the young Brit’s punches are. By now Joshua was making quite the impression but still hadn’t really been put to the test by an opponent.

5) HECTOR AVILA (1st ROUND)

Having taken on Darch in Wales, Joshua then moved to Scotland to face Argentinian Hector Avila. Avila didn’t last long, sent crashing to the canvas with a minute remaining in the first round, the South American clutching his head and out for the count.

6) MATT LEGG (1st ROUND)

Fighting on the undercard of Carl Froch vs George Groves II, Joshua wasted no time in securing victory in his only appearance at Wembley to date. He will be back, likely to now headline the iconic stadium in what would be a significant marker of how far his career has already come.

7) MATT SKELTON (2nd ROUND)

At the time it was Joshua’s biggest challenge of his career but he sent the former British, European and Commonwealth champion packing inside two rounds. Joshua was again too powerful for his opponent who was 47, a whole 24 years Josuha’s senior.

8) KONSTANTIN AIRICH (3rd ROUND)

Airich managed to do what no man before him had and took Joshua a whole three rounds before succumbing to his power. Joshua unleashed to leave the German cast against the ropes and beyond saving.

9) DENIS BAKHTOV (2nd ROUND)

Joshua saw off the Russian in what had become typically dominant fashion, claiming his first professional title in the process. The two were facing off for the vacant WBC International Heavyweight title, which Joshua still holds.

10) MICHAEL SPROTT (1st ROUND)

Fighting on the Nathan Cleverly vs Tony Bellew II undercard, Joshua took his record to 10-0 with another ruthless outing that continued to capture the imagination of the watching world.

11) JASON GAVERN (3rd ROUND)

A gallant effort from Gavern but it was brutal again from Joshua who made mincemeat of the American. It went three rounds but Gavern spent the majority of it against the ropes or hauling himself up off the canvas. That was until the referee said enough was enough and put Gavern out of his misery.

12) RAPHAEL ZUMBANO LOVE (2nd ROUND)

A second South American to take on Joshua and come out with stars ringing around his head, Zumbano Love felt the full force of AJ’s big right hand. The overhand right, by now so common in Joshua wins, duly delivered a knockout that left the Brazilian sprawled across the mat.

13) KEVIN JOHNSON (2nd ROUND)

Johnson was sent into retirement by Joshua in devastating fashion with the Englishman first picking off his American counterpart with a studied left before pinning him against the ropes with a barrage of rights. Joshua retained his WBC International title with victory.

14) GARY CORNISH (1st ROUND)

A joiner by trade, Cornish was known for his own heavy hitting but against someone as fit and imposing as Joshua at a raucous O2 Arena, he just couldn’t cope. Joshua was showing his ever-improving nous in the ring, biding his time – albeit rapidly – before delivering the hammer blow that sent Cornish packing and added the Commonwealth heavyweight title to Joshua’s collection.

15) DILLIAN WHYTE (7th ROUND)

These two certainly did not and do not get along and all that anger and animosity between the pair was laid out in front of the world. Whyte had beaten Joshua as an amateur but couldn’t replicate that feat in London. By going seven rounds, it was the longest either fighter had ever gone before a Joshua uppercut did for Whyte – who was left slumped halfway between rope and fans, knocked flat out. Joshua claimed the vacant British heavyweight title as a result.

16) CHARLES MARTIN (2nd ROUND)

Joshua claimed his first world heavyweight title with aplomb (or “a bomb”) courtesy of two huge right hands that left Martin wondering where on earth he was. Martin got to his feet after the first but for all his attempts to suggest he was still with it after the second right hook, the ref was right to say enough was enough. Joshua rolls on and with a world title round his waist he will now be even more of a marked man.

17) DOMINIC BREAZEALE (7th ROUND)

In the first defence of his world title, Joshua made light work of a game Breazeale who always looked to come forward and took a number of shots on the chin. He was eventually downed in the seventh and the fight waved off, Joshua making his latest statement with another strong performance.

18) ERIC MOLINA (3rd ROUND)

Anthony Joshua paved the way for a fight against Wladimir Klitschko next year by making quick work of Eric Molina in a third round win on Saturday. Joshua forced the stoppage in two minutes, two seconds of the third round after first flooring American Molina with a right.

19) WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO (11th ROUND)

Anthony Joshua heralded the start of a new era of heavyweight boxing by dramatically knocking out Wladimir Klitschko in 11 rounds. Making the third defence of his IBF title, the 27-year-old Britain also became the WBA champion after recovering from the first knockdown of his career to impressively win at Wembley Stadium.

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Joshua keen on Klitschko rematch

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Joshua overcame the legend.

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

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