Joshua, with heavyweight title, may make boxing must-see TV
LONDON — Anthony Joshua remained in the ring long after 90,000 of his supporters had filed out of Wembley Stadium, posing happily for pictures with his team and hugging just about everyone he knew.
No reason to leave early when being the heavyweight champion is so much fun.
“I just want to fight everyone, man,” Joshua said. “I’m really loving this right now.”
There was a lot to love Saturday night in front of a packed crowd at England’s national stadium, where Joshua got off the canvas to stop longtime champion Wladimir Klitschko in a coming out party of sorts that electrified the boxing world.
The biggest heavyweight fight in British history was also the best. There was an epic fifth round where Joshua knocked Klitschko down and then held on himself to survive, along with a knockdown a round later by Klitschko.
And when Joshua had finished almost taking Klitschko’s head off in the 11th round, a heavyweight division moribund for years was suddenly very much alive once again.
Just five years removed from winning an Olympic gold medal in London, Joshua stopped a fighter who dominated the heavyweight division for nearly a decade. Though the win came with some anxious moments for the hometown fans, it also established Joshua as a superstar in the making who just might be the fighter who can make boxing must-see TV once again.
“Anthony was better today than I,” Klitschko said. “It’s really sad that I didn’t make it tonight. I was planning to do it. It didn’t work. But all the respect to Anthony, congratulations.”
A heavyweight title fight unlike any seen in the country that invented boxing didn’t just end with the hometown favorite’s hand aloft in victory. It ended in such spectacular fashion that Joshua can now write his own ticket in a heavyweight division long starved for star power.
That will at some point likely include a megafight with American Deontay Wilder, who owns a piece of the title and is a huge puncher himself. It could include a rematch with Klitschko, who had it written into his contract that he would have that right should he lose.
And then there’s Tyson Fury, the British nomad who upset Klitschko in 2015 before being waylaid by mental and other issues.
“Tyson Fury, where you’re at, baby? Is that what you want to see?” Joshua asked. “Come on, we’re here, man. I enjoy fighting. I love fighting. I want to give 90,000 people another chance to witness a lovely night of boxing.”
The possibilities are tantalizing indeed, and so are the prospects for stardom for Joshua. Largely unknown outside Britain except by ardent boxing fans, he announced himself as the future of the division with a spectacular right hand that made Klitschko look like a very large bobblehead in the 11th round of a fight that until then was either man’s to win.
His knockout power is unquestioned, and after Saturday night so is his heart. In only his 19th fight, he gained invaluable experience and even more confidence in his ability to dominate any heavyweight in the ring.
The crowd at Wembley was drawn by all of that, and more. Joshua has the kind of charisma that fight promoters swoon over, and is so popular at home that the Sunday Times devoted the first full three pages of its sports section to his big win.
“You can hear I’m a little bit emotional because I know I’ve got doubters that think I can’t do this and that, but I dig deep,” Joshua said. “As I said, if you don’t take part, you’re going to fail. Just give it a go and you never know the outcome.”
Wilder was at ringside to watch his new rival, as were former champions Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Wilder is also undefeated and a big puncher with a piece of the heavyweight title himself, and the two would do huge box-office business if they got together in a megafight.
First, though, Joshua must come to the U.S. and expose himself to American boxing fans in at least one fight, possibly two. The Fury fight would likely be in England, though a rematch with Klitschko could take place in the U.S.
“I’m only going to improve,” said Joshua, whose quick path to success had been questioned by some outside his camp. “As I said, I’m not perfect, but I’m trying.”
That was good enough on a chilly night at Wembley, where Klitschko won over fans who ignored him over the years, and Joshua won the respect of the 41-year-old he knocked out.
“The best man won tonight,” Klitschko said, “and it was an amazing night for boxing.”
On that, all at Wembley would agree.