It’s rare that you gear up for a sporting event in the knowledge that the result doesn’t really matter since you were going to witness something truly historical. Either outcome and in whatever fashion would define one man’s legacy; his entire career. So it was for Anthony Joshua, the young gun on the precipice of greatness and Wladimir Klitschko, the old hand whose own legacy was already cemented.
It was a coming together of two titans of the heavyweight boxing division – a rare opportunity to see greats going toe to toe in the ring. Of course, neither wanted to be the one to lose, but that’s the nature of competition, it generates losers as well as victors.
Yet the term ‘loser’ seems far too harsh on Klitschko here. He was a central pillar of one of the most grandiose occasions of the century. There was no over-hyped nastiness in the build-up, which has sadly been the wont of Matchroom Boxing in recent times; look no further than the recent David Haye Vs. Tony Bellew fight and Joshua against Dillian Whyte.
Instead there was respect. Joshua was quick to laud Klitschko for his achievements within the sport, describing him as “one of the top five heavyweights of all time.” Klitschko was quick to laud Joshua as something of a clone of himself. Both saw it as an honour to be sharing a ring with the other.
How Klitschko must have looked back on his previous encounters with British fighters. David Haye, Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury marked the lead up to their bouts with the Ukrainian with insults, bluff and bluster. Haye even wore a t-shirt depicting an image of him ripping Wladimir’s head off. After Klitschko’s bout with Chisora, Chisora waded into the post fight press conference to have it out with Haye. How little decorum and respect Klitschko had faced from British fighters.
The build-up to this fight was dominated by the boxers and their incredible records. Eddie Hearn wasn’t front and centre of this promotion – there was nothing to hype. For once, the boxing told its own story and here stood two men, acutely respectful of each other, who were hardly in need of a narrative boost.
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Long after the 90,000 fans who had been lucky enough to get a ticket for Wembley had filtered out onto Wembley Way, Joshua and his team were still celebrating within the annals of this magnificent stadium. His legacy has been confirmed. The division is now his. It had belonged, almost exclusively, to the Klitschkos, Vitali and Wladimir, for nearly 15 years.
Lennox Lewis was the last great British heavyweight. There can be no doubting that Joshua now stands atop the division in the way Lennox once did. The only question now is; how far can Joshua take this?
There must have been a twinge of sadness after this fight for it was really the perfect note to retire on. It is hard to see, certainly amongst the current crop of heavyweights, who will challenge AJ now. Who can possibly create another event like this?
To be a great, you have to beat greats and that’s exactly what AJ did here. It seems highly unlikely that he will ever have another night like this. The only shame is that it came so early in his career.
So what next for AJ? As it stands, at 27 years old, there seems nothing to stop him from going on and enjoying another decade at the very top of the sport. He now holds the WBA and IBF belts. The WBC belt is in the hands of Deontay Wilder and the American was ringside courtesy of Sky Sports at Wembley. That will be his big payday and he’s clearly keen to get the fight on.
Joseph Parker holds the WBO belt. The Kiwi picked up the belt, which was vacated by Tyson Fury, in December 2016. He could well step into a title challenge against Wilder, to unify their two belts, since his next scheduled fight has been scrapped. If that happens, then the big unification of the heavyweight division into the hands of AJ is on.
Looking closer to home, and perhaps before any unification bouts, there are the all British affairs. Tony Bellew has hinted that he would like to face AJ, notably after he had beaten David Haye in their recent fight. Bellew, an average cruiserweight in any other era, doesn’t belong in the ring with a genuinely world class heavyweight, so that would appear to be a waste of everyone’s time.
The one that will have boxing fans salivating is the prospect of AJ taking on Fury.
Fury has an axe to grind – he beat Klitschko in November 2015, but received nothing like the adulation has. He’s been scorned in several quarters and his recent struggles with drink and drugs have not helped his cause, leading to him vacating his two belts. Still, the giant Mancunian, self-style King of the Gypsies, is a quality heavyweight fighter and he has the gravitas to draw in another sell-out Wembley showdown.
So, whilst AJ may never enter the ring to such an awesome opponent with the weight of heavyweight history bearing down upon him again, he has plenty to look forward to.
If only Wladimir Klitschko was 10 years younger, though…