By John J. Raspanti
The fight of the year for 2017 took place across the pond in April. The bout had all the classic components that make boxing so compelling and fascinating. The young man, with only 18 fights under his belt, would be taking on the former champion, who had held the heavyweight championship for over 10 years. The two had sparred a few years before. The older fighter took the younger man under his wing, mentoring him. They liked each other.
Nobody was sure what to expect on fight night. Wladimir Klitschko hadn’t been seen in the ring since losing his title to Tyson Fury. That fight was as dull and uninspiring as canned peas. Klitschko looked old and bewildered. He couldn’t pull the trigger.
Anthony Joshua, 14 years younger than Klitschko, had captured the heavyweight by displacing Charles Martin in two rounds in 2016. He made two successful defenses before facing Klitschko. Joshua was still raw, but carried big-time power in both fists. Klitschko reportedly said before the fight. "I’m obsessed with winning back my titles."
Ninety thousand fight fans packed Wembley Stadium as they did in the glory days of Jack Dempsey. There was a buzz in the air as they waited for the opening bell. The first four rounds was a game of chess between giants, with one difference. The edge went to Joshua, but the question was what would happen when one of the power hitters landed solidly.
We found out in round five when a fire fight broke out. Joshua went after Klitschko like a man possessed. A number of blows sent the former champion stumbling to the canvas. Klitschko’s Achilles heel had always been his chin. All of his four losses were by knockout. The bout appeared over, but Klitschko, showing championship heart, was up at six. He calmly looked over at Joshua—who tried to end the fight. But the cagey Klistchko stayed out of range, even hurting an exhausted Joshua with a hook near the end of the round.
A minute into round six, Klitschko exploded a bomb off Joshua’s temple. Separated from his senses, Joshua fell to the canvas for the first time in his career. He got up and wobbled. Klitschko, a 2-1 underdog entering the contest, went for the kill, but Joshua managed to stay upright.
Joshua still looked shaky in round seven. Klistchko was staffing him with jabs and right hands. Joshua was searching for his second wind. It came at the end of round seven, when he found Klitschko’s body with a wicked hook.
With four rounds to go in the match, the fight was still up for grabs. Klitschko had rallied back and now was in control, but Joshua appeared to have righted the ship.
Klitschko popped his heavy jab in round 10 while Joshua continued to attack to the body and head. A long over-hand right connected. Could the tide be turning again?
Joshua connected with a straight right hand in round 11 that buckled Klitschko’s knees. Klitschko tried to move to stay out of danger, but with less than two minutes to go in the stanza, Joshua caught him with a wicked uppercut.
Seconds later, a number of blows sent Klitschko to the canvas for the second time.
Klitschko got up once again, but this time looked hurt. A hard right knocked him into the ropes. Joshua landed another uppercut—followed by a left that sent Klitschko falling to the floor like a huge tree. Klitschko hauled himself up. He gazed at Joshua as the referee counted, like a man waiting for the grim reaper to lower the blade.
Joshua wasted no time. He forced Klitschko to the ropes and let his hands go. After one more right hand connected off Klitschko’s head, referee David Fields waved the fight off.
The time was 2:25 seconds into round 11.
The drama was rich, and the suspense spellbinding, the fight a rollercoaster of ups and downs. The two warriors embraced warmly after the match, having delivered arguably the best heavyweight fight in the last 20 years.
For that, the Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko bout is the 2017 Maxboxing fight of the year.