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The anticipation was such before Anthony Joshua’s 2017 heavyweight fight with Wladimir Klitschko that we were certain we were about to see something quite historic.
The charismatic and photogenic Joshua, then 27, went into that fight, held April 29, 2017, in London’s Wembley Stadium before 90,000 fans, with a spotless record of 18-0 with 18 KOs. Klitschko, 41 at the time of the fight, had not fought since losing a decision to Tyson Fury in Nov. 2015 and dropping his major three heavyweight belts, his first loss in over 11 years. The Joshua-Klitschko fight was for Joshua’s IBF belt and also the vacant WBA “super” heavyweight belt.
An international press tour to hype this fight was organized by the promoters. Many media members there recognized that a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division was imminent.
Speaking at the New York press conference to boxing writer Gareth A Davies of the U.K.’s Telegraph, I sensed that this fight could usher in a new era for boxing. “I watched Muhammad Ali come through and this kid has all the appeal that he had in boxing terms,” I said. “Joshua could be the second coming of Muhammad Ali. And that’s no exaggeration. He really could be the next Muhammad Ali. He was an Olympic champion, he is 18-0, all by knockout and he has all the talent in the world.
The timing of this Klitschko fight is perfect and this is the fight in which he will get the interest of the public and the media in the USA.” (1)
Anthony Joshua’s win over Klitschko seemed like the announcement of his stardom
The Joshua-Klitschko fight, as we soon saw, was a classic and the 2017 Fight of the Year. Both fighters hit the canvas, but in the end, Joshua won by 11th-round TKO, cementing his place as the top heavyweight in the world. The accolades soon followed.
The tabloid media in the U.K., where he was born and lived, and in Nigeria, where his mother and other relatives came from, filled their pages with celebrity shots of him and requests by female celebs to date or even marry him.
More seriously, Anthony Joshua was named the most marketable athlete in the world in any sport by SportsPro Media in 2017, and number two in this category in 2018. (2, 3)
Joshua wasn’t yet the King of the World, but perhaps he had become its Crown Prince.
What was to come, however, was hardly Ali-esque.
Anthony Joshua has traded wins and losses, but the results have been less than spectacular
In Joshua’s next fight, in Oct. 2017, he scored a tenth-round stoppage over late replacement and IBF mandatory Carlos Takam, but looked less than stellar, even disappointing. He was now 20-0 with 20 KOs.
The knockout streak would come to an end in a March 2018 unification fight with unbeaten WBO champ Joseph Parker, which Joshua won by decision. He now had three major belts, but this fight had few fireworks. His new record was 21-0 with 20 KOs.
Next up was a Sept. 2018 fight with former WBA heavyweight champ Alexander Povetkin, then 39 years old. Towards the end of the first round, Povetkin wobbled Joshua and left his nose bleeding. But Joshua recovered, although the fight was surprisingly close through six rounds. In the seventh, however, it was all Joshua, who ended up winning by a TKO. Joshua was now 22-0 with 21 KOs.
The next turning point in Joshua’s career was his June 2019 fight with another late replacement, Andy Ruiz Jr. Joshua was originally signed to fight Jarrell Miller, but Miller had tested positive for PEDs, and Ruiz took his place to save this show, Joshua’s first fight in the U.S., and at Madison Square Garden.
The outcome is well known. Anthony Joshua dropped Ruiz in round three, but Ruiz arose and dropped Joshua twice in that round. Joshua never seemed to recover fully, and after two more knockdowns in the seventh round, the referee stopped the fight. Joshua had suffered his first loss, along with losing his invincible reputation. His record fell to 22-1 with 21 KOs.
Joshua exercised his rematch clause, and he again faced Ruiz in Dec. 2019, this time in Saudi Arabia. This fight was entirely different from the first one, with Joshua weighing ten pounds less and Ruiz coming in at a whopping 15 pounds more than their first bout. Joshua seemed gun-shy and fought far more cautiously, but it was obvious that the bloated Ruiz had not trained properly.
Joshua cruised to a unanimous decision, but more questions were raised about whether Joshua had lost his edge and been mentally affected by the loss. He was now 23-1 with 21 KOs, and regained the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts.
In Dec. 2020, Anthony Joshua had what would be a relatively easy IBF mandatory title defense against Kubrat Pulev. He won by ninth-round KO, alternating between outboxing the 39-year-old Pulev and only opening up at times, such as when he scored knockdowns in the third and ninth rounds. Joshua was now 24-1 with 22 KOs.
Holding three major belts meant that he had to fight the mandatory challengers of each of them, so next was the WBO mandatory, Oleksandr Usyk. This fight took place in Sept. 2021 in London.
Unbeaten as a pro, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, an undisputed cruiserweight champion, and now in just his third heavyweight fight, the smaller Usyk, though a master boxer, was a big underdog to Joshua, who many felt would out-muscle and hurt him.
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