Anthony Joshua clinically stopped Alexander Povetkin in seven rounds to defend his IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles and reaffirm his status as the world’s leading heavyweight.
Since adding his third world title with March’s victory over Joseph Parker, the return of Tyson Fury and frustration over his inability to secure a unification match-up with WBC champion Deontay Wilder has threatened that very reputation.
That an estimated 68,000 were present at Wembley Stadium – significantly fewer than the 90,000-strong crowd that attended last year’s victory over Wladimir Klitschko – demonstrated that, but he professionally overcame an opponent of ambition and class.
The 39-year-old Povetkin, like Joshua an Olympic gold medallist, had previously lost only to Klitschko and over the distance when the great Ukrainian was at his peak. Joshua capitalised on his aggression in a way that Klitschko could not, dropping him once before stopping him on his feet.
Joshua had spoken in the week of feeling “tons of pressure” to perform and the confirmation of the December 1 date for the higher-profile fight between Wilder and Fury will not have helped, but if he felt that pressure in the ring, it did not show.
With the physical advantages over an opponent who fought Klitschko on the same evening Joshua made his professional debut, it would have proved a significant upset had the champion secured anything other than his latest victory.
Afterwards Joshua identified his ideal next three fights. “In order, I’d like Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury and then Dillian Whyte,” said the 28-year-old, who retained his WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles.
Having been rocked by the Russian’s hooks at the end of the first round, leaving his nose broken and bloodied, Joshua was acutely aware of the danger of the older, more experienced challenger. Yet after taking Povetkin’s best shots, his left hook straight right-hand combination twice buckled Povetkin and sent him to the canvas. The Russian climbed groggily to his feet, but Joshua took him to task a second time, crumpling him like clothes falling into a suitcase for a second time.
As predicted, Povetkin was always going to be dangerous but as Joshua grew in confidence, and finished in style. Heavyweight boxing is about knockouts and he was brutal in delivering it.
Joshua had emerged into the stadium in that white robe, aping Muhammad Ali, looking so relaxed. He raised a white-gloved hand to friends and family sitting ringside, shadowboxed his way to the ring on a hydraulic lift, the biggest commercial commodity in the sport. The big roar went up. Spumes of fire exploded around him ub this is now a familiar walk, soundtracked to the chant of ‘O, Anthon-eeee Joshu-ua’.
It was a cagey start as they felt each other out, a phoney war until Povetkin exploded with a three-punch combination which clearly buckled the Briton. It felt a little like Russian roulette at times. There was more animated talk in the corner between rounds than we have ever witnessed from trainer Rob McCracken. Joshua needed it. He needed acuity here.
In the fourth, a brilliant uppercut from Joshua bust the eyelid above Povetkin’s left eye, and clearly it lifted the defending champion. As the fight played out through the fifth and sixth, Povetkin was made to miss more, and when shots did land, the champion simply nodded and waved his rival in. His confidence was growing, and as the older man by 11 years began to tire, Joshua finished emphatically.
When the referee Steve Gray stepped in between them to rescue Povetkin, after the sensational finish, the 80,000 crowd here erupted. Such relief. Joshua had been 4-2 down on some cards.
Afterwards he said; “Povetkin is a very tough challenger, he proved that tonight with good left hooks and counter punches.
“I came in here to have fun, and give it my best. I knew he was strong to the head but weak to the body. I was just mixing it up.
“It could have been seven, maybe nine, maybe 12 rounds to get him out of there. But the ultimate aim was to be victorious. I got my knockout streak back.”