It had been a long time since boxing fans were treated to a truly epic and significant heavyweight clash. But Saturday in London, boxing fans finally got what we have been jonesing for, as Anthony Joshua stopped Wladimir Klitschko in Round 11, to claim the vacant WBA belt.
This was a case of big, athletic fighters going after each other. Both men fought with intelligence, but still took risks. Klitschko was sent tumbling to the canvas in Round 5, but made it to his feet and survived the round, then returned the favor in Round 6, dropping Klitschko.
It was Joshua’s turn to show grit. He recovered and ultimately stopped the Ukrainian legend in thrilling fashion, dropping him twice in the 11th and forcing a stoppage.
Let’s be clear, the WBA belt means nothing right now. What matters is that Joshua stopped Klitschko. Tyson Fury is the true heavyweight champion by virtue of his win over Klitschko in November 2015. But Klitschko remained No. 1 contender after that defeat. By knocking him out, Joshua has now claimed that status.
In a perfect boxing universe, Fury would defend his crown against Joshua later this year. That’s the most important fight that can happen right now at heavyweight.
Klitschko has a rematch clause in his contract, so it’s possible we will see a return bout. I’m fine with that. A knockout victory is a decisive win, but Klitschko had Joshua in bad trouble during that fight. His resume warrants a second chance.
If that happens, I still want to see Fury return to the ring this year. I recognize his claim on the title, even though he has not fought in over a year. Other champions have gone over a year without defending. His break has been necessary so he could address legitimate mental health concerns. But until he officially retires, he remains the man.
So I want to see him back in action. Ideally he would face Luis Ortiz, if Joshua is not available. The Cuban has been the most avoided heavyweight in the world. His time has come. The winner of Fury-Ortiz could face the winner of Joshua-Klitschko II early next year.
As for Deontay Wilder, I still see him as the man on the outside, even given his profile in the United States. He has now fought nearly 40 professional bouts while facing only a single top 10 contender, and a marginal one at that. He has made the fans wait to see him in an important fight. Now that the division is on fire, it is his turn to wait.