Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko, 41, had been the dominating force in heavyweight ranks since winning Olympic gold in 1996.
He turned pro and won his first heavyweight belt in 2000.
After defeats in 2003 and 2004, he changed his style from aggressive puncher to a defense, stick-and-move fighter. With his new style, he regained portions of the fractured title in 2006 and 2008. In 2009 and 2011 he captured the remaining belts, and now held the IBF, WBO, IBO, and WBA belts plus the Ring Magazine title.
He held these titles until a loss in 2015, becoming the second-longest-reigning heavyweight champion in history, with the second-highest number of successful title defenses.
His older brother, Vitali Klitschko, (now retired, and mayor of Kyiv) also captured WBC, WBO, and The Ring heavyweight titles during the same period, which is why the years between 2006 and 2015 are often called the “Klitschko era.”
Many expected Wladimir to retire after his lackluster performance in a defeat in 2015; instead he challenged for the title again.
He faced Anthony Joshua, a 27-year-old with only 18 fights. Joshua was a hard hitter without much experience.
It was billed as a battle of giants, and it surpassed the hype.
The fight was possibly the biggest ever staged in a British ring, and attracted the largest live audience in 78 years.
After four rounds of careful sparring, Joshua attacked and floored the Ukrainian champion in the fifth, but Klitschko fought back to his feet, then responded with a vicious counterattack that nearly stopped his younger opponent.
Klitschko continued his pounding in the sixth round, sending Joshua to the canvas for the first time in his 18-fight career.
Here, Klitschko might have made a fatal error.
“He’s not, he wouldn’t get up, he managed to get up. … From that moment I kind of felt that he’s out of gas and concentration and he recovered that through the rounds,” Klitschko said after the fight. “I think I could’ve done more to finish him up maybe, right after he went down, but I was pretty sure that it’s gonna be my night so I took my time.”
As the fight continued, Klitschko seemed the fresher of the two, scoring well with his jab and landing some serious shots in the 8th and 10th rounds.
Finally, in the 11th round, Joshua caught Klitschko with an uppercut, a punch that has been the Ukrainian’s kryptonite throughout his career.
Klitschko went down. He got back up, but he was clearly not clearheaded. He suffered another knockdown, and once again struggled back to his feet, but the referee stopped the fight.
Klitschko refused to discuss either a rematch or retirement.
He did say he felt good about the event.
“So it was a great night, great night for boxing, great night for fans and it was an exciting fight, so I’m happy about that and that’s what I’m taking with me,” he told reporters at the post-fight press conference.
“You will probably be also surprised at my statement but I don’t feel as, I don’t feel as someone that lost and I think tonight that we all won even if I didn’t get the belts, but I don’t feel that I lost,” he said.