The bookmaker had printed separate sheets for Joshua vs Klitschko bets, with my pick Klitschko by decision and instructions from my other half for a Klitschko win of any kind. She reckoned from the weigh-in face off that Joshua is too much a boy and that Klitschko had his business face on. Money had come in on the Ukrainian since printing so the odds had narrowed slightly. An elderly gambler told me we had it all wrong. “Joshua will knock him out in four,” he said as if remembering a contest he’d already seen.
There’s a unique anticipation in the air which grows as you approach Wembley Stadium for a sporting event and a crossover event like this one attracts a broad range of fan.
The t-shirt sellers advertise “half price” shirts at £10 while touts offer to buy and sell tickets. On wembley way, a small group of Ukrainians collect for the ‘British Ukrainian aid’ charity. I’m still unsure if this was an inspired or ridiculous location to make their collections.
Our seats were far better than expected, on a lower tier with a good view of the action and close to the raised stage at which sky pundits watched and broadcast. A similar stage was set up for the US Showtime team to our right.
The sound system, it goes without saying, is awesome. Short videos shown to the crowd before the main event were superbly put together, but as casual voices waxed lyrical about the power of Joshua, I was struck by just how poor some of the victims being swatted around were in comparison to the formidable opponent waiting tonight.
Attending with the other half which brings a fresh and innocent perspective which can provide questions I can’t always answer. “Why do they box at night?” she asks. Opinions are based on simpler and perhaps more valid analysis than those of us who watch hours of footage.
Photo: Esther Lin
A poor undercard finishes (or in some cases is cancelled) and Wembley falls dark. Inevitably, “Sweet Caroline” plays as MC Michael Buffer entered the ring. There were some educated voices in the crowd, one of whom informs a friend that Joseph Parker was WBO champion.
Entrances can provide a statement of intent and Wladimir’s was single-minded and purposeful. The red of his championship days was shed, apart from the familiar red hot chilli peppers music. There was little doubt Klitschko had come to reclaim his property.
If Wladimir was no-nonsense, Joshua was introduced like a music artist, with a ramp and flashing ‘AJ’ lights which brought to mind those designed for Frank Bruno for his 1995 title fight at the old Wembley Stadium. Notorious B.I.G can make a for a fabulous entrance song but this version was – perhaps like Joshua himself – heavily censored, although amusingly ‘gats’ slipped through the censorship while ‘endo’ – with the smell of weed in the cool Wembley air – did not.
Photo: Esther Lin
After a brief feeling out period, the fight turned into the rare heavyweight title fight representing the sport at it’s very best: two of the biggest, baddest men on the planet baring their souls in front of a huge, enthralled audience. Both men dug into reserves we didn’t know they had until finally it was the referee who decided the depths they were willing to go to were too brutal.
Photo: Esther Lin
With ten rounds completed I had it dead even. That the young champion entered a realm – the championship rounds – in which he was a stranger and his opponent familiar with such an intensity speaks eloquently for his courage and daring. Joshua had taken some terrific blows from one of the hardest punchers in history; he’d been floored for the first time in his professional career and still found the courage and energy to fight savagely enough to render judging redundant.
Consider that neither Mike Tyson or Lennox Lewis ever won a fight in which they were floored. Joshua couldn’t know if he had the stamina to bounce back from a torrid knockdown and hard middle rounds which followed but found the fight to win in highlight-reel fashion.
A year ago Joshua won a belt and to his credit refused to become carried away. On Saturday he took a huge step towards three letters much more important than those used by alphabet bodies. He took a giant stride towards being crowned “the” as in “the champion” and “the man.”