There’s something about fighting in Wembley Stadium that brings dramatic moments for Anthony Joshua, causing the massive crowd at London’s biggest soccer arena to hold their collective breaths — only to turn that angst into elation.
It happened against Wladimir Klitschko last year, when Joshua marked his official arrival as a top heavyweight by taking out the former lineal champion, coming off the canvas and battling back to win by technical knockout, unifying two world titles in the process.
And it happened again this past Saturday against Alexander Povetkin, a former title challenger who was past his prime but remained a top challenger both on paper as well as in reality once the bell rang.
Povetkin controlled the action early, landed well and seemed to have the right strategy — and the skills needed to implement it. But Joshua didn’t get discouraged. He rallied back, came on strong at the right time, set up chances to land with his fight-changing power, and then did exactly that.
Joshua rocked Povetkin in the seventh, dropped him soon after, and continued battering him until the referee jumped in to stop the fight.
Joshua is an impressively built heavyweight, statuesque at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, with chiseled muscles and good hand speed. He won Olympic gold as an amateur in 2012, and he’s developed into a very good fighter and an immense star in the years since.
He’s got one incredible tangible — his power. He’s also got one incredible intangible — his determination.
In the early rounds, Povetkin used combinations and counters, utilizing hand speed that seemed superior to Joshua’s and throwing looping shots from odd angles. Povetkin had Joshua stumbling backward at the end of the first round, the result of a three-punch flurry, a jab that was followed by a right uppercut and then a left hook.
Joshua began the second round with a bloody nose. Povetkin began the round with a good right hand counter. He wasn’t intimidated by Joshua’s size — he’d fought big men before, losing to the great Klitschko (6-foot-7) in 2013 but taking out the lesser likes of Johann Duhaupas (6-foot-5), Mariusz Wach (6-foot-7) and David Price (6-foot-8) in the years since.
Povetkin knew how to work his way inside those long arms and to send his shots around them, including the overhand right that landed with a minute to go in Round 2. He countered Joshua’s jab early in Round 3, trying to make Joshua more tentative on offense, which could only help Povetkin even further. Early in the fourth, Povetkin sent out a short jab toward the body that intentionally fell short, which served to set up a left uppercut that also missed the mark, which in turn led to the punch that had been intended to land all along, a good right hand upstairs.
Yet Joshua was able to respond with his best round of the fight so far, landing more than half his punches, 15 of 29 according to CompuBox, including 6 of 10 power shots. One of those blows brought blood from above Povetkin’s left eye.
Joshua wasn’t credited with landing a single power shot in Round 5, though, focusing instead on the jab. The sixth turned out to be a different case, Joshua succeeding with a short right hand at one point, a feinted jab turned into a left hook at another.
Just before the halfway point of the seventh round, Joshua set up the shot that would change the fight. He jabbed toward the body, then paused, then jabbed for a second time, then paused again, then sent out a third jab, at last enticing Povetkin to come forward to try to land a counter.
Joshua was ready.
He caught Povetkin coming forward, striking with a short yet powerful right hand. Povetkin staggered backward. Joshua followed with a big left hook and another right hand. Povetkin went down, struggling to steady himself as he got up, nearly falling forward through the ropes.
Povetkin was up by the count of eight. Joshua wanted to put him back down again. He missed a couple of right hands, Povetkin ducking underneath of them, and so Joshua sent out a left uppercut to lift Povetkin’s head, putting it into better position for a big right hand.
The referee jumped in, and Povetkin fell down to the canvas, conscious but finished. The fight was over. Joshua was now 22-0 with 21 knockouts. The crowd, an estimated 90,000 in total, roared their approval.
Povetkin was 39 years old, someone who’d fallen short against Klitschko in an embarrassingly ugly loss, and who’d been tainted by positive tests in the past for performance enhancing drugs. He was still seen as a live challenger for Joshua, and that scouting report turned out to be true on Saturday night. Joshua proved superior, however.
Povetkin is now 34-2 with 24 KOs. While he is late in his career — he won gold way back in the 2004 Olympics — there’s still enough left in his tank that he could continue on, particularly with there being plenty of decent fights that can be made in the heavyweight division.
But the one heavyweight fight that people care most about is Joshua against the winner of an upcoming fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, which could take place on December 1.
Fury bested Klitschko by unanimous decision in late 2015. He lost his titles afterward, though, thanks to substance abuse issues and a battle with depression that led to a rematch with Klitschko being canceled and Fury ballooning in weight during a two-and-a-half-year sabbatical.
He came back in June and has gotten back in shape with wins over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta. A fight with Wilder was teased a long time ago and now at last will be happening.
Wilder, the powerful titleholder from the United States, had previously been in negotiations with Joshua for a unification bout. They couldn’t reach an agreement. Both men instead moved in a different direction.
Joshua says he still wants the fight.
“There’s a lot of back and forth … ultimately we’re two fighters, two champions in the division at the same time, but at the end of the day, we have to fight each other,” he said during a post-fight interview.
We’ll see who wins Wilder vs. Fury. And then we’ll see if a deal can be made. Joshua and his team already have Wembley Stadium booked for April 13. And they have other options, including Jarrell Miller or a rematch with Dillian Whyte. Those fighters don’t carry as much star power, but that won’t matter so long as so many people continue to show up to see Joshua fight.
Still, Joshua vs. Wilder would be the biggest of them all, a fight between two of the hardest hitting heavyweights in the world.
Boxing fans wouldn’t merely show up to see that fight. They’d try their hardest not even to blink.