Anthony Olufemi Joshua produced the best ever performance of his professional boxing career on April 30 when he stopped former heavyweight champion, Vladimir Klitschko, to add the World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight title to the International Boxing Federation (IBF) belt he won in February last year.
It was, indeed, an enthralling fight with an exciting knockout win which wowed the boxing world.
The fight, which took place at the famous Wembley Stadium before a British, post-war record of 90,000 fans and millions across the world, lived up to the hype of the game, with the crowd of spectators roaring as both boxers struggled for the coveted title.
The fifth and sixth rounds stood out and will live long in the memory of boxing fans. They witnessed uncommon boxing dexterity and an exchange of fearsome blows that rained down from the boxers’ gloves like claps of thunder.
The fifth round clearly belonged to Joshua who boxed the former Ukrainian champion to the floor with a flurry of punches. But, in the sixth round, Klitschko showed the skills which had for so long made him the most dominant heavyweight of the 21st Century, boxing when he sent Joshua to the floor for the first time in his 19 boxing career fights. From then on, both boxers endured the brutality for which the sport is noted till the unforgettable round 11 when Joshua delivered a clinical, brutal uppercut that sent Klitschko crashing on the canvas before referee David Fields stopped the fight.
When Klitschko was floored in the fifth round, many still gave him a chance to go the distance. He was no stranger to being knocked down. Many recalled he hit the deck three times in beating Nigerian Samuel Peters on points in 2005. Such resistance subsequently spawned an astonishing 11-year unbeaten run until 2015 when he suffered his first defeat in the hands of Britain’s Tyson Fury. But, against Joshua, he had no such luck as he was knocked out in the 11th round.
With the win, and now a champion with two heavyweight belts, Joshua has come through what is regarded as his stiffest test to date. Before now, in spite of his previous knockouts, questions had been asked about his ability to withstand punishment in the ring. Did he have the skills and experience for a world level fight with the likes of Klitschko? He has emphatically answered these questions and cleared all doubts with the solid techniques he demonstrated against the formidable Klitschko who, though, is 13 years older than him.
The fact remains that the wild celebration by the fans of Joshua, many of them in Nigeria, underscores the significance of his victory: He is a young man who carried a huge weight of expectation and delivered.
The new champion’s reaction to his triumph says it all. “I knew it was possible to hurt him, but I am learning round by round… under the bright lights. I don’t come to box, I come to hurt people’. He deserves the bragging. By stopping one of the most dominant heavyweights of the 21st Century, Joshua now has everything going for him. The win will make him one of the world’s most sought-after brands.
But, he needs reminding that boxing, like many other sports, can provide crowd adulation and attention which, if not carefully handled, can lead to a downfall. If in doubt, he can ask Mike Tyson when he ran into Buster Douglas or Lennox Lewis against the little known Hasim Rahman. Never losing focus and proper mentoring by his trainers will help him in the challenges ahead.
No doubt, the rise of Joshua to stardom will inspire many Nigerians. It’s the stuff of which sweet dreams are made. Born in Watford, England, to a Briton of Nigerian descent, his professional boxing debut was just four years ago. He represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics, winning a gold medal in the Super heavyweight-boxing event. He was honoured by the Queen of England with an MBE in 2013.
It is appropriate that the Federal Government plans to honour him for his accomplishments. His feat is an enduring lesson on the need to nurture talented Nigerian sportsmen and women. We congratulate him on his amazing victory and encourage him not to rest on his oars. His remarkable achievement is a good example for Nigerian youths.