It was jubilation in Sagamu and Abeokuta the Ogun state capital after midnight as people stayed up until this morning to watch Anthony Joshua in another heavyweight fight for the ages, and what a night at the national football stadium as Anthony Joshua finished Alexander Povetkin in a dramatic seventh round to retain his three world heavyweight titles. Twenty-two fights, 22 victories.
Afterwards Joshua identified his ideal next three fights. “In order, I’d like Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury and then Dillian Whyte,” said the 28-year-old, who retained his WBO, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles.
Having been rocked by the Russian’s hooks at the end of the first round, leaving his nose broken and bloodied, Joshua was acutely aware of the danger of the older, more experienced challenger. Yet after taking Povetkin’s best shots, his left hook straight right-hand combination twice buckled Povetkin and sent him to the canvas. The Russian climbed groggily to his feet, but Joshua took him to task once more, crumpling him like clothes falling into a suitcase for a second time.
As predicted, Povetkin was always going to be dangerous but Joshua grew in confidence and finished in style. Heavyweight boxing is about knockouts and he was brutal in delivering it.
Joshua had emerged into the stadium in that white robe, aping Muhammad Ali, looking so relaxed. He raised a white-gloved hand to friends and family sitting ringside, shadowboxed his way to the ring on a hydraulic lift, the biggest commercial commodity in the sport. The big roar went up. Spumes of fire exploded around him but this is now a familiar walk down Wembley way, soundtracked to the chant of ‘O, Anthon-eeee Joshu-ua’.
It was a cagey start as they felt each other out, a phoney war until Povetkin exploded with a three-punch combination which clearly buckled the Briton. It felt a little like Russian roulette at times. There was more animated talk in the corner between rounds than we have ever witnessed from trainer Rob McCracken. Joshua needed it. He needed acuity here.
In the fourth, a brilliant uppercut from Joshua bust the eyelid above Povetkin’s left eye, and clearly it lifted the defending champion. As the fight played out through the fifth and sixth rounds, Povetkin was made to miss more, and when shots did land, the champion simply nodded and waved his rival in. His confidence was growing, and as the older man by 11 years began to tire, Joshua finished emphatically.
When the referee Steve Gray stepped in between them to rescue Povetkin, after the sensational finish, the 80,000 crowd here erupted. Such relief. Joshua had been 4-2 down on this card.
There is so much at stake every time he fights. Millions watched at home in the UK and in the United States, where the Briton with the Adonis-like physique was making his first appearance on the streaming network DAZN in the US, and four other territories, the platform a part of the network owned by British billionaire Sir Len Blavatnik. The US market matters. It is the next for the Briton to conquer.
Joshua earned £20 million for his night’s work – the Russian heads back east with £6m in his bank account. Joshua knew that he had to be at his best against the shorter, powerful, tank-like build of the man known as ‘the White Lion’, who wanted to get in close, on to Joshua’s chest, and explode with his dangerous arcing left hooks, and an overhand right which had put 70 per cent of his previous opponents to sleep.
In Povetkin, the developing British fighter met a fellow Olympic gold medallist, a boxer with Russian state backing who had admitted leading up to the fight that this was his “last chance at heavyweight glory” at the age of 39, having been defeated just once in a 13-year career of 35 fights, that solitary imperfection to the Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko.
Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, insisted afterwards: “We really do want to fight Wilder and we will do our utmost to make it happen here at Wembley next April.”
There could be a spanner thrust into those works. Just hours before Joshua and Povetkin stepped into the ring, it emerged that a date has been set for the fight between two other undefeated heavyweights in the Briton Tyson Fury and the American Wilder, holder of the World Boxing Council crown. The pair will compete for the WBC world title on Dec 1 in the United States, with the venue to be announced next week. The Sunday Telegraph understands that either Las Vegas or Los Angeles will host the fight.
Whatever happens, the heavyweight division is alive and well. And Joshua is the man they all want to beat.