LONDON — Anthony Joshua survived the first knockdown of his young career, coming back to drop Wladimir Klitschko twice before stopping him in the 11th round Saturday to retain his heavyweight titles and stake his claim as the boxing’s next star.
Before a boisterous crowd of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium, Joshua and Klitschko traded huge punches in a spectacular fifth round and again in the sixth before Joshua finally found a way to finish the longtime former champion late in the fight.
The biggest heavyweight fight in more than a decade had something for everyone, but in the end it was Joshua who announced himself as the future of the division. He finally turned things around for good with a right uppercut early in the 11th round that spun Klitschko’s head around.
He was all over the Ukrainian and dropped him with a left hook, but Klitschko got up only to take even more punishment. Joshua knocked Klitschko down again and was landing punches to his head on the ropes when referee David Fields moved in to stop the bout late in the 11th round.
“When you go to the trenches that’s when you find out who you really are,” Joshua said. “In this small little ring here, there’s nowhere to hide.”
The fight was stopped at 2:25 of the 11th. Joshua was up 96-93 and 95-93 on two score cards, while Klitschko was ahead 95-93 on the third. The Associated Press had it 94-94 going into the final round.
If the fight was one of the best heavyweight bouts in recent times, the fifth round was one for the ages. Klitschko went down and Joshua raised his hands in triumph, only to take severe punishment as Klitschko came back to batter him late in the round.
Joshua would go down the next round, as the huge crowd quieted and feared the worst. Somehow, though, he managed to find his legs and keep Klitschko away before mounting a counter-attack in the 11th round that won the fight in spectacular fashion.
“If you don’t take part, you’re going to fail,” Joshua said. “Just give it a go and you never know the outcome.”
Klitschko, who reigned over the heavyweight division for a decade, was fighting both Joshua and Father Time at the age of 41. He looked to be overmatched in the early rounds, but fought his best after he was knocked down.
It was anyone’s fight when Joshua landed the uppercut that proved decisive, much to the delight of his countrymen who packed England’s national stadium for the highly anticipated bout.
“As I said I’m not perfect but I’m trying,” said Joshua, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist who was fighting for only the 19th time as a pro.
Joshua had never been beyond seven rounds, and it looked like he might be running out of gas as he tried to find his legs following the knockdown in the sixth round. Klitschko, in his 29th world title fight, seemed to be taking the advantage in the later rounds until the vicious uppercut sent him spinning across the ring.
“It was really sad I didn’t make it tonight,” Klitschko said. “I was planning to do it. It didn’t work. But all respect to Anthony.”
Joshua defended his heavyweight titles, winning for the 19th time in as many fights in a bout that lived up to its billing as the best matchup after a long drought in the heavyweight division. Already a hero in his native England, he may become one worldwide as he continues to advance his career at a rapid pace.
Joshua said before the bout that it was just two men in the ring, and nothing more than that. But it was clear by the crowd’s reaction as he came back to win that it was a lot more than that.
It was a tale of two fights before the final round, with Joshua dominating early and knocking Klitschko down in the fifth. Just as he seemed about to finish off his aging opponent, though, Klitschko landed a straight right hand that put Joshua down and quieted the stadium.
Joshua barely managed to finish the round, and was still wobbly in the seventh. He finally began to gather his legs underneath him and, as the two traded in the 11th round, landed the punch that changed everything.
“As I said from the get-go, it will be a boxing classic and may the best man win,” the 27-year-old said.
It was a battle of massive heavyweights, with both standing 6-6. Joshua weighed 250 pounds to 240 for Klitschko.
Klitschko fell to 64-5 in a long career that began in 1996 after he won the Olympic gold in Atlanta. In what may have been his last fight, he was beaten by the Olympic champion from the 2012 Olympics in London.