We’ve known for some time that Anthony Joshua has got what it takes to become Britain’s new heavyweight boxing hero.
A world champion in the making, the Olympic gold medallist has made a smooth switch to the professional ranks, winning all 14 of his fights. But how would he fare against a man who beat him in the amateur ranks, Dillian Whyte?
I was among the the 20,000 capacity crowd gathered at London’s O2 Arena to find out as Joshua’s acrimonious clash with Whyte – also unbeaten in 16 fights as a pro – for the British and Commonwealth titles topped the bill.
It’s an understatement to say there’s no love lost between the pair, but could Watford’s Joshua had remain calm and composed in the build-up as he sought to avenge that early defeat against his Jamaican-born opponent.
After an evening of good bouts on the undercard, the atmosphere as the main event arrived was something like I had never witnessed – the buzz and sense of anticipation was huge.
“The ugly scenes caused a huge commotion in the packed venue, super-charging the already-electric atmosphere”
Joshua made his entrance to the ring to the backing of music from UK grime act Stormzy, the title of his song ‘Shut Up’ acting as a repost to Whyte’s trash talk in the run-up to their meeting.
The first round started evenly. Whyte was aiming to be the aggressor with unpredictable round-house hits but he wasn’t a match for Joshua’s defensive skills and quickly became frustrated.
The bell sounded but a late punch by Joshua caused Whyte to retaliate while he was being held back by the referee, and this lead to both of the boxers’ entourages and security to invading the ring.
The ugly scenes caused a huge commotion in the packed venue, super-charging the already-electric atmosphere. The incident was also perhaps the cause of Joshua’s most tricky moment at the start of the second round.
As it began, he continued to taunt Whyte and paid the price as he was caught by a huge left hook. But although the 26-year-old was clearly hurt, Whyte was unable capitalise on his breakthrough.
“When Whyte offered to touch gloves as a sign of respect at the beginning of the seventh round, it seemed to be a sign of imminent defeat”
Although written off as a contender by many pundits and experts, it was clear by the end of the third round that Whyte had earned the full respect of Joshua who now found himself in the unfamiliar territory of an even-looking contest.
In the fourth, Joshua gained the initiative as backed Whyte up and created space with his quick, direct jabs which got the crowd going, only for his rival to counter attack with an impressive swing. Whyte was able to land some grazing hits of his own but his recovery wasn’t enough to upset Joshua’s gathering momentum.
It looked as if Whyte was starting to tire – he was taking in huge gulps of air by the end of the sixth round – and when he offered to touch gloves as a sign of respect for Joshua’s performance at the beginning of the seventh round, it seemed to be a sign of imminent defeat.
Whyte, however, was still carving out opportunities and managed to land a shot to Joshua’s temple, but by this stage it was clear for all to see that his classy rival was not to be denied for much longer.
Whyte had to retreat to the ropes several times until the point he was finally caught flush by an huge uppercut that looked to have finished him off, triggering a massive roar from the crowd.
“I give Whyte credit for landing some good shots which tested Joshua’s resilience, but he didn’t have enough to dominate an opponent who is destined for great things”
The 27-year-old gamely fought on but it was effectively all over as another big Joshua blow sent him to the canvas, delivering the victory, the belts and revenge.
Looking back, it was clear that Whyte’s plan had been to pile on the pressure in the first round, but even at that point the flaws in his gameplan – and Joshua’s superior fitness and conditioning – were obvious.
I give Whyte credit for landing some good shots which tested Anthony’s resilience, but he didn’t have enough to dominate an opponent who is destined for great things. He will surely fight for a version of the world heavyweight championship within the next 18 months.