After nearly 18 months of waiting for Volodymyr Klitschko to fight in the UK, if finally arrived and despite the eventual result. What a night and what an event it was.
Following the shock defeat for the long reigning champion to some bloke called Tyson Fury, in November 2015, we were anticipating the re-match in Manchester. Securing tickets with the help of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club, for a block of 300 Klitschko fans, we were twice let down by Fury, who withdrew from both dates citing various, well publicised reasons. It was then in December 2016, that it was announced Klitschko would fight the up and coming star of the Heavyweight Division, Anthony Joshua at Wembley in April 2017 – and there was no chance we would be missing it.
The UKUSSC once again tried getting a Ukrainian section for the fight at Wembley, but unlike Frank Warren, who was happy to oblige, Matchroom sports showed no interest in co-operation, so it was every man for himself to get tickets. Trying through StubHub to get tickets was near impossible, with two sale periods, both times it was in a queue or system errors, preventing us getting tickets. Then naturally, they were quickly sold out, but amazingly appeared back on StubHubs resale platform, for hyped up prices, only minutes later. What a coincidence. Instead, it was through a SeeTickets coach package that we got tickets, from Luton to Wembley. Staying at Stepans, myself (Petro), our dads (Pete and Andy) and Styops brother Wasyl (Boj) were the lucky ones with the tickets.
April arrived quickly and the excitement and pre-fight hype was building. Not really knowing to know what to expect, it was hard to confidently predict the outcome, if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t have known where to put my money. Was Klitschko over the hill? Is Joshua the real deal? Can Klitschko still throw his right hand and can Joshuas chin take it? All would be revealed on April 28th.
Having watched countless hours of promotional material, the fight week press conference, open work out and weigh in, the date eventually came around. It was down to Styopa’s in Luton early doors of Saturday morning, as we had a bus to catch at 2.30pm, taking us to Wembley. When we all arrived, it was a generous reception from our host, as the beer and vodka was cracked open and the party had started. On into Luton for some lunch, we were quick to see that we were not the only fight fans with the same idea, as dozens were in the pub of choice and many more milling around the glory of Luton town centre. A quick stop at the local off license for bus refreshments, it was time to make the trip to Wembley, to see the Ukrainian boxing legend try to regain his titles, stop the (so far) unstoppable force of Anthony Joshua and become a three time heavyweight Champion of the world.
We arrived at Wembley before 4pm and it was far too early to head to the stadium, so off we went to The Green Man, based on my previous visit for the Capital One Cup final with Bradford City (and my up and coming visit, for the League One Play-Off final!). Once there, we met with friendly faces and joined in joking around with a welcoming crowd, who were happy to indulge in banter, while we were happy to sup on the ale and the jaeger bombs. Still not knowing which way the fight was going to, more Ukrainian friends joined us at the Green Man and as we grew more comfortable with the surroundings, we started singing Ukrainian songs, chanting for Klitschko and yes, more beer and jaeger.
Making a move toward Wembley at around 8pm, we made our way up to the top tier of the East stand, behind the replaced goal posts. From our vantage point, it was hard to see the undercard fight, so we went and got beers and snacks instead. We were early enough and Wembley was still filling up, but the anticipation was building and the atmosphere with it.
By the end of the final undercard fight, which we didn’t really pay attention to, we were keen to welcome Klitschko and get on with the fight. It wasn’t the first time we had seen Klitschko fight, as after Euro 2012, as he was fighting, to the surprise of his biggest American fans. We visited the Wankdorf Stadium in Berno see him knock out Tony Thompson and were praying for a repeat performance.
After a decent wait, the familiar sound of ‘Can’t Stop’ by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Klitschko was on his way, despite the hostile atmosphere, we gave him our support, but it is fair to say, we were somewhat drowned out by the rest of the amazing crowd. Next came Joshua, the IBF Champion and the pride of Britain. Coming out to the sound of Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes really got the crowd going and it the atmosphere wasn’t hot enough, his pyrotechnic display certainly heated the place up. Even from the top tier we could feel the heat of this, on what was building into a memorable night.
Standing proud, we joined Natalia Klitschko (Vitali’s wife), in signing the Ukrainian anthem, before the rest of the crowd sang God Save the Queen. It was finally here, the sound of Michael Buffers voice “Lets get ready to ruuuumble!!!” And we are off round one. There is no need for a minute by minute report of the fight, as you will have already seen it but I’ll describe some of the emotions. Starting off in a cagey manner, we were a little worried this might be a repeat of the Fury fight where Klitschko didn’t let his hands go until too late. It was hard to see any of the action from our vantage point so high in the stadium, so we were mainly watching on the big screens. With so much emotion and jumping around, it was hard to keep fully on track with the fight and to know who was ahead on the score cards.
Jumping to the fifth round – what a humdinger of a round. A Joshua barrage got the crowd really going and had Klitschko down on the ground; something unseen since his 2005 epic with Sam Peters. At this point we were resigned to Klitschko being past it and Joshua being too strong for his opponent. How wrong we were, rather than being resigned and well beaten, Klitschko showed great heart and determination to fight back and stun a gassed Joshua. The crowd was going beserk, not knowing whether to celebrate the knock down or crying out in despair at this Klitschko come back. Both survived the round but Klitschko sensed blood and came for and brutally knocked down a desperate Joshua. How the atmosphere changed, rather than us disparing, it was the rest of the 90 thousand crowd. We were cheering wildly as the count began while the others were desperate for Joshua to rise and rise he did. Klitschko couldn’t finish him off in the round and Joshua survived, but boy were we in for something special.
Now as we have all know seen and read, Klitschko got the tactics wrong and tried contolloing the fight to a points finish, rather than finishing the job there and then, but the crowd was still going wild and it is fair to say we were loving every minute of it. With Joshua in new territory and Klitschko wanting to control the pace, it was a scramble to see the scores and this topsy turvy fight seemed to be going the distance.
Then came the 11th round, one that Joshua will look back on for the rest of his career as possibly one of his defining moments. Having found a second wind, he came back with an absolute barrage and a sensational uppercut, which somehow didn’t knock Klitschko off his feet. Totally dazed and confused, Joshua sensed his moment and knocked the Steelhammer down again. Klitschko managed to scramble back up, although he never really recovered and Joshua was well in his stried, straight on the veteran and knocking him down again. Once more not conceding, Klitschko rose to his feet, showing the heart that many still didn’t believe he had, but it was not enough, he still hadn’t recovered and under another heavy Joshua barrage, the referee did the right find and stopped the fight.
Klitschko had lost. Anthony Joshua had won.
Totally mesmerised by what had just happened, the shock took over, sat speechless in the chair, while the rest of the stadium simply erupted and was having an amazing party. Eventually climbing to my own feet, there was nothing left but to applaud the efforts of both warriors in the ring. Joshua was getting an amazing reception rightly so, he proved himself the heavyweight king and a worthy winner. As before the fight, both fighters showed great respect for each other with kind words and the tantalising prospect of a rematch…
After the end of this epic contest, we hung around Wembley for a while to hear the post-fight speeches, pleasantries and the remaining atmosphere before heading back out toward the coach. Walking out of the stadium, down the plenty of stairs, the crowd were still singing Anthony Joshua’s name and it was beginning to dawn how big this star could become. He really is the big thing in British Sport now.
On reflection, this is genuinely one of the best sporting events that we have witnessed and feel lucky to have seen it. The atmosphere was amazing, the fight blew all the hype out of the water we saw two warriors go for it at the very top of elite sport, not much could top this. With talk of a rematch abound we are still unsure if Klitschko should take it. He was beaten fair and square and logic says that Joshua can get better, while Klitschko’s age may catch up with him. But it could have been so different, Klitschko had the fight won had he shown a killer instinct that perhaps his brother would have. Will this be motivation for him to try once more to become the three time heavyweight champion of the world. There are probably easier ways for him to do that, but none more lucrative than a rematch with the current top dog of the division. Klitschko won over a lot of people and gained respect that was lacking during his ten year reign at the top of the division, and if there is a rematch, we’ll be doing our best to be there.
What a night. What fight. We absolutely loved it.