His defeat at the hands of Anthony Joshua sent him into retirement, but for boxing fans, it was quite possibly the most glorious night of his career
On 29 April 2017, Wladimir Klitschko was stopped in the 11th round of what would be his last fight. Despite losing, he won the respect of those who had been his detractors and walked away with more fans than he had going in.
Klitschko had dominated the heavyweight division for a decade, holding all of the major titles save for the WBC belt which was held twice by brother Vitali between 2004 - 2013.
Despite losing 3 fights by TKO earlier in his career and looking as though he might not quite have what it takes to be champion, Wlad was able to close up the gaps and perfect his craft under the guidance of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, and for a time seemed untouchable. He controlled fights behind a ramrod jab and employed a defensive style, often tying opponents up on the inside to avoid the mishaps that had occurred in the past.
For boxing purists, he was a master of his art, but it wasn't a fan-friendly style, especially in the heavyweight division where the casual fan expects to see bombs flying and will probably leave disappointed if a fight goes the distance.
Wlad did deliver KO's, but they often came against drastically overmatched opposition. When he did fight genuine contenders, such as David Haye and Alexander Povetkin, he dominated but it just wasn't quite what the fans wanted to see. His reluctance to engage in tear-ups was what made him a successful champion and yet it was also what deterred fans.
Klitschko's reign came to end in 2015 when a somewhat unknown quantity named Tyson Fury tore up the script. It was a fight that never really got going, with Wlad looking bemused by Fury for the duration and failing to pull the trigger until the encounter was almost at its end.
We wondered then if it was merely an 'off' night for Wlad, or if at just shy of 40 years old, age had finally caught up with him.
The rematch, first set for July 2016, was postponed twice before Fury vacated the belts citing mental health issues which ultimately saw him take two and a half years out of the ring.
With the Fury rematch no longer an option, a deal was made for Klitschko to face off against Anthony Joshua in a bid to reclaim his old IBF, WBA and IBO titles. It would be an instant heavyweight classic with Klitschko showing a previously unseen side of himself.
The first couple of rounds were relatively uneventful, with Klitschko showing his ring craft but Joshua looking ever so slightly the busier of the two. In the third things began to open up as Joshua started pressing the action and finding his way inside.
The fourth was where the dynamic of the fight noticeably shifted, with Klitschko landing a big right hand shortly after the bell which had Joshua shaken for the remainder of the round. AJ replied in kind in fifth, coming out swinging and flooring Wlad for the first time.
As Klitschko tumbled to the Canvas it looked for a moment as though he was headed for the same fate as Joshua's previous 18 opponents, none of which had managed to survive past the seventh. Klitschko, however, was able to ride the storm and finished the round the stronger man with Joshua looking as though he may have emptied the tank on the assault.
Round 6 - with AJ still looking weary Klitschko dictates the pace and with just over a minute gone lands a huge right hand that gives Joshua his first taste of the canvas.
Klitschko would dominate the second the half of the fight after flooring Joshua but was unable to find the punches he needed to put an end to matters. In rounds 9 through 10 Joshua was beginning to look as though the fog had cleared and was able to start showing some offence again, although Wlad was still looking the stronger of the two.
Round 11 - AJ, seemingly finding his second wind, lands some big shots early, but having learned a lesson from the fifth, maintains composure and is careful not to expend himself. Midway through the round, he lands a thundering uppercut that may very well have won him the fight.
Klitschko would climb off the canvas twice, showing a tremendous amount of heart and will to win, before finally being stopped on the ropes with just 35s left in the round.
Ultimately he came up short against the younger, hungrier man, but even in losing gave an incredible account of himself - an account that many of us weren't sure he was capable of giving.
It has been said that a 'prime' Klitschko would have beaten Joshua, but that takes us down the road of what-ifs, and besides, I would argue that this was a prime Klitschko. Yes, he was 41 years old, and yes the Fury fight and following rematch cancellations may have taken something away from him mentally, but he surely gave us the best version of himself regardless.
On that night we saw a Wlad who controlled the ring masterfully as only a man with his experience can. We saw his chin truly tested for the first time since Lamon Brewster KO'd him back in 2004. We saw him trade in ferocious exchanges as well as box cleverly behind his jab, and we saw him dig deeper than ever before.
Wladimir Klitschko's Legacy will be in his achievements - in his years unbeaten, defending his titles, but as for his defining fight, the one we'll all remember him for, surely it was this.
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