Anthony Joshua extended his unbeaten professional record with a sensational stoppage of Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium.
The WBA, WBO and IBF world heavyweight champion overcame a difficult start before ending the contest in the seventh round with a brutal barrage of shots.
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.
The IBF, WBO and WBA champion, criticized in some quarters for failing to finalize a deal with the division’s other high-profile names, responded emphatically with a seventh-round stoppage of the Russian, who had never been beaten inside the distance.
After an early chess match in which Joshua suffered a bloodied nose before cutting his rival, the Briton grew in confidence and a savage right hand followed by a left hook began an onslaught which would prove telling.
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’.
Povetkin continued to swing and miss with wild left hooks and, in the fourth, began to struggle due to a large cut by his left eye.
A few cagey rounds followed, before Joshua ended the contest in emphatic fashion in the seventh.
After sending the Russian to the canvas with a left-right combination after hurting him with a big right hand, referee Steve Gray intervened to rescue Povetkin once he was back on his feet and unable to defend himself from another hurtful barrage of punches.
Another right-left combination downed Povetkin, who somehow made the count, only to stagger into a left hook which saw him slump into the ropes, leaving referee Steve Gray with no option but to intervene.
Roars poured down to ringside as the rain had all day, with Joshua’s corner ecstatic and rightly so. His display showcased poise, intellect and power, sending a message to the heavyweight division that the champion will take some stopping.
Joshua, who had been suffering from flu during his preparations and had a problem with his right hand before the fight, paid tribute to his opponent.
“Povetkin is a very tough challenger, he proved that with good left hooks and counter punches”, he said
“I came in here to have fun, and give it my best. I knew he was strong to the head but weak to the body. I was just mixing it up. It could have been seven, maybe nine, maybe 12 rounds to get him out of there, but the ultimate aim was to be victorious”.
He said “and I got my knockout streak back,” added Joshua, who was taken to 12 rounds for the first time in his previous fight against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker in Cardiff in April”.
Less than 24 hours after WBC champion Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury confirmed their 1 December fight, Joshua snatched the heavyweight limelight back his way.
He will be back at Wembley on 13 April and whoever steps in with him next will face questions as to how they thwart the champion after a display like this.
His last outing here was a see-saw encounter with Wladimir Klitschko. On that night, he came of age, setting new levels of excitement and expectation.
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.