Manchester, England (AP) — Anthony Joshua had just outclassed Eric Molina to retain the IBF world heavyweight title when the undefeated British boxer was finally given a proper fight.
Wladimir Klitschko strode into the ring at Manchester Arena, shook hands with Joshua, and the announcement many boxing fans wanted was made.
Joshua vs. Klitschko, Wembley Stadium in London, April 29.
Maybe then, the boxing world will get to find out how good Joshua really is.
Molina certainly wasn’t in his league in Saturday’s fight. The American was knocked down by a straight right from Joshua midway through third round, before the referee stepped in to end the fight as Joshua was reeling off a flurry of punches. There was just under a minute left in the round.
Joshua was the aggressor throughout and it was always a matter of when he would unload on Molina to collect his 18th straight win since turning professional after winning an Olympic gold medal at the London Games in 2012.
“I was slow and patient and that’s all I needed to do,” Joshua said.
The WBA had already sanctioned a fight between Joshua and Klitschko for the spring, but it was left to Joshua’s manager, Eddie Hearn, to announce the date and location from the center of the ring. Molina was still getting treated by his corner.
“Do you want to see a big fight?” Klitschko asked the crowd. “Do you want to see a fight where two Olympic champions are involved? Do you want to see a fight AJ vs. WK?
“You got it.”
In a sign of the respect between the two fighters, who have been sparring partners in the past, Klitschko turned to Joshua and said: “I love you, you are awesome.”
After nearly a decade of ruling the heavyweight division, Klitschko lost his IBF, WBO and WBA belts with a surprise defeat to Tyson Fury in November 2015. The Ukrainian boxer hasn’t fought since, with a rematch against Fury postponed twice.
Fury is taking time away from boxing to focus on treatment and recovery from drug use and other personal problems that forced him to relinquish his titles.
When Klitschko gets in the ring with Joshua in front of what could be 90,000 fans at England’s national soccer stadium, it will end an 18-month wait to get a chance to restore his reputation. Hearn said it will be for the WBA, IBF and IBO belts, as well as perhaps the Ring Magazine belt.
“This guy wants his belt back,” Joshua said, pointing to Klitschko. “Let the best man win.”
The 34-year-old Molina has lost both his shots at a world title, having also been knocked out by WBC champion Deontay Wilder last year.
Molina fought defensively, waiting for the one chance he talked about before the fight. But he never threatened Joshua, whose left jab rocked back the American in the first round. Joshua dominated the second round without finding the big shot, but it wasn’t long in coming.
A straight right from Joshua sent Molina to the canvas near his corner. Molina got to his feet but was being hit by a flurry of punches when the referee called a stop in another anticlimactic finish to a Joshua fight.
Joshua hasn’t been taken beyond seven rounds in a professional bout.
“We move on,” said Joshua, who defended his IBF belt for the second time. “This is not the end of the story.”