LONDON — Anthony Joshua wasn't wrong when he raised his hands in victory after knocking Wladimir Klitschko down in the fifth round of what looked like a one-sided heavyweight title fight. He was just celebrating too early.
The rookie mistake allowed Klitschko to rally, nearly taking the lead as the two 6-foot-6 men went to the 11th round — four rounds longer than any Joshua fight had ever gone. That's when Joshua unleashed a brutal uppercut that spun Klitschko around, leading to a win that set off British celebrations in Wembley Stadium and beyond Saturday night and cemented the 27-year-old as boxing's new superstar.
Rounds 5 and 6 featured some of the best heavyweight action since Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis — the latter two sitting ringside — ruled the division.
Klitschko who had barely thrown any power punches before the knockdown, came back to make the end of the fifth round interesting and knocked Joshua down in the next round.
With an entire country screaming for him, Joshua — who had knocked all his previous opponents out by the end of the seventh round — looked tired. But he saved his best for the late rounds, particularly the uppercut that will be a YouTube moment for decades.
Klitschko didn't fall down after the uppercut, but Joshua was all over the stunned former champ and dropped him with a left hook. Klitschko got up only to take even more punishment. Joshua knocked Klitschko down again and was landing punches to his head on the ropes when referee David Fields moved in to stop the bout late in the 11th round.
"When you go to the trenches, that's when you find out who you really are," Joshua said. "In this small little ring here, there's nowhere to hide."
The biggest heavyweight title fight in more than a decade had a little something for everyone, and Joshua finished off in style.
"As I said from the get-go, it will be a boxing classic and the best man will win," Joshua said.
Klitschko's rally was inspiring, starting soon after he was knocked down in the fifth. By the end of the round, it was Klitschko pummeling a tired Joshua.
Joshua was still feeling the effect of those punches when he was dropped by a right hand in the sixth round. Klitschko began piling up rounds and it seemed like the savvy Ukrainian would quiet the hometown fans, until Joshua turned things around with that vicious right uppercut.
"If you don't take part, you're going to fail," Joshua said. "Just give it a go and you never know the outcome."
Joshua was up 96-93 and 95-93 on two scorecards, while Klitschko was ahead 95-93 on the third going into the final round. The Associated Press had it 94-94.
Klitschko, who reigned over the heavyweight division for a decade, was fighting both Joshua and Father Time at the age of 41. He looked to be overmatched in the early rounds, but fought his best after he was knocked down.
It was anyone's fight when Joshua landed the uppercut that proved decisive, much to the delight of his countrymen who packed England's national stadium for the highly anticipated bout.
"As I said I'm not perfect but I'm trying," said Joshua, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist who was fighting for only the 19th time as a pro.
Joshua had never been beyond seven rounds, and it looked like he might be running out of gas as he tried to find his legs following the knockdown in the sixth. Klitschko, in his 29th world title fight, seemed to be taking the advantage in the later rounds, until the uppercut sent him spinning across the ring.
"It was really sad I didn't make it tonight," Klitschko said. "I was planning to do it. It didn't work. But all respect to Anthony."
Joshua defended his heavyweight titles and his undefeated record in a bout that lived up to its billing as the best matchup after a long drought in the heavyweight division. Already a hero in his native England, he may become one worldwide.
Joshua said before the bout that it was just two men in the ring, and nothing more than that. But it was clear by the crowd's reaction as he came back to win that it was a lot more to many fans.
It was a battle of massive heavyweights, with both standing 6-foot-6. Joshua weighed 250.1 pounds to 240.5 for Klitschko.
Klitschko fell to 64-5 in a long career that began in 1996 after he won the Olympic gold in Atlanta. In what may have been his last fight, he was beaten by the Olympic champion from the 2012 Olympics in London.