Anthony Joshua was granted his wish of a new year showdown with Wladimir Klitschko after dispatching American Eric Molina in the third round to retain his IBF heavyweight title in Manchester.
Moments after Joshua’s win promoter Eddie Hearn made the announcement that a deal has been done for the pair to clash in a unification showdown at Wembley Stadium on April 29.
Klitschko joined Joshua in the ring for a surprise face-off and said: “I watched AJ win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and if you want to see us fight now, you’ve got it.”
The veteran added: “AJ did his job, period. I am happy that he won, that was actually my wish. Now we have announced the fight I think the fans want to see it, there is no other fight out there.
“I am a fan of his talent, I will always be supportive of him, I think he can unify the division, he is undefeated, he has won all of his fights by knockout and I really look forward to getting in the ring and doing the business.”
Under Klitschko’s gaze, Joshua had patiently set about dismantling his outclassed opponent before delivering the decisive blow with a stunning right hand which dumped Molina to the canvas.
The game Molina clambered to his feet but moments later referee Steve Gray stepped in to save him further punishment, completing another hugely convincing win for the 2012 Olympic champion.
Klitschko’s presence was a stark reminder that sterner tests await than the one presented by the 34-year-old Texan schoolteacher, whose chief qualification for such a steep assignment was the nine rounds he lasted against WBC champion Deontay Wilder last year.
Nevertheless with that Wembley Stadium clash resting on Joshua producing a polished performance, he entered the ring at just gone midnight on Sunday morning with plenty of pressure on his shoulders to perform.
For all the modesty of Molina’s record, he came to England having sought the advice of Oliver McCall, who famously ripped the WBC heavyweight title from Lennox Lewis in a stunning upset in London in 1994.
Accepting he needed a similar one-punch shocker to stand any chance of seizing his unlikely world title chance, Molina stated his intention to go for broke but in truth he was barely able to throw a shot as Joshua set about patiently exposing the gulf in class from the opening bell.
And the four knockdowns suffered in the course of his challenge to Wilder always made it much more likely Molina would quickly go the same way as Joshua’s two previous world title victims, Charles Martin and Dominic Breazeale.
A swatting left hand was all Joshua needed to deliver in the opening round to question Molina’s intent, and Joshua continued to probe patiently in the second, unloading a left uppercut which further challenged his opponent’s resolve.
By the third it was clear Molina was fighting on borrowed time as Joshua pursued him around the ring with almost casual disdain, before crunching home the right hand which dumped Molina to the canvas in his own corner.
It said much about Molina’s fighting heart that he should manage to climb to his feet at the count of eight, but it merely prolonged the inevitable and as Joshua poured in shots with either hand at the restart, Gray wisely called the contest off at two minutes and two seconds of the round.
It was a clear statement of intent by Joshua, who pointedly glared at ringside rival David Haye during his moment of victory, and will surely have convinced Klitschko that he will pose him a significant threat for their meeting which is now signed and sealed for April.
Joshua did not get carried away after the win and vowed to be a good champion.
“It was slow, patient and calculating. You are dealing with someone who is not giving you many options, so I had to create them and I once I saw it I managed to connect properly and knocked him out,” he said.
“He had maybe two shots, the right hook can always follow with the left so he had two shots. But he is not a Kiltschko, he is not a Haye, he is not all of these other fighters.
“That’s why I don’t get too hyped, that’s why I took him out like I should.
“I am going to keep on doing that, I am going to keep on handling business like I should.
“The belt doesn’t represent me, it’s how you deal with people, how you represent yourself as a champion.
“The belt is a sign of a champion but what makes a champion is the things I have just said.”