Anthony Joshua has named Wladimir Klitschko as the hardest opponent he has fought and revealed he is aiming to knock out a Ukrainian great again on his revenge mission against Oleksandr Usyk.
Heavyweight superstar Joshua added Klitschko's WBA (Super) and IBO belts to his IBF title when his spectacular 11th-round knockout consigned the boxing icon to defeat in his final fight.
Since that classic contest at Wembley Stadium in April 2017, when Klitschko knocked Joshua down earlier in the bout, the Londoner has lost the belts twice, regaining them from Andy Ruiz in December 2019 before losing to Usyk in September 2021.
Klitschko was the most celebrated fighter Joshua has beaten, although he appeared to have far greater problems in his unsuccessful bid to solve the riddle posed by unbeaten Usyk in their cagey showdown at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Joshua told an enraptured Oxford Union audience as cited by Sports Central: 'The hardest opponent I have come up against would be Wladimir Klitschko – definitely. 'The passing of the guard. The young lion versus the old lion. At the time I fought him, I thought it was definitely too early but it was his last fight. 'So if I didn't fight him then, it would have been too late. It was risk versus reward and I thought boxing needed it. 'Sometimes, due to a lack of experience, we make it harder than it sometimes needs to be.
He added: 'He had definitely more knockouts on his record than I have fights and knockouts combined. He is experienced and very strong and it was a tough fight. 'Before that stage, I was knocking guys out within six rounds and seven rounds. Wladimir took me 11 rounds – somewhere I had never been before. He was my toughest, for sure.'
In the five years since he stunned Klitschko in front of 90,000 fans, 32-year-old Joshua has suffered the first two defeats of his career – and he admits he had never used a stringent set of tactics before his current camp for the Usyk rematch, which looks set to take place on July 23 in Saudi Arabia.
Joshua said: 'If I'm honest with you, this is the first time in my career I'd say we are specifically working to a game plan. 'It will all make sense after July 23. I've based a lot of my success on raw ability, with the right coaches, experienced coaches. 'But they probably knew I had ability. It's just about neutering that ability. What tends to happen is, we overthink things too much when there isn't a game plan, because things don't always go our way when it's based on raw ability. 'Raw ability wasn't enough, so now I'm going to try out this new game plan, training and see how it goes.
He added: 'I believe that you have to have an a, b and c. I'm only as good as my team. I'm quite stubborn; if you tell me to go out there and knock out this guy, I'll believe I'll be able to do that. 'The fight with Usyk, in my mind, was to go the 12 rounds – that was my game plan because I felt I could compete with him as a boxer.'
Usyk looked the more likely man to score a knockout on his way to a comprehensive points victory against Joshua.
'AJ' reflected: 'He won two more rounds than I did. The plan now is to go for the knockout. 'My style is to be up close and personal and to make it personal for the opponent, so that's the game plan. 'Usyk's classed as a pound-for-pound opponent. I still don't know what that means. The thing I know is that people like winning and knockouts. 'I've never been into winning or pound-for-pound, I've never really been into rankings. 'He's one of the best across all the divisions. What Usyk means to me personally is someone I fought true to my values, and that means fighting the best of this generation. 'You have boxers that you knock out that make you look good, which is like eye candy in boxing.
The Brit said: 'Usyk is a top-tier opponent, an Olympic gold medalist, a former cruiserweight undisputed champion and now a heavyweight champion. 'He should go down in boxing history and I take him on in three months. God willing, with prayers and hard work, I will get the win and become a three-time heavyweight world champion.'.