Anthony Joshua made to work but retains crown against Carlos Takam

  • Heavyweight champion Joshua beats Frenchman Takam in 10th round
  •  Fight was Joshua’s first defence since winning title against Wladimir Klitschko

    It is testimony to Anthony Joshua’s seemingly unstoppable drawing power that he could just about fill this impressive stadium with only Carlos Takam, a largely unknown 36-year-old French substitute, standing between him and his 20th career stoppage.

    But what a Frenchman. What a 36-year-old. What a substitute. Joshua got his result, rendering Takam defenceless but still standing in the 10th round, bleeding heavily from both eyes and protesting that he could continue. In truth, he could not. He was done. But he won the admiration of his conqueror and the appreciation of the estimated 80,000 fans.

    Takam, born in Cameroon and a Parisian by adoption, got the fight at the last minute, a replacement for the injured mandatory challenger, Kubrat Pulev, and he made the most of his opportunity.

    “Listen, I come to fight,” an almost apologetic Joshua said from ringside. “And up until the end, Takam put on a good show. I was boxing him, trying to break him down. Unfortunately, the referee stopped the fight. I think the fans wanted to see Takam lying on the floor. We get the win and now we look forward to 2018.”

    In the months ahead, Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, will do their best to get Deontay Wilder to put his WBC belt up against the WBA and IBF versions owned by the British champion. It is inevitable, even if the date is uncertain.

    Takam, who fought without fear against the likes of Alexander Povetkin and Joseph Parker, trusting the strength of his left hook and right cross, was respectful to the point of near absence in a quiet opening but warmed to the task.

    A pair of careless headbutts drew blood from the champion’s nose in round two, which sparked Joshua into life, and the punches started to flow. He said beforehand he expected a physical confrontation; he probably envisaged something more conventional.

    Having tasted the best that Wladimir Klitschko had to offer, Joshua seemed unnecessarily cautious, perhaps restrained by thoughts of shipping a shock finisher from the rank underdog. Takam, cut near the right eye after a heavy exchange in the fourth, went over briefly but he showed his fighting heart in a doomed exercise from that point on.

    Joshua set about cutting down his wounded prey in the fifth, and the referee, Phil Edwards, asked the ringside doctor to inspect Takam’s blinking right eye before allowing them to resume. The blood was pouring freely, but he soldiered on. The toughness he has shown throughout his career kept him going, even if resignation painted his features as they neared halfway.

    Takam, cut on the left eye now, landed a couple of minor bombs in the seventh, but Joshua was in cruise mode, his only enemy complacency. The crowd had grown restless, though, and craved a knockout. Joshua had delivered 19 of them since turning professional and, jabbing to the body to bring down his opponent’s guard, he wanted another to keep his perfect stoppage record.

    The doctor took another look at Takam’s eyes before the start of the ninth round and allowed battle to continue. He swung with even more urgency now, suspecting the cuts would end his challenge.

    Joshua staggered him with a succession of head shots that rocked him to his boots in the 10th, and, even though he would not go down, the referee moved between them. He had seen enough – although it was not entirely clear that the crowd had.

    Earlier, Britain’s Dillian Whyte turned in the most impressive performance of his career, surviving an early scare to thoroughly dominate the one-time fringe world contender Robert Hellenius and ramp up his case for a showdown with Deontay Wilder in February (supposedly the price the American has to pay for a fight with Joshua). He deserves it, which does not mean he will get it, but there could be no arguing with his unanimous points won over 12 rounds to take the WBC’s silver belt.

    Whyte went back to his corner on unsteady legs at the end of the second round, caught off-guard by a solid left hook, and his response was to emerge swinging in the third; a couple of clubbing headshots and some solid work downstairs set the tone for the rest of the contest.

    He thereafter rumbled with one-paced menace towards his seemingly disinterested target, bludgeoning the tall Finn with a selection of heavy, hurtful blows to head and body, round after round.

    There was the occasional reply but Hellenius, using his gloves mainly as pillows on which to rest his beard, spent most of his time walking backwards to defeat. It was a most curious performance for a former two-time European champion who declared beforehand he would knock out Whyte and go on to conquer the division. At 33, those ambitions are gone.

    By the 11th round, memories of Whyte’s own second-round wobble had also faded. On a night when he was entitled to dream of bigger bouts to come, he punched the fight out of the Nordic Nightmare. Hellenius put up only token resistance in the 12th round, his only victory avoiding a knockout.

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