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Anthony Joshua stops Alexander Povetkin in the seventh round at Wembley Stadium

Undefeated heavyweight champion of the world Anthony Joshua defended his titles after overcoming a shaky start to stop the indefatigable Alexander Povetkin for the first time in the Russian’s career.

By Dean Goulding   - @intuboxing

In front of yet another packed stadium crowd, Britain's boxing superstar delivered the result most had expected to improve his professional record to 22-0 (21 KOs), but not before enduring an unexpected struggle, courtesy of a challenger who more than lived up to his status as mandatory challenger for Joshua's WBA title.

The champion would ultimately end the Russian's title tilt in the seventh round though, following up a brutal overhand right with a fearsome combination to drop the challenger and finishing the job with another series of punches that will no doubt send shockwaves throughout the heavyweight division.

As in Joshua’s previous three fights, and in spite of an ill-timed downpour, the vast crowd was treated to a spectacular display of lights and pyrotechnics as the fighters made their way to the ring, with London-based rapper Nines providing the soundtrack for Joshua’s customary extravagant ring walk.

Holding an impressive 34-1 record coming into the fight (his only loss being a one-sided unanimous decision to then-champion Wladimir Klitschko back in 2013), the Russian came out strongly in the first round, unleashing the trademark left hook that obliterated David Price back in March, and a vicious right uppercut drew blood from and seemingly broke Joshua’s nose, wobbling the champion momentarily.

Concern levels grew for Joshua’s corner and the rain-soaked crowd as the challenger continued to bombard Joshua with powerful hooks. Joshua, often criticised for being too muscular, looked every ounce of his 246lb frame as he struggled to keep up with the Russian’s blistering hand speed.

But just as he did against Wladimir Klitschko in a slugfest that would be awarded Ring Magazine’s 2017 Fight of the Year, Joshua weathered the storm and made some crucial adjustments befitting of a unified champion, increasingly aiming his ramrod jab at Povetkin’s body with a clear objective of slowing the Russian down.

Rediscovering the jab that won him the WBO strap against Joseph Parker in a somewhat underwhelming unanimous decision victory back in March, Joshua levelled the fight after six hard-fought and evenly matched rounds, with a tiring 39-year-old Povetkin missing the mark with wild hooks ever more frequently.

The Russian’s resistance would ultimately fall to pieces in the seventh. A crushing right hand followed by a devastating combination sent Povetkin crashing to the canvas. The challenger barely made it to his feet, almost stumbling through the ropes along the way.

And Joshua, having built a reputation as an expert finisher in 20 knockout victories from 21 fights, was in no mood to let Povetkin off the hook, immediately pouncing on his wounded prey with another lethal combination that forced referee Steve Gray to stop the fight as the Russian again collapsed to the canvas.

The 70,000-strong Wembley crowd cheered jubilantly, perhaps relieved after spending hours in the pouring rain enduring one of the dullest undercards in recent memory, as the biggest draw in British boxing, none more relieved than he, raised his arms and soaked it all in. Until those last few rampant seconds, it had certainly not been a night to remember.

Asked about his future plans in the post-fight interview, Joshua confirmed he’ll next fight on April 13th, but with Deontay Wilder pencilled in to fight Tyson Fury in December, who Joshua’s opponent will be is still unclear.

“We’re going to put a poll out on Twitter”, said Joshua. “Anyone’s welcome”.

Joshua did confirm that rival Dillian Whyte, watching ringside and looking to avenge the lone blemish on his professional record (a seventh round TKO loss to none other than Anthony Joshua back in 2015), is also in the frame.

But the champion made it clear that his “number one” preference is to fight Deontay Wilder, should he come through against former champion Tyson Fury, though Joshua declined to make a prediction as to who will win that fight. “I’m not too fussed who wins if I’m honest. Good luck to both of them; I wish them well.”