Anthony Joshua will face Wladimir Klitschko in a mouthwatering unified heavyweight championship clash after defending his IBF crown for a second time with a third round knock-out of Eric Molina in Manchester. The fight scheduled for Wembley Stadium on 29 April was announced immediately after Joshua claimed the 18th victory of his professional career and maintained his 100% knock-out record.
A fight for the vacant WBA 'super' and IBF crowns was expected to be in the offing in 2017 yet just minutes after disposing of Molina, Matchroom chief Eddie Hearn confirming the bout. Ukrainian Klitschko entered the ring at the Manchester Arena to go head-to-head with Joshua, who will face the defining contest of his career less than five years on from winning Olympic gold.
"I've shared the ring with the champ," said 27-year-old Joshua after the fight was confirmed. "He's a very respectful man outside of the ring, very competitive in the ring. Two warriors are coming together. This is the step-up that people wanted. Klitschko wants his belts back, let the best man win.
"How I beat him, I be myself. I focus on my own training and come out with a positive attitude. That's how I go about beating Klitschko. This has been three years in the waiting and it's here now. Until you step into the ring with someone you don't know what you're facing. I've stayed consistent and dedicate and I'm not near my peak yet."
Watched by heavyweight royalty including Klitschko, Tyson Fury and David Haye, Joshua was keen to lay down a marker ahead of what could be a career-defining next 12 months. Molina had rocked WBC champion Deontay Wilder in defeat to the American in June 2015 yet the challenge of facing another knock-out specialist would be a tough test of his durability.
Molina offered very little sign of possessing any belief or intent in the early exchanges, and that immediately played into Joshua's hands. The Olympic champion from London 2012 went through the motions in the opening two rounds before displaying his virtuoso power in round three.
Joshua pushed the Drummer Boy onto the ropes before unleashing a stinging right hand to send the Texan to the floor. Molina responded to the count of 10 but Joshua took full advantage of his opponents' vulnerability forcing the referee to step in decisively after another pair of shots from the Briton left the contender dazed.
Attention then immediately turned to the ringside Klitschko, who has not fought since his shock loss to Fury in November 2015 and will be 41 by the time he steps into the ring with Joshua who has fought 18 times since his debut in 2013 and has taken the division by storm.