LONDON -- Anthony Joshua returned to his knockout ways with a seventh-round stoppage win over Alexander Povetkin on Saturday night.
After being forced to points for the first time as a professional in his previous fight, Joshua ensured the judges were not needed with an emphatic finish, flooring Povetkin with a left hook and pulverising right hand.
Povetkin got up but was sensibly stopped as Joshua pummeled him with punches in front of a crowd of close to 80,0000 at Wembley Stadium.
It was a satisfying conclusion for WBA-IBF-WBO world heavyweight champion Joshua (22-0, 20 KOs), but he had some shaky moments early.
"I've got my knockout streak back and I found my right hand again," Joshua said. "Alexander Povetkin is a very tough challenge. He provided that, he was good with left hook. I realized he was strong to the head but weak to the body so I was switching it up. Every jab takes a breath out of you and I slowed him down."
It was the English boxer's sixth defence of his IBF title, third of the WBA and first of the WBO, while the Russian Povetkin (34-2, 24 KOs) suffered his second professional defeat, first by stoppage.
The dominant win was just what Joshua needed after his two biggest rivals, fellow Briton Tyson Fury and WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder, announced they have signed contracts to fight Dec. 1.
Wilder, an American, versus former champion Fury is widely regarded as a bigger and more significant fight than Joshua's 22nd professional win, but Joshua insists he wants the winner.
"I'm not too fussed who wins between them, good luck to both," Joshua said. "The champion needs to get themselves over here to the UK and we'll have a good dust-up. My No. 1 would be Wilder."
The venue and date of Joshua's next fight have long been determined -- Wembley Stadium on April 13 -- but the opponent is still unclear. It will be either the winner of the all-British clash between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora or the Wilder-Fury victor.
"Let's figure out what's happening on April 13," Joshua said. "Providing there's no mandatory challengers, who do you want? I'm going to put a poll out on Twitter.
"Sometimes you have to face your mandatory challenger, and now that's out the way we will put a poll out for who the fans want."
Joshua's promoter, Eddie Hearn, insists the world title unification fight has to happen next.
"We will go away now and try and make a fight with Wilder," Hearn said. "Tonight was about getting that big banana skin of Alexander Povetkin out the way.
"If it's not Deontay Wilder then it will be Whyte here on April 13."
For Povetkin, this is likely to be his end at the top level and he gave it his all, wobbling Joshua on a few occasions early.
Povetkin, 39, knew this was most likely his last shot after being floored four times in a unanimous points loss to Wladimir Klitschko five years ago. Two failed doping tests in 2016 cost Povetkin a crack at Wilder, but he looked dangerous when he knocked out Joshua's fellow Briton David Price in March.
And the WBA mandatory challenger showed just how dangerous he could be by stiffening Joshua's legs with a right uppercut to the jaw followed by a left hook toward the end of the first round.
Joshua was not overly troubled by the combination, but it was the best attack of an entertaining first round and left the champion's nose streaming blood.
Povetkin was sharp early in the second round before Joshua tried to establish some authority behind single jabs.
Povetkin again rocked Joshua with a short left hook in the third round, after he had landed a big overhand right, and the champion looked nervous.
But Joshua, who had a 4-inch height advantage and weighed in nearly two stones heavier (246 pounds to Povetkin's 222), made better use of his jab later in the third round.
Joshua, 28, originally from Watford but now living in north London and training in Sheffield, was more composed in the fourth round and his work left Povetkin cut above his left eye.
Povetkin was Olympic super-heavyweight gold medalist in 2004, eight years before Joshua was and four years before Joshua had stepped into a boxing ring, and that experience caused a lot of trouble for Joshua.
Povetkin remained dangerous with his left hook and overhand right, but Joshua increasingly gained control through his jab and in the sixth landed a short right hand from close range that the Russian did well to shrug off.
But Povetkin could do nothing to repel the punches that rained down on him in the deciding seventh round.
Joshua first wobbled Povetkin with a right hand, followed by a left before the telling left hook and right hand sent the challenger crashing to the canvas. Povetkin fell through the ropes as he courageously got to his feet and only just beat the count.
When the fight resumed, Joshua showed no mercy and referee Steve Gray jumped in as the champion landed concussive blows after one minute and 59 seconds of the seventh round.