By Lyle Fitzsimmons
The answer depends on when fans came of age.
Those in their 50s will hear the phrase “big heavyweight fight” and instantly recall 1970s images of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Those a decade younger might ponder early-1990s matches involving Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe.
And those who claim membership in the millennial generation can look back on a wild night in Memphis when the fading legend of Mike Tyson intersected with the ascending one of Lennox Lewis.
But what all might agree on is there’s not been much to move the interest needle since.
While the Ukrainian-reared Klitschko brothers were marvels of modern-day physicality, neither Vitali nor Wladimir ever engaged the sort of foe who’d guarantee the meeting would transcend time.
And when it comes to the space-filling likes of Nicolay Valuev, Samuel Peter and Sultan Ibragimov, don’t even bother.
Still, after a decade-and-a-half of robotic dominance and alphabet mediocrity, there may finally be room for hope.
Not only are there two young, strong, unbeaten heavyweights capable of drawing a crowd and generating an ovation alone, but they seem interested in getting together at some point, too.
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
Or, if you prefer, the next big heavyweight fight that’s worth paying attention to.
“It’s exciting times for the heavyweight division,” said Wilder, the WBC champion. “If (Joshua) keeps doing what he’s doing, eventually we’re going to see each other in the ring.”
It’s a tantalizing prospect that the Englishman has expressed some interest in as well.
The 28-year-old joined the title-holding set with a quick blowout of IBF stand-in Charles Martin in 2016, then took a step toward advancing his brand by inking a deal with Showtime that ensures the network will carry his next several fights to a fertile U.S. audience.
And when it comes to the prospect of a super-fight, Wilder’s is at the top of his mind.
“He's the heavyweight champion of the world who's defended his belt on multiple occasions,” Joshua said. “So I have to give him credit as the strong force of the division right now because he's the only other champion who has defended his belt.”
The fight itself promises a clash of gargantuan proportions.
At 6-foot-7 with the wingspan of a pterodactyl, Wilder has become the knockout poster boy of the big-boy division with 39 stoppages in 40 fights since turning pro after striking bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games.
And while his pre-fight shtick reminds exactly no one of a vintage Cassius Clay, he’s been comfortable enough in front of a mic to hold his own on the way to a Joshua showdown.
“I’m all about making history. Ali didn’t even do this before,” he said. “I’m all about putting my name on something and setting a tone. My job is to go (out), get in the ring and whip his ass.”
Meanwhile, Joshua is no slouch at 6-foot-6, and he’s allowed just four of 20 opponents, including Wlad Klitschko in last year's best fight, to last beyond nine minutes since winning gold at the 2012 Games.
And perhaps the most lasting takeaways of 2017 wipeouts of Klitschko and Carlos Takam was how at-ease he looked in a spotlight that included more than 70,000 raucous fans and live international television.
“I’m humble. All the hype is good for everyone in boxing,” he said. “They’ve been calling me out since last year. I’m going to keep grinding, keep working. When I step into the ring, I’ll be ready.”
Of course, there's no guarantee it'll happen.
Wilder barely escaped the challenge of Luis Ortiz over the weekend in Brooklyn. And Joshua, though he’s a strong favorite, still has to get past another title-holding obstacle -- WBO champ Joseph Parker -- on March 31.
This is boxing, so another fight or two for each man is possible even beyond that date, but the matchup’s build-up will be identifiable as they continue including each other’s names in their standard post-fight call-out spiels.
And by the time next spring arrives, today’s generation will have its own epic to look back on.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week's title-fight schedule
WBA minimum title – Chonburi, Thailand
Knockout CP Freshmart (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Toto Landero (No. 12 WBA/No. 20 IWBR)
Freshmart (16-0, 7 KO): Fourth title defense; Two KOs in eight scheduled 12-round fights (8-0, 2 KO)
Landero (10-1-2, 2 KO): First title fight; First fight outside the Philippines
Fitzbitz says: The champion has a viable claim to lead-dog status at 105 pounds. Meanwhile, his challenger has no significant wins and has never ventured out of his home country. Easy call here. Freshmart in 8
IBF junior welterweight title – San Antonio, Texas
Sergey Lipinets (champion/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Mikey Garcia (Unranked IBF/No. 1 IWBR)
Lipinets (13-0, 10 KO): First title defense; One KO in two scheduled 12-round fights (2-0, 1 KO)
Garcia (37-0, 30 KO): Sixth title fight (5-0); Third fight above lightweight limit (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Lipinets has a title belt and an undefeated record. Garcia has everything else. And he wants a fourth weight-class championship. He ought to have it by time he leaves Texas. Garcia in 8
Vacant WBA super lightweight title – San Antonio, Texas
Rances Barthelemy (No. 1 WBA/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Kiryl Relikh (No. 2 WBA/No. 64 IWBR)
Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KO): Fifth title fight (4-0); Sixth fight above lightweight limit (5-0, 3 KO)
Relikh (21-2, 19 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost to Barthelemy (UD 12) in May 2017
Fitzbitz says: Not often a guy comes into a title fight off of two losses, but that's where Relikh is for this rematch. He may be too strong for Barthelemy, but I'll go with the champ anyway. Barthelemy by decision
WBO featherweight title – Carson, California
Oscar Valdez (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Scott Quigg (No. 10 WBO/No. 4 IWBR)
Valdez (23-0, 19 KO): Fourth title defense; Fifth fight at Carson venue (4-0, 2 KO)
Quigg (34-1-2, 25 KO): Eighth title fight (5-1-1); Second fight outside the United Kingdom (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Tough call here. Valdez may be a little green when it comes to the top level, and Quigg has beaten all but Carl Frampton. That leaves me leaning toward the challenger. Quigg by decision
Last week's picks: 5-2 (WIN: Iwasa, Lerena, Bivol, Wilder, Kovalev; LOSS: Matsumoto, Yamanaka)
2018 picks record: 20-5 (80.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 941-309 (75.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.