I really like Tyson Fury.
He’s an interesting guy. He’s a terrific fighter.
And he’s got a back story – complete with redemptive elements – that’s undoubtedly world class.
But this weekend, he’s more obstacle than leading man.
Because when it comes to this era’s big men, others have the star power.
Those in their 50s will hear the phrase “heavyweight super fight” and instantly recall 1970s images of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Those a decade or so 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 lately.
While the Ukraine-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 recalling space-fillers like Nicolay Valuev, Samuel Peter and Sultan Ibragimov, don’t bother.
Still, after an early century most frequently characterized by robotic dominance and alphabet mediocrity, there may finally be room for hope.
Not only are there two young(ish), strong and charismatic heavyweights capable of drawing a crowd and generating an ovation alone, they seem interested in getting together at some point, too.
At least when microphones are close by and promoters are feeling frisky.
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 the Englishman has intermittently expressed interest in, too.
The 30-year-old initially joined the title-holding set with a quick blowout of IBF stand-in Charles Martin in 2016, then rebuilt his briefly tattered stature last December by defeating blubbery surprise Andy Ruiz in a must-win rematch.
And when it comes to the prospect of a super fight, Wilder remains top of mind.
“He's the heavyweight champion of the world who's defended his belt on multiple occasions,” Joshua said. “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 poster child of the big-boy division with 41 stoppages in 43 fights since he turned pro after striking bronze at the 2008 Olympics.
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 a handful of foes – including the very same Wlad Klitschko in 2017's best fight – to last beyond a few rounds since winning gold at the 2012 Games.
Perhaps the most lasting takeaways have been how at-ease he’s looked in settings that have included more than 70,000 raucous fans on site and live international television.
“I’m humble. All the hype is good for everyone in boxing,” he said. “They’ve been calling me out (for years). 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 is a slim underdog to get past his Fury rematch this weekend in Las Vegas.
And given last year’s flameout against Ruiz, Joshua is no longer a slam dunk against anyone.
This being boxing, another fight or two for each man is possible before they finally get I’s dotted and T’s crossed, but the matchup’s build-up will be identifiable so long as they continue winning and including each other’s names in standard post-fight call-out rants.
And by this time next year, maybe today’s generation will have its own epic to look back on.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC heavyweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Deontay Wilder (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Tyson Fury (No. 1 WBC/No. 3 IWBR)
Wilder (42-0-1, 41 KO): Eleventh title defense; Nine straight wins by KO/TKO (61 total rounds)
Fury (29-0-1, 20 KO): Third title fight (1-0-1); Won IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO titles in 2015 (zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: If it’s a straight boxing match, Fury wins by a mile. But Wilder has shown he can do damage when he gets to him. The bet here is that he’ll look completely silly, until it happens. Wilder in 6 (51/49)
WBO junior featherweight title – Las Vegas, Nevada
Emanuel Navarrete (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Jeo Santisima (No. 4 WBO/No. 16 IWBR)
Navarrete (30-1, 26 KO): Fifth title defense; All title defenses have ended in KO/TKO (23 total rounds)
Santisima (19-2, 16 KO): First title fight; One decision, one TKO in scheduled 12-round fights
Fitzbitz says: Navarrete is the most active, dominant fighter that only hardcore fans are aware of. A win here won’t change that fact, but it’ll keep him in the running for a breakout. Navarrete in 7 (100/0)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Plant)
2020 picks record: 10-2 (83.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,126-367 (75.4 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.