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 Nikolay Valuev, Samuel Peter and Sultan Ibragimov, don’t even bother.
Still, after a decade of robotic dominance and alphabet mediocrity, there may finally be room for hope.
Not only are two young, strong, unbeaten heavyweights capable of drawing a crowd and generating an ovation alone, but they seem at least mildly 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,” Wilder said. “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 interest in as well.
The 28-year-old joined the title-holding set with a quick blowout of IBF stand-in Charles Martin last year in London, then advanced his brand by inking a deal with Showtime ensuring the network will carry his next several fights to a fertile U.S. audience.
And when it’s been his turn to chat, Wilder’s name has remained top of 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 37 stoppages in 38 fights since 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 return showdown with the man he beat for the title, Bermane Stiverne.
“Whether it’s early or late, I’m going to punish and stop Stiverne,” he said. “This may be the last time we hear from Stiverne, because I’m going to finish the job. It’s going to be the end of his career. He’s going to be eliminated.”
Meanwhile, Joshua is no slouch at 6-foot-6, and none of his 20 opponents since the 2012 Games – including the aforementioned Wladimir – have heard the final bell.
And perhaps the most lasting takeaway of his weekend obliteration of Carlos Takam in Cardiff, Wales was how at-ease he once again looked in a spotlight that included more than 75,000 raucous fans and live international television.
“Deontay Wilder against AJ has to happen,” said his promoter, Eddie Hearn. “Anthony Joshua wants to be in the real fights, I promise you. I promise the fans Anthony Joshua will give you the fights that you want, I promise you that.”
Of course, it won’t happen immediately.
Wilder’s no cinch to handle Stiverne this weekend in Brooklyn, and another fight or two for each man is likely even beyond Saturday night. But the superfight’s build-up will be identifiable the more they make sure to include each other’s names in their standard post-fight call-out spiels.
And by the time Halloween 2018 arrives, today’s generation will have its own epic to look back on.
* * * * * * * * * *
Weekly title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF junior welterweight title – Brooklyn, New York
Sergey Lipinets (No. 1 IBF/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Akihiro Kondo (No. 3 IBF/No. 53 IWBR)
Lipinets (12-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Seven KOs in eight fights in the United States
Kondo (29-6-1, 16 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Japan
Fitzbitz says: His resume doesn’t resemble those truly among the best at 140 pounds, but Lipinets should make a resounding entry to the belted class with a victory here. Lipinets by decision
WBA light heavyweight title – Monte Carlo, Monaco
Dmitry Bivol (champion/No. 18 IWBR) vs. Trent Broadhurst (No. 10 WBA/No. 36 IWBR)
Bivol (11-0, 9 KO): First title defense; Four KOs in four fights in the United States (20 total rounds)
Broadhurst (20-1, 12 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Australia
Fitzbitz says: Andre Ward’s exit lifted Bivol to a world stage he probably doesn’t yet deserve, but he’ll more than likely be impressive while protecting his unbeaten slate. Bivol in 8
WBC heavyweight title – Brooklyn, New York
Deontay Wilder (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Bermane Stiverne (No. 1 WBC/No. 14 IWBR)
Wilder (38-0, 37 KO): Sixth title defense; Defeated Stiverne (UD 12) to win WBC title in 2015
Stiverne (25-2-1, 21 KO): Third title fight (1-1); Held WBC title in 2014-15 (zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: I thought Stiverne would win the first time around and I think he’ll give Wilder a more significant push in this one, but the champ’s got too much on the line to lose here. Wilder by decision
Last week's picks: 2-0 (WIN: Joshua, Yafai)
2017 picks record: 81-26 (75.7 percent)
Overall picks record: 903-300 (75.0 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.