Evander Holyfield says a possible bout between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder would elevate boxing to where it was during his heyday in the 1990s.
Negotiations between the sports two marquee heavyweights have yet to yield an agreement on a fight that would unify the division, with Wilder's representatives insisting this week they had "no desire" to meet with Joshua's camp until a "real offer" was presented.
Joshua, the reigning IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO world champion, sealed a 22nd consecutive victory on Saturday night, stopping Alexander Povetkin emphatically in the seventh round at a packed Wembley Stadium in London.
Asked immediately afterwards whom he wanted to fight next, Joshua named Wilder, while an April 13 date, again at Wembley, has already been set for the Englishman’s 23rd bout. American Wilder, the current WBC champion, fights Tyson Fury in the United States on December 1.
However, Joshua-Wilder remains undoubtedly the most appealing clash in the division. Holyfield, boxing’s only four-time world heavyweight champion, added to the clamour on Wednesday, saying he had been blown away by the support garnered by Joshua having witnessed it firsthand at Wembley at the weekend. He also called upon the fighters' respective parties to get the deal done.
“It would be a great fight,” said the American, in Jeddah this week as a special guest for Friday’s inaugural World Boxing Super Series super-middleweight final between George Groves and Callum Smith. “When it’s all said and done you’re talking about what’s fair. Deontay was the heavyweight champion first, but with Joshua, he’s got all these people. I went to Saturday's fight and there were 100,000 people coming to see him. It’s my first time seeing that ever in my life, to see a man, a boxer, draw that many people.
“I still think as a balance, both of them champions, somebody’s going to win and somebody’s going to lose. But when both people are that good, that’s when the promoter comes in, brings up the big money and gives everybody even money. If you think you’re the champ, you feel that you’re going to win. The whole big thing is what the fight would mean to the individual."
During a pro career that spanned three decades, Holyfield was involved in some of boxing’s most memorable fights – he was undisputed champion at both cruiserweight and heavyweight – including the infamous 1997 bout against Mike Tyson.
Asked if Joshua-Wilder are talented enough to bring the heavyweight division back to the level it enjoyed in the 1990s, Holyfield said: “I truly think they are. Because Joshua’s a good fighter and he knocks people out, people want to see it. Deontay’s not a skilful fighter, but he knocks people out. People want to see the action.
"Even when boxing was going down, Tyson brought it back. He was knocking everybody out. And everybody wanted to see who could handle it. I guess the reason why it’s so different is because you got one guy who’s a good classic boxer, which is Joshua. But you got one guy who knows a little bit, but he does it well, and that’s Deontay.”
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Holyfield did, though, warn Joshua to guard against complacency given the attention that has accompanied his meteoric rise. The Olympic gold medallist, 28, did not turn professional until 2013, but is seen as one of the sport’s leading lights.
"When you're at that age and you’re drawing that many people, it could be good for you or it could be bad," Holyfield, 55, said. "You’ve got so many people talking to you, telling you what can happen. Everybody knows you can get hurt in boxing, but boxing’s a mental game.
“Boxing is up to the individual. Does he want to do that? What are other people are saying to him? How much money can you spend? I was a fighter; I wanted to be the best. I wanted to fight everybody and I fought everybody. Nobody is going to give up the title; you’ve got to take the title. That’s the whole part of the game of boxing, 'we’re going to fight'. This is how you become the greatest: you take chances.”