Wladimir Klitschko would prefer Tyson Fury to defeat Deontay Wilder next week to throw open the heavyweight division and possibly set up a unification bout with “friend” Anthony Joshua - although the former two-time champion appeared to rule out his own comeback.
Klitschko, who retired in 2017 following his spectacular clash with Joshua in London, has been recently teasing a return to the ring, despite next month turning 44.
However, for now the eyes of the heavyweight division are trained on Wilder’s world title rematch with Fury, when the pair contest the American’s WBC belt in Las Vegas on February 22.
Their first encounter, in December 2018, ended in a controversial draw, with Wilder twice knocking down Fury, although many thought still that the Brit had done enough to win.
Klitschko knows both undefeated fighters well, having fought Fury in Germany in 2015 – he lost on points – while he has also previously sparred with Wilder.
Speaking to The National on the sidelines of the Milken Institute Summit Middle East and Africa Summit in Abu Dhabi, the Ukrainian said: "Either Wilder is going to knock out Fury or Fury is going to win on points. Personally, I respect Wilder a lot - he was in my training camp, we spent rounds in the ring. He's a great guy and a fantastic boxer. As many knockouts as he has, you've probably no one else, in current times, any heavyweights, including me.
“I think, or I wish, that actually Fury, believe it or not, might make it. Maybe not, but I wish he’s going to. And then there’s supposed to be a rematch between Fury and me. Am I announcing now a comeback? No I’m not."
Turning to camera, a playful Klitschko said: “Mark my words, I’m not announcing a rematch.”
He added: “But it could possibly be a good mix when, all of a sudden, Fury is going to win and a lot of different doors are going to open and excitement and things like that. But as I said, Wilder is going to win by knockout or Fury could win on points.”
Whoever emerges victorious, talk will then increase of a unification bout against Joshua. The Englishman, 30, avenged last summer's shock defeat to Andy Ruiz – his only loss in 23 professional fights – in their rematch in Saudi Arabia in December, beating the American-Mexican on points. He holds the WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO belts.
Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury face off
Asked if the winner of Wilder-Fury would then been in line to face Joshua, Klitschko said: “Absolutely. Anthony is there, he bounced back, he’s going to get better through the negative experience with Ruiz, and we’ll see. By the end of the year we might have a unified champion with all the belts.”
Klitschko, however, would not be drawn on who would give Joshua most problems, saying: “Styles make fights exciting or not. Joshua is a superior athlete, great fighter, Olympic champion. Most importantly, he’s a great guy, who carries the torch of this image of a heavyweight champion perfectly.
“I’m proud to call him as a friend, even though we were [combatants]. And I think and I wish that eventually Joshua is going to unify all of the belts. That’s the eventual plan. But until then, there’s going to be some bumps on the road. So let’s just lean back and enjoy it.”
Pressed on whether he would come out of retirement to face a unified champion, Klitschko joked: “Are you digging in? Every person’s asking me ‘When you gonna be back? When you gonna be back?’”
“If I’m going to be back I’m not going to be back to break a jaw, I’ll be back to break a record. One more time, there’s no plans to be coming back. I’m busy with my life and everything else, so let’s see what’s going to happen.”