Finally, A Heavyweight Boxing Match Worth the Hype

 Esther Lin/SHOWTIME

The Big Men once ruled the sporting landscape: Ali. Tyson. Frazier. Holyfield. Lewis. 

For most of the 20th century, a heavyweight title fight was an event that made the world stop. The ’90s battles between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield — including, yes, the infamous Bite Fight — generated hundreds of millions of dollars and qualified as pop-cultural events. But what’s the last heavyweight fight you watched? 

Not since Lennox Lewis knocked out Tyson in 2002 has a heavyweight fight captured the world’s imagination. British champ Anthony Joshua’s title defense this Saturday against Wladimir Klitschko, a future first-ballot hall of famer, isn’t a fight of that ilk. But it is the biggest matchup north of 200 pounds in 15 years.

Stop any person on any street in America, and chances are they have no clue who the heavyweight champion is. (No, it’s not Mike Tyson). It’s Anthony Joshua, a massive star in England, where his chiseled jawline adorns billboards and magazine covers. But it all goes down the drain if he can’t turn back the challenge of Klitschko in a tale as old as time: the changing-of-the-guard battle.

Joshua is 26 and owns an Olympic gold medal, but his 17 wins — all by knockout — have come versus middling men at best. Klitschko, even in the twilight of his career, represents a quantum leap in competition.

That Klitschko is competing in the signature fight of his career at 41 — and after a treasure trove of achievements that have already cemented him as one of the all-time greats — speaks to just how big this fight is, and also to the doldrums that boxing, and the heavyweight division in particular, have sunk into.

More than 90,000 tickets have been sold, and Wembley Stadium in London will be packed to the brim. The title tilt will be televised on not one but two American premium networks — Showtime, live at 4:15 p.m. ET; and HBO, on tape delay at 11 p.m.

Hey, at least we’re not being asked to shell out $60-plus to watch it.