Next up for heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder is mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin, a bona fide contender who, on paper, is the biggest challenge of Wilder's career.
Wilder scored a sensational one-punch knockout of Artur Szpilka on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, rendering Szpilka unconscious with a right hand in the ninth round. Sitting ringside was Povetkin, who was scouting the fight knowing he would get the next shot at the winner.
On Wednesday night, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman made it official, sending an email to promoter Lou DiBella, representing Wilder, and Andrey Ryabinsky of World of Boxing to declare the free negotiation period open. He also let them know that if they do not make a deal, a purse bid would be held Feb. 26 at WBC headquarters in Mexico City.
Wilder said he is eager to face Povetkin, who is widely regarded as one of the world's top heavyweights. Wilder has been criticized for facing three lesser opponents -- Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas and Szpilka -- in his three defenses since winning the belt in January 2015 by dominant decision from Bermane Stiverne.
"I'm super confident in that fight," Wilder said after knocking out Szpilka. "I've been waiting for Povetkin for a very long time, and I'm looking forward to him. I'm glad he was here to take notes. We all know styles make fights. I am very comfortable with him.
"My goal is to be undisputed champion of the world, and that's my mission. He should take notes on everything."
There's a good chance the fight will take place at Barclays Center sometime between May and July with Showtime televising, as it did Wilder-Szpilka and several other Wilder bouts. DiBella and Ryabinsky had already begun talking about a deal even before Wilder drilled Szpilka.
"We started negotiating, and we'll be talking again next week," DiBella told ESPN.com.
DiBella said Ryabinsky was willing to make a deal for the fight to be in the United States. Wilder (36-0, 35 KOs), of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said he hopes the fight will indeed be in the U.S.
"I've been to Russia [to fight as an amateur]. It's time to bring him to the United States," Wilder, 30, said of Povetkin. "We all know to have that big name you must get the American fans on your side. I'm looking forward to getting him out of his zone and to have him come to America. It's too cold in Russia."
Povetkin (30-1, 22 KOs), 36, has won four fights in a row by knockout against well-regarded opposition (Mariusz Wach, Mike Perez, Carlos Takam and Manuel Charr) since suffering his lone defeat, a one-sided rout against then-champion Wladimir Klitschko in Moscow in October 2013.
Povetkin, the 2004 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, has been to the U.S. to train when he used to work with Teddy Atlas but never for a fight. Povetkin told ESPN.com he likes the idea of fighting Wilder in New York.
"I look very positively on this," Povetkin said through a translator. "It's interesting. Secondly, Wilder is a world champion. Thirdly, the United States of America is the center of global boxing.
"I always want to box the best, and it doesn't matter which country, Russia or USA. It doesn't matter to me."
The 6-foot-2 Povetkin acknowledged that the 6-7 Wilder's height advantage would make him a tricky opponent.
"It's going to be very difficult and uncomfortable, but we will use the right tactics and will get inside," Povetkin said. "He is a good strong fighter with a very strong punch. I'm focused on the fight happening and getting ready for it."