LONDON - Lennox Lewis believes Anthony Joshua can become one of the ring’s all-time greats, whether he wins or loses his blockbuster world heavyweight title fight against Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night.
"Yes, he can be up there," said Lewis as he breezed into London in readiness for commentating from ringside for the RTL German television network.
However, he added one deeply personal caveat to the praise, saying: "But he will not be greater than me."
Lewis is fiercely proud that he still remains the most recent holder of the undisputed championship.
As he considered the prospects for Joshua as he steps out in front of the first huge stadium crowd of his career - a British record 90,000 - Lewis, 51, said: "AJ has the potential for greatness. We can all see that but he is the one who has to go out and do it.
"I do see some of him now in the early Lennox Lewis. The eagerness. The strength and power. The confidence of youth. But I can never say that any heavyweight from now on is going to be greater than me.
"The reason I say that is that I had a really extensive amateur career. Joshua had a good amateur career ending with Olympic gold but not the full platform for his pro career.
"You don’t want to be learning in big fights like this. At the moment he still has things to learn after only 18 fights. He is progressing nicely but this looks to me like not only his biggest fight so far but also a very close fight."
Lewis, who retired after winning his brutal, bloodied fight with Klitschko’s elder brother Vitali, does not believe that defeat now would seriously curtail the drive to the top of Joshua, who already holds the IBF belt.
"Muhammad Ali lost three times (in title fights). I lost a couple. It happens. AJ is still a work in progress," he said.
Not that he doubts Joshua’s capacity to overcome Klitschko, who reigned over the heavyweight division for more than a decade before losing the majority of his belts to Tyson Fury 17 months ago.
He extends his huge hands as if they are the scales of justice and adds: "This could go either way."
At the insistence of both camps, all the officials at Wembley will be neutrals from across the Atlantic.
Dave Fields from New Jersey is the referee. The judges are Don Trella and Steve Weisfeld, both American, and Puerto Rico’s Nelson Vazquez.