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Valuev, the man and the myth

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Ben Dirs | 17:19 UK time, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

BBC Sport in Nuremberg

Don King once said that only when he touched Nikolay Valuev would he believe he existed. So what if he'd seen him on TV, explained the American promoter, he'd seen Bigfoot on TV too, and that turned out to be fake.

The mythology surrounding the Russian, who defends his WBA heavyweight crown against Britain's David Haye in Nuremberg on Saturday, is as dense and matted as the fur that covers his 7ft frame.

While Haye has been busy boosting pay-per-view sales in the build-up to the fight, shouting his mouth off to anyone who'll listen, the 36-year-old Valuev, assured of his money up front, has been tucked away in his forest training camp just outside Berlin. Keeping schtum, rarely sighted, his legend becoming denser.

So to see him the flesh was always likely to be deflating: you just don't imagine the "Beast from the East" strolling around in stone-washed jeans and a black turtle-neck sweater.

But that's not to say his appearance isn't arresting. When former foe John Ruiz said Valuev had a head the size of a Volkswagen, I'd assumed he meant a Golf rather than a four-berth camper. A huge dome tumbling sharply downwards before flattening out and rising into two craggy outcrops, below which shelter his eyes, it looks more like a cliff-top promontory.


To say he is softly spoken would be disingenuous - if caves could talk, they'd sound like him - but his delivery is gentle and noticeably without malice, as befits a man who wooed his wife with self-penned poetry and reads the Russian classics.

"As a person he's very gentle and generous to the people around him," his promoter Wilfried Sauerland told BBC Sport. "And he loves his family, that's the most important thing for him."

Valuev was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) to Sergei and Nadezhda, both of whom were only 5ft 5in tall. His grandmother says Valuev's size derives from his great-great-grandfather, who was descended from the Tatars, an ancient Asiatic warrior tribe, although it could just be another layer of myth.

By the age of 12, Valuev was already 6ft 4in tall, and he was duly packed off to a school that specialised in sport. There he excelled at basketball, before broadening his horizons and winning a national junior discus title at the age of 19.

After taking up boxing at the age of 20, Valuev passed through the hands of several promoters, who paraded him across the globe as a "special attraction", or what Haye might call "a circus show freak".

He fought in cities as far afield as London, Sydney, Tokyo and Prague before Sauerland saw something in him that others didn't and took him under his wing.

"When we took him over in 2003, a lot of people had given up on him already, but we saw some potential," says Sauerland, who has based Valuev in Germany ever since.

"With proper training and good sparring we saw steady improvements. Of course with his height he's something special and that's how people recognise him, but we also tried to give him the skills to succeed as a boxer."

"Everything changed when I began with Wilfried Sauerland," says Valuev. "He showed me respect as a boxer and helped me become more professional."

But even when Valuev claimed the WBA crown from Ruiz in December 2005, it wasn't enough to convince some American pressmen of his credentials, and they were quick to label him a modern-day Primo Carnera.

The tragic Carnera, who stood a mere 6ft 5in, was brought to the United States from Italy in the 1930s, where the mobsters who ran so much of boxing at that time fixed it for him to win the world heavyweight crown.

Carnera defended his title twice before being floored 11 times in 11 rounds by Max Baer and finding himself burglarised and abandoned by those who'd 'discovered' him.

Comparisons with "The Ambling Alp" have not been helpful for Valuev, who continues to be viewed by many as a human oddity rather than a world-class boxer.

But call him what you will - The Jolly Red Giant, the Beast from the East, Shrek - 50 wins from 51 fights suggests he has been doing some things right.

"I am not a circus show, I am a human being," Valuev once opined, sounding like a sympathetic monster in a 1950's B movie. On Saturday, Haye will find out whether the man is as potent as the myth.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about in Nuremberg at


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Ben, can you give us any details of the start time and the Five Live coverage of the fight?

  • Comment number 2.

    I have not looked forward to a fight so much for ages. Has Valuev ever fought Klitchko?

    I am going to have to back Valuev for this fight, simply cos of his size, he's supposed to be the favourite, but the bookies don't agree!

    How do you train to fight someone who is THAT much taller than you? I just can't wait to see how Haye tries to deal with the giant.

  • Comment number 3.

    David - The fight is expected to start at 9.30-9.45 UK time, which means everyone can watch it down the pub, which makes a change. The bad news is Five Live are still waiting to hear whether they've got the rights.

  • Comment number 4.

    valuev doesn't have a perfect record, haye defo has a chance. just interesting to see if he can take the initiative early on, because if he holds back valuev will have him later on

  • Comment number 5.

    David Hayes is in big trouble with this fight. The guy is massive, he can box and will be too powerful for him. Hayes should move back to cruiserweight where he is a class act and would be a true world champ.

  • Comment number 6.

    I honestly feel Haye has the beating of Valuev. He might be a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier, but I feel Haye wins this fight. You've only got to watch Valuev's last fight with Holyfield. Holyfield was so much quicker than Valuev(and he was 45 years old at the time) and if you don't believe me watch it on you tube. Holyfield should've won that fight by 4/5 rounds, but never got the decision due to judges who favoured the home fighter(not a suprise when Don King is behind you).

    Haye is quicker and hits harder than Holyfield, I see him hitting and running all night, if he does this Valuev won't catch him as he plods forward. I'm going for a late stoppage maybe round 11, or a unamimous decision.

  • Comment number 7.

    I hope that Haye can keep the pace in the fight because if it is slowed down it will really play into Valuev's hands, especially with the Las Vegas style scoring in Germany! If he can keep the pace up he stands a chance, and if he pulls off a result it would be good to see him face one of the Klitshko boys to really test his pedigree at heavyweight. If not, then maybe back to cruiserweight.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think Haye has to knock him out in round 5 or less, or his fast pace will slow, leaving the score to the judges will be his downfall if i gets that far.

  • Comment number 9.

    Two entirely different blokes, one very intelligent, the other one clearly not. Haye has been saying for the last couple of days that its time for the talking to stop, but he's the only one talking and keeps on talking! Valuev on Haye: I hope he's well. I'll take brain and brawn over bull anyday.

  • Comment number 10.

    "Two entirely different blokes, one very intelligent, the other one clearly not."

    aagowangowan - which is which? From what I have read Im assuming you mean Valuev is the intelligent one.

  • Comment number 11.

    You say you met Valuev in the flesh Ben...what did he have to say?

    (I believe he doesn't speak English, but presume there was a translator around)

  • Comment number 12.

    "Burglarised" ??? (para 17)

    I thought this was the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation?

  • Comment number 13.

    "I think Haye has to knock him out in round 5 or less"

    I think this may be a bit of a big ask Mildren. If Hayes plan is to try and stop a man within 5 rounds who has never been knocked down let alone knocked out he will punch himself to a standstill and will get picked off in a later round.

    I think Rhys1979 has got it right. If Haye can move around he can either pick up enough points to win on decision, or possibly stop him if he opens up at the end, but again if he goes in too strong he'll end up walking on to a big Valuev shot and get sat down.

  • Comment number 14.

    TommySmith - Yes, I did meet him in the flesh, but as is the way with journalism sometimes, I wasn't able to pin him down for a very long one to one chat as once he'd done his stints with TV and radio crews, he swept out of there double-quick. So I had to make do with a few very quick questions and very brief answers from his translator and a chat with his promoter instead!

    wanstronian - Yes, what a hellish modern world we live in where us Brits borrow words from other countries... pity poor me...

  • Comment number 15.

    "John Ruiz said Valuev had a head the size of a Volkswagen"


    Perhaps he merely meant that it was so easy to hit that it *seemed* the size of a Volkswagen?

    After Igor's humiliation at the hands of sprightly pensioner Evander Holyfield, I expect Mr Haye to make short work of the carheaded lummox.

  • Comment number 16.

    I hope Valuev does a proper number on Haye. I understand the need for publicity to generate ticket and T.V rights. But when you have someone that is being downright disrespectful and someone conducting themselves in a proper manner, class says it all.

    I took the 7\4 6 weeks ago and the 11/8 and the 5/4 its not often the bookies give you an early christmas present but they are on Saturday night.

  • Comment number 17.

    Nothing wrong with borrowing words, but "burglarised" is particularly stupid, because you can just use the much easier and more common "burgled".

    Good article otherwise though!

  • Comment number 18.

    Calling someone a 'freak show' and all the rest of it id say was bullying, not that Valuev is concerned about what Haye has to say but the constant crap he has to put up with from the media and how they treat him. i hope he does a real number on Haye.

  • Comment number 19.

    NedGH - The point is "burgle" and "burglarise" don't mean the same thing. Burgle means actually to break into someone's gaff and nick their stuff, burglarise can just mean to steal from. Anyway, Nuremberg, what's happening in this town?

  • Comment number 20.

    Cheers for the reply Ben. I'll be watching in the pub hopefully with Mike Costello in my ear!

  • Comment number 21.

    Although you cannot deny Valuev's record in boxing, along with his massive height and weight advatage against any other contender in the heavyweight division, in my opinion, he is just that. He is a juggornaut of a man, who people see as dominant because he is that much bigger than him. Calling him a bully is far too harsh, but the only reason he wins is because of his size. Mike Tyson told the press that size doesn't matter, and as long as Haye has the right mindset, then he can win this fight. I admit I have watched most of Haye's fights (including that loss to Carl Thompson) yet only watched 2 of Valuev's fights, but Haye is better technically, has better stamina, better speed, and the ability to hit you with the "Hayemaker" at any point. I saw Valuev's match against Ruslan Chagaev, and Chagaev managed to exploit so many of Valuev's weaknesses. After that loss, word was that Valuev had changed and ammended the mistakes, but I also so the controversial win over Evander Holyfield, and his jab and his fitness is still very questionable in my opinion.

    My verdict, either Haye will win using his brain and his speed, or Valuev will just be too intimdating and do what he usually does. Going to be a great fight though, very much looking forward to it.

  • Comment number 22.

    Yes londonwelsh87, you assume correctly.


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