Valuev, the man and the myth
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.