Exclusive Interview With Serguei Lyakhovich - "I Have To Make Valuev Work Hard In There!"

liakhovich vs valuevby James Slater: 31-year-old Serguei Lyakhovich was last seen being knocked clean out of the ring in his losing fight with Brooklyn's Shannon Briggs. Lyakhovich, nicknamed "The White Wolf," said good bye to his WBO heavyweight championship in that fight, and also disappeared from view for well over a year afterwards. In his fight before, however, the 31-year-old had very much established himself on the world stage with a thrilling points win over the tough Lamon Brewster of Indianapolis. It was in that fight, staged in April of 2006, that Lyakhovich won his WBO belt - this win also proved Serguei could get up off the floor and prevail, having been down on one knee in round 7.

Now making his return to the ring, the Belarus-born fighter takes on the huge Russian, Nicolay Valuev, in a final eliminator for Ruslan Chagaev's WBA title. The elimination takes place on February 16th, in Germany - the country that has played host to eight of "The Beast From The East's" last ten fights.. No longer unbeaten, however, thanks to his upset points defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan's Chagaev, Valuev is a fighter Lyakhovich believes he can beat. Both men are capable, if perhaps somewhat limited, heavyweights on today's scene. And while Chagaev, unbeaten as he is at the moment, would likely be a betting favourite in a bout with either man, no determined heavyweight can be written off. And determined Lyakhovich is, certainly he believes a second reign, as a more established heavyweight king, is in his near future.

Taking a break from his training camp in Bulgaria, the easy-going big man with the 23-2(14) record (his other loss coming via a shock 9th round TKO at the hands of the unpredictable American, Maurice Harris, quite early in Seguei's career) was happy to speak with me just days before departing for Germany. In good English, here is what Lyakhovich had to say.

James Slater: How has training been going, first of all?

Segeui Lyakhovich: It's all been going fine, everything is good right now. I feel very strong and I'm looking forward to the fight.

J.S: Who have you been sparring with?

S.L: Two guys in particular. One guy is Alexander Ustinov, who stands at around six foot, eight, the other guy is almost seven foot tall. They have both been emulating Valuev's style for me pretty good. They both do a pretty good imitation of him in the ring.

J.S: As you know, this will be your first fight for 15 months. Are you worried about ring-rust at all?

S.L: Not at all, no. You see, even though I wasn't fighting, I was always in the gym and training very hard. I never got out of condition. The rest from fighting in the ring probably did me no harm at all, actually. So no, I'm not concerned with ring-rust, I feel none right now in training.

J.S: Why exactly did you take such a long break from the ring though?

S.L: Well, the last year has been a crazy one for me, really. I wanted to get a fight, but there was - how can I say? - a lot of politics involved. We [my team and I] tried to make a fight for me, we looked at a number of different opponents, but it seemed no-one wanted to fight me. As I say, there is sometimes a lot of politics involved in boxing.

J.S: So you must be very pleased and excited to be getting back in the ring at last, and with such a big fight?

S.L: Oh, yes, I am very excited. This is the fight I have been waiting for, and in a way I now believe the wait I had to endure was worth it. This is an elimination for the world title, which I have dreamed of winning for so long. So at long last, I will get my chance to achieve my lifelong goal.

J.S: Have you been studying tapes of Valuev?

S.L: Yes, I have. I know how he [Valuev] fights. I have seen him many times.

J.S: You're a big guy at 6, 4", but Valuev is even taller than you and he weighs-in at around 320 pounds. Are you planning on coming in higher than your usual weight of around 240 pounds, seeing as you're facing such a huge man?

S.L: No, I will come in at my usual weight. You know, Valuev is a big guy, but in my training we are working on a game-plan that will make him use his weight and size against himself - to his disadvantage. It all depends on how he comes at me in the ring, though, how aggressive he is.

J.S: By working against himself, I take it you mean you will fight at a fast pace and try to tire him out?

S.L: Yes. I will be looking to set a fast pace. Valuev has a good jab, a quite long jab, and I have to make him work very hard in there. I can't let him use his good jab on me and keep me at distance.

J.S: Will you try and emulate some of what Ruslan Chagaev did against Valuev, with his counter-punching style that worked so well?

S.L: No. I will not try and copy what Chagaev did. Chagaev is a very good fighter, a good boxer, but his style is totally different to mine. I will only be doing my thing on February 16th.

J.S: Talking about some of your past fights. The Lamon Brewster fight was a great all-action bout. Do you think that fight was your best performance so far in your career?

S.L: Maybe, yes. But I think I had a good performance before that, against Dominick Guinn. He had only lost once before, and I won a unanimous decision over him - I was very happy with that performance. The Brewster fight was very good for the fans to watch, but now I am looking ahead to having even better fights in the future.

J.S: And the Shannon Briggs fight, you were ahead on points going into the last round.....

S.L: (jumping in) Yes, yes. But you know what?, I don't want to make any excuses, but my people know what happened in that fight, they know it was just not my day also. I don't want to talk on and on about that fight, I know I can do better right now, and I'm looking to the future.

J.S: Do you feel as though you are at your peak now, at age 31?

S.L: Yes, absolutely. This is my time right now. But I don't want to look ahead to any other particular fight just yet, including one with Ruslan Chagaev. Right now I am only thinking about Valuev and beating him.

J.S: Are you happy the fight is in Germany, and do you think you'll get fair treatment from the judges? After all, Valuev has boxed there some sixteen times, whereas you have boxed practically all your fights in the U.S instead. Are you at all concerned with the officials and things like that?

S.L: It doesn't really matter what country the fight is in, all countries are the same, really. I'm not concerned about the judges, either, because I will be taking my own judges into the ring with me! So, no, I don't care which country I fight in - it's all the same once you get into the ring.

J.S: By taking your own judges into the ring with you, I take it you mean you plan on getting a KO?

S.L: I'm not one to make predictions, that's not me at all. But of course, I am very confident that I am going to win. It is going to be a very exciting experience for me, lots of my friends will be coming over to watch the fight and to cheer for me, and I think - I hope - some of the fans over there will be on my side. But also, I'm looking forward to making myself some new friends in Germany.

Article posted on 12.02.2008

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