The Significance Of Nikolay Valuev

29.08.05 - By Peter Cameron: Fierce debate is raging within boxing circles about the significance of the emergence of Nikolay Valuev. As the giant Russian closes in on a title shot, opinion is divided on the level of impact he will have on boxing's blue ribband division. Some argue his incredible size will make him unbeatable and he will represent the dawning of a new era for the heavyweights; an age where goliaths will rule the landscape. Others write him off as nothing more than a freakish sideshow, a mere circus act like the lady with the beard and the pushme-pullyou. The next six months should help to answer all the questions about the man they call the Beast from the East.

Valuev is the biggest man ever to set foot inside a ring. Standing seven feet tall and crushing the scales at 325 pounds, Valuev dwarfs all the other heavyweights out there. He is 4 and inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than WBC champion Vitali Klitschko, who, at 6 feet 7 and , is the tallest belt-holder in boxing history.

Valuev has 41 victories to his name, 31 by knockout, and has never been troubled by any of his opponents.

His fights are like watching an angry teacher smacking a naughty child. In his last outing he destroyed Clifford Etienne in three brutal rounds, and on 1st October he faces veteran Larry Donald for the right to challenge John Ruiz for the WBA title. I suspect Ruiz will be rooting for Donald that night, not fancying the prospect of sharing a ring with a man almost a foot taller than him.

When fans see photographs of Valuev completely filling a doorway, reaching a basketball hoop without jumping, or stepping clean over the ropes to enter the ring, the first thing they want to know is whether he can actually fight. The answer is unclear at present, and Valuev's boxing ability is currently difficult to quantify. Certainly he has unnatural agility for someone so large. Many observers often comment on his surprising athleticism. Despite his height, Valuev does not appear ungainly, his 325 pounds perfectly filling out his enormous frame. He also displays decent hand speed for a heavyweight, and whilst his power doesn't quite seem to match his bulk, it is still impressive. He seems to possess the necessary granite chin to succeed as a heavyweight, often absorbing murderous punches with nothing more than a nod of acknowledgement to his opponent.

Valuev is improving with every fight and his handlers have recently stepped up his level of competition. In his last handful of fights he has dispatched Gerald Nobles and Richard Bango (both of whom were undefeated when Valuev fought them), Paolo Vidoz, Attila Levin and now Etienne. He is currently ranked at number 2 by the WBA, number 8 by the WBC and number 6 by the IBF, although he hasn't made it onto the WBO radar yet. The majority of his fights have taken place in Germany, where he lives and trains, but he cannot be accused of refusing to travel, having fought in England, Australia, Japan and the US. Visa problems have prevented him from fighting more often in the US, although these problems will no doubt ease as his profile continues to rise.

When Roy Jones humiliated John Ruiz to steal his WBA crown in March 2003, there were rumours that he would go on to meet Lennox Lewis in a heavyweight superfight. However, many experts rubbished this potential match-up, citing the sizeable physical advantages Lewis would hold over Jones as stumbling blocks to the fight ever taking place. Yet the height and weight differences between Valuev and a Chris Byrd or John Ruiz are far greater than the differences between Jones and Lewis. Jones wisely decided against challenging Lewis and returned to the lighter divisions. Yet Valuev is here to stay and Ruiz, Byrd and the rest may soon find themselves forced to defend against the colossal Russian.

Valuev made his professional debut back in 1993 and some people criticise his lack of progress in the 12 years since then. Only in the last year has he really started to fight an acceptable calibre of opponent. Yet it is worth taking into account that Valuev didn't really have any kind of schooling in the amateur ranks, and is therefore going to require more time to develop as a professional. This may also explain his significant improvement over the last few years. The Valuev of today is much more technically sound than the one from three years ago. The man himself realises the need to keep active and fight as much as possible. In 2004, he fought five times, and he is currently one of the busiest heavyweights out there.

We will not know how good Valuev really is until he fights a top contender, something which may happen in 2006. With each fight he looks more and more impressive, and his physical attributes must make him the most intimidating heavyweight around. Nobody his size has ever possessed the skills required to reach the very top in boxing. Yet larger heavyweights, like Lennox Lewis, Audley Harrison and the Klitschko brothers, have started to appear in recent years. Valuev's emergence may represent the beginning of the next stage of heavyweight evolution, where gargantuan men exhibit excellent skills and good speed as they battle each other for supremacy.

The heavyweight champion of the world is perhaps the most mythical title in sport, and is historically accompanied with the extra tag of "baddest man on the planet". Few fans would consider Ruiz, Byrd or Brewster to be deserving of this tag, and Vitali Klitschko is yet to prove his desire to take on the role. Since Lewis's retirement in 2003, we have even seen middleweights stepping up and successfully trying their luck against perhaps the weakest set of heavies in history. The division is crying out for a man like Valuev. For many, the thought of wrestling John Ruiz for 12 rounds poses no great fear. Yet the prospect of facing a man 7 feet tall and 325 pounds would frighten even the toughest of men. Valuev, if he has the skills, could restore credibility to the heavyweight division, as well as generating some excitement along the way.

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Article posted on 29.08.2005

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