An Exclusive Interview with Nicolai “The Beast from the East” Valuev

16.09.05 - Interview by Izyaslav “Slava” Koza: Approximately 14 years ago the Soviet Union collapsed and many of its former citizens found themselves without jobs, prospects, or the ability to predict their future. Some turned to immigration as a way out, others turned to crime, and yet others like Nicolai Valuev turned to sport, or more precisely to boxing.

A lot of the fans that first heard of Nikolai Valuev, wrote him off as the Primo Carnera of this generation. The Russian Joe Calzaghe if you will. The problem is what these fans thought of the big man, was exactly what every promoter, critic, commentator, and trainer thought of him. In one of his more recent interviews he even said as much in that most everybody laughed him at when starting out, and he didn’t blame them because at that time, he was not much of a fighter. He entered boxing as a means of supporting himself and his family, but the problem was nobody was supporting him and his potential..

That was really the key problem in his inability to develop for so long. For 12 years, he traveled all over the world, fighting in any country that would have him to try and garner decent support from a decent promoter, but until he met Wilfried Sauerland about 3 years ago there really was no light at the end of the tunnel. Instantly his level of opposition grew from laughable to respectable. Yes perhaps not the best in the world, but his last 5 opponents can compete with any fighter’s last five opponents as a win streak. Now after a decade plus of struggling to prove that he has more to offer fans then just his height, Nikolai Valuev, of Russia, is only one win away from fighting for one of the four prestigious world titles.

Today for the first time I had a chance to conduct an interview with Nikolai by phone, and find out a bit more about the “little known” giant. As far as I know this is the first interview with Nikolai Valuev that was conducted solely for the purpose of English Speaking readers, and especially for those of us who visit Eastside Boxing. Special thanks to everybody at Sauerland Promotions and especially Heiko Malwitz.

Slava: Hello? Nikolai Sergeevich?

N.V.: Yes?

Well First off I want to thank you for allowing me to conduct this interview with you.

N.V: Well….you're welcome

Slava: My first question to you is how is your training coming along for the bout with Donald?

N.V.: If I would have to describe it in 2 words I would say its really “active” and we are getting good “intense” work done in sparring.

Slava: Can you tell us whom you’re sparring with?

N.V: I can’t really say that unfortunately, sorry.

Slava: Can you tell our readers why you prefer spending part of your time training in Armenia?

N.V.: Well I really like the conditions there. There are less distractions and people bother me a lot less in Armenia so I can focus better on my training. Also there are plateaus and inclines that allow me to train at a high altitude. Some of them are really up there; some are 800 meters, still as you can probably tell that helps, especially in your physical development.

Slava: As far as I know you have never been knocked down in your career as a professional, just like WBC champ Vitali Klitschko. However against the former champ Lennox Lewis, a cut, not a knockdown cost Klitschko the victory. Were you ever knocked down as a pro?

N.V: No…Thank God

Slava: (laugh) Have you ever had any serious injuries in a fight, like cuts, breaks, or other severe injuries?

N.V.: Also no, I have been quite lucky in that respect.

Slava: Did you happen to see the Mohammed Abdullaev vs. Emanuel Clottey, I believe it was, fight?

N.V.: no I don’t think so.

Slava: Well that was his first loss. What happened was he took a knee and didn’t understand the ref and was therefore counted out. The reason I ask is, I wanted to know if you have ever had any problems understanding the referee in the ring?

N.V.: I have never really had such problems I usually understand the referee’s instructions quite well.

Slava: After the fight with Etienne, he was very talkative to say the least. Did you understand what he said to you?

N.V.: Well he wasn’t really saying much, he was gesticulating a lot and from what I understood offered some sort of recommendations.

Slava: In 1999 in the Czech Republic you fought the only fight in your career that wound up as a NC (no contest)

N.V.: Yup that did happen.

Slava: Well I read in one of the fight reports a long time ago that you were declared the winner and the referee left, at which point Sidon offered to continue the contest.

N.V.: To be honest I am still confused myself as to what happened in that fight. I mean I was declared the winner and the ref left, although maybe they were right it was more of an exhibition show.

Slava: and then Sidon offered to continue fighting?

N.V.: Yes. They had some unknown guy ringing the bell.

Slava: Was it a fan from the crowd or something?

N.V.: I really couldn’t tell you know. The clock wasn’t working, so my trainer was telling me about how much time we had in the round. Maybe we fought 2, 2:30 minutes a round.

Slava: So you did actually fight rounds after the ref had left? Do you remember how many rounds?

N.V: I believe 4. Anyway it was more of a show a spectacle, that’s why I guess they didn’t consider the result fair.

Slava: I am pretty sure you heard that James Toney was stripped of the WBA belt for using steroids.

N.V.: Yea I heard about it.

Slava: So how do you react to the use of Steroids and banned substances in boxing?

N.V.: All I know is that I am not a dope addict and I don’t do drugs.

Slava: (laugh) lets move on. You fought in many countries around the world. In which country that you haven’t fought in would you like to fight?

N.V. Antarctica!

Slava: (laughing) Why?

N.V.: Well I mean it would be a big expensive show. I mean how many people would we get to watch that? Nobody has ever done something like that before; I think it would be interesting.

Slava: Were you able to watch the Corrales vs. Castillo fight?

N.V.: Unfortunately no I was in Armenia at the time I believe. The TV there didn’t broadcast it. I did hear that it was a really great fight. I think Russian TV later re-broadcasted it.

Slava: How do you react to Corrales’ tactic of spitting out the mouthpiece to buy time after each knockdown?

N.V.: Well he had nothing left to do so he did what he had to really to win.

Slava: Would you have reacted the same way if you found yourself in the same situation?

N.V.: I could never pull off something like that. My trainer has trouble removing my mouthpiece in the corner, so I don’t think I can spit it out like that.

Slava: Speaking of which how do you react to dirty fighters, say like Hopkins or Golota?

N.V.: The problem I see with it is that it makes the fight ugly and uninteresting. Its just not “great” boxing.

Slava: Do you believe in “Winning at all costs” or in winning without any so-called “tricks”?

N.V.: It’s hard to say, but I mean you have to be ready for these sorts of things. Just recently I had a fight of this nature.

Slava: oh you mean against Nobles?

N.V.: Yea

Slava: I remember you pushed him or something in the first round?

N.V.: I pushed him? No I was trying to get him off me and move away, and he couldn’t maintain his balance.

Slava: Again speaking of dirty fighters don’t you think that Ruiz’s tactic of throwing a punch, and clinching, or putting his hands underneath his opponent’s arms qualifies as dirty boxing?

N.V.: That is really the definition of dirty boxing.

Slava: Wouldn’t that be grounds for a DQ then?

N.V.: Well I don’t make the rules so I don’t think they could disqualify him for that. I know you just have to be ready for these sorts of fights though.

Slava: From what you can remember what is the best single fight that you have ever seen?

N.V. Out of the really interesting ones that spring to mind right away I would say Marvin Hagler versus…oh jeez I can’t remember who.

Slava: Hearns?

N.V.: who?

Slava: Tommy Hearns?

N.V.: (asking somebody besides him if they can remember) no no.

Slava: Was it a full 12 round fight?

N.V.: Yea it was. It was against the Olympic champion…

Slava: Leonard?

N.V.: That’s it! “Sugary” Ray Leonard.

Slava: heh Sugar Ray. Why did you like that fight?

N.V.: it was just a beautiful demonstration of great boxing skills.

Slava: What about the most boring and horrible fight?

N.V.: hmm…nothing comes to mind

Slava: Nothing where you just wanted to turn off the TV?

N.V.: No nothing I can remember.

Slava: Maybe Ruiz Oquendo did you see that?

N.V.: No I don’t think I did. Also I think the thing is they don’t show many bad fights on TV. If its on TV it can’t be that bad.

Slava: that is true. What is the most beautiful knock out that you have ever witnessed?

N.V.: I have a tape of very good knockouts, so something on there.

Slava: No one single fight that comes to mind?

N.V.: Problem is all the boxers on it are almost unknown. So that is why I don’t really remember.

Slava: oh I see what you mean. Who in your opinion is the best fighter p4p today?

N.V.:……oh geez….out of the mass of them out there?

Slava: yea

N.V.: hmmm…Kostya Tsyzu

Slava: really even with the loss to Hatton?

N.V.: I still think so

Slava: So not Mayweather or somebody like that?

N.V.: Well look you asked who I thought was p4p so I think its KT.

Slava: Who is your favorite Soviet boxer? Or maybe Russian boxer?

N.V.: Somebody just asked me that the other day I think, honestly I don’t have favorite boxers. If we go by sympathies I would say Roman Karmazin who recently defeated Kassim Ouma for the IBF belt.

Slava: oh really? They showed that fight here and I think we woke the neighbors up screaming and cheering. So you are friends with him then?

N.V.: Yes we know each other. By the way I want to congratulate him here and let him know I was really cheering for him and wanted him to win. He trains in Los Angeles now so maybe he will see this interview. I didn’t have a chance to talk to him yet.

Slava: Well its going to go up on our website but I don’t know if he would read it on an English language page.

N.V.: Actually Roman is a very smart guy and is learning English so I think he can read already.

Slava: Hmm that makes sense, cause Freddie Roach is in his corner and he would need to communicate with him.

N.V.: exactly

Slava: speaking of Russian boxers, do you know the Ibragimovs? They aren’t brothers but cousins I think.

N.V.: no I don’t know them.

Slava: They train and fight here in the area, just curious. So who is your favorite American boxer?

N.V.: hmm well the problem is a lot of these famous guys aren’t “Americans.”

Slava: oh I see what you mean I phrased the question wrong. Let’s say not Americans but those who are permanently living and fighting out of the United States?

N.V.: In that case I would say Oscar De La Hoya.

Slava: why is that so?

N.V.: He is very calculating, very smart. Also I mean he has had really good competition and he has won against them for the most part.

Slava: George Foreman recently decided not to return to the ring and I think that was the right choice. Holyfield I think will continue fighting. Did you hear about his scheduled fight in Italy?

N.V.: no I didn’t

Slava: Well it’s going to be a relatively unknown boxer named Frank Woods I believe.

N.V.: Yea I will probably watch it.

Slava: So you get fights from Italy shown in Germany?

N.V.: Yes for the most part.

Slava: Getting back on point though, at what age, if for instance you don’t shows signs of wear or lack of desire to step in the ring, do you plan to leave boxer.

N.V.: sooner or later everybody feels their strengths diminish. When I feel that my abilities are slipping I will leave the sport.

Slava: So for instance, like Bernard Hopkins, you don’t have a set age at which you would retire?

N.V.: not really.

Slava: What about this question. Lets assume somebody offers you a fight against somebody who in your opinion should not be fighting anymore because they could sustain serious injuries or possibly die, and if you win will guarantee you a title shot. Would you take the fight?

N.V.: Of course I would take the fight. Look this is boxing, if the guy is in the ring he should fight, if he has health issues then he shouldn’t be in there in the first place. He chose to be there of his own free will. There are enough people out there that can determine if somebody has serious health problems.

Slava: Ok speaking of that you know about Joe Mesi and his injury sustained in his last fight against Vasili Jirov?

N.V.: Yes.

Slava: So in your opinion should a fighter like that be allowed to decide on his own whether he can fight or not?

N.V: Ok not long ago Corey Sanders was sparring with somebody in the gym.

Slava: the American or the South African?

N.V.: American. Anyway he practically can’t see out of one eye I think, and I mean he is still a good sparring partner and could work in the ring. It’s really the desire of the person that allows him to determine whether he could still fight.

Slava: Would you mind giving us your opinion on who would win some of the upcoming fights?

N.V.: Honestly I don’t really like to do that so lets just go on.

Slava: Ok now I wanted to ask you some questions about what you do in your free time.

N.V.: That depends on if its right after a fight or what I do when I am in training.

Slava: Well can you tell us what you do in both instances?

N.V.: Well after a fight I usually like to unwind and drive out to the Ocean or go hunting in the woods. When I am in training I need physical rest so I don’t usually do much.

Slava: Well I mean for example are you finished training today? What are you going to do now for instance?

N.V.: I mean of course I am a normal person I watch movies, read books and newspapers that sort of thing.

Slava: Ok lets talk about that then what is your favorite movie, or favorite movie about boxing perhaps?

N.V.: My real favorites are the older Soviet films. The comedies are probably my favorite. Basically name any of them to yourself and you would understand.

Slava: You mean like say “Afonya”? I don’t know that many Americans would know that one.

N.V.: There you go, but also they don’t have to specifically be comedy films. “War and Peace” (Sergey Bondarchuk’s 1968 masterpiece) for instance was one of my favorites.

Slava: Actually that one some Americans might know. It was shown here in America I believe, even earned an Oscar.

N.V.: Yea exactly.

Slava: What about some American films?

N.V. Well we get them here and in Russia as well. I think what makes them really shine is the special effects, and that is the really interesting part, and the plot is where it can be found lacking. Although on second thought that isn’t quite true also they have some all around good movies as well.

Slava: Any one in particular, which you can remember off the top of your head?

N.V.: I saw Troy last year and I thought it was excellent.

Slava: Is that the one with Brad Pitt?

N.V.: Yes that’s the one. Even though they tend to twist the actual historical aspect, and have the movie go somewhat out of the realm of possibility, that doesn’t take away from its significance.

Slava: What about Music? What do you like to listen to?

N.V.: hmm I like Rock Music.

Slava: Russian Rock?

N.V.: I mean World Famous rock type stuff.

Slava: Like which performers? Groups?

N.V.: Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Scorpions some others I can’t think of at the moment.

Slava: Any songs in particular?

N.V.: No I just listen to it not really that much detail I can give.

(At this point in the interview Nikolai explained that there were other reporters waiting for him and that he had to go. He was nice enough to let me ask one more question though.)

Slava: Ok I am very sorry for keeping you. Uh ok. Very often in life a son chooses to follow the path of his father in determining his career. You would probably not want to see that happen, so the question I have is, who would you like to see your son become in the future?

N.V.: I want to see my son become a real person, a real human being. That is one of my life’s goals to see my son grow up and become a Man. I hope I succeed in that one.

Slava: Nikolai again I really really want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I hope that in the future we can talk some more, perhaps maybe after the Donald fight if that is at all possible?

N.V.: that shouldn’t be a problem.

Slava: Thank you again Nikolai

N.V.: No problem Good Bye.

Again a very special thanks to Heiko Mallwitz, for helping me set up this interview. Another thank you to Nikolai Valuev for taking the time to talk with me. I imagine his schedule is very difficult and that he did us all a great favor by letting us take up some of his free time. I sincerely wish him success in his upcoming fight with Larry Donald, and hope to see him victorious at the end of that bout.

Article posted on 16.09.2005

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