ESB Exclusive Interview with Nikolai Valuev: ďIt always feels good to be first!Ē

07.12.05 - By Izyaslav ďSlavaĒ Koza: On November 9th 1996, Alexander Zolkin stepped into the ring against Henry Akinwande to fight for a piece of the Heavyweight crown. To that point, Zolkin, was the first Russian boxer ever to fight for a major world title in the heavyweight division. For roughly seventy years, starting from 1918, no Russian boxer could ever even dream about a fight for the world heavyweight title in the pros. Even Russian amateur fighters like the legendary Nikolai Korolev, and Igor Visotski, men who had accomplished more then Zolkin, were denied what many other fighters presently take from granted during Soviet times.

Not even the victory itself but just the opportunity, just the chance, to say that they fought for the heavyweight crown and gave it their best. The Zolkin fight meant nothing in the grand scheme of professional boxing, it was money for the promoters, but the underlying symbolism, spoke volumes to anyone who chose to listen.

Some fans might remember the fight because it was on the undercard of Mike Tysonís shocking first loss to Evander Holyfield. However, to me, it was memorable because it was the first time that I had ever seen an ex-Soviet/Russian fighter step into the professional boxing ring on TV, and be almost equal in presence to Tyson, Holyfield, Bowe and Lewis. Zolkin lost that fight via TKO in the 10th round but not before giving a truly inspiring, spirited effort in trying to become the first Russian to hold a piece of the crown, shared by Ali, Louis, Marciano and some of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport.

Roughly a week and a half from now, on December 17th, another Russian, Nikolai Valuev, will step into the boxing ring to try and accomplish what Zolkin could not. Nikolai Valuev will be the second Russian to fight for a piece of the heavyweight title, and try to become the first to ever to hold a major belt in the heavyweight division; a prize, which has no equal in the professional ranks of the sweet science. Most boxing fans do not respect the idea of championship belts, and although I can agree in some ways, I also cannot deny the value a fighter places on one of those titles, when he holds it for the first time.

With a few days to go before the biggest fight of his long, and grueling, twelve year professional career, Nikolai Valuev took some time off to answer questions in an exclusive eastside interview.

Slava: Good Evening! Well first off I want to congratulate you with the victory over Donald.

Valuev: Thank You

Slava: How is the preparation for this fight coming along? Did anything unanticipated happen?

Valuev: Everything is going according to plan and nothing unexpected has really happened.

Slava: I know that last time you didnít want to tell us who your sparring partners are but can you at least tell us if this time they are better because the opponent is better?

Valuev: Well this time yes of course, there is more of them and they are better, one is the same one we had for the last training camp.

Slava: Can you at least tell us how many of them are there?

Valuev: Five

Slava: What do you know about Ruiz as a boxer?

Valuev: Well, I watch his fights and basically use the fights to evaluate him as a boxer. See your asking questions that nobody (i.e., no boxer) would or should answer.

Slava: I understand I know you donít like to give away your secrets or your training methods. O.K. do you know that his trainer (Norman Stone) likes to curse out and insult his opponents?

Valuev: Well I mean my team knows how to curse as well.

Slava: (laugh) Exactly that is what I wanted to ask if he starts to get into it with you or your trainer what will your response be? I mean I see him do it on TV all the time, where he just starts to curse.

Valuev: If he really wants to get under the skin of me, or my team, he would have to learn to curse in Russian, and I doubt he knows how to do that. Again English cursing cannot even begin to compare with Russian cursing. If somebody from my team covers him in curse words three stories high then obviously it wonít do any good.

Slava (laugh): Has it ever happened that your opponent tried to anger you before a fight like that?

Valuev: Of course

Slava: Do you remember who and how and what happened? Well actually we know what happened.

Valuev: Honestly I donít even try to remember those instances. It happened. All sorts of things happen.

Slava: So it did happen. Its interesting but in America Ruiz is not very popular are you aware of that?

Valuev: Yes

Slava: Does it give you a mental edge that you are the crowd favorite and not the champ?

Valuev: Probably does.

Slava: Do you know that he took Toney to court?

Valuev: Well, that is his business, let him take him to court. That has nothing to do with me.

Slava: Would you ever sue another fighter the way Ruiz has?

Valuev: To court?'s hard for me to evaluate that. After all, I do not have all the facts about the situation and was not present when it happened. The papers always describe and write about things a little different, and always soften it up. Maybe he really did insult him that much that he should have taken him to court.

Slava: Well, I think he sued him because he used Steroids during the fight.

Valuev: Well, the steroids, yeah, I understand all that. Also, he didnít do a bad job of insulting him from head to toe.

Slava: (laugh) Yeah, Toney knows how to do that well. Would you consider fighting in America, in case of a victory? I mean, you wouldnít be against it?

Valuev: Why would I be against it? Whatever my promoter decides, that is the way it will be. Basically, whatever is best for everybody.

Slava: What about your next fight? Obviously, it's not a good idea to think about different opponents but who would you want next, if you win?

Valuev: Well, I am not sure, here. Letís say, very often, there are rematch clauses, always, and to run too far ahead of myself, is very hard. I donít know what kind of situations will occur. I would personally love to fight with one of the four(note: Valuev will be one of them) major champs, right away.

Slava: But who, you do not want to say?

Valuev: Well, let's just be consistent.

Slava: Okay, you were able to fight twice in the United States. Can you describe in detail what you liked and what you didnít like about the country.

Valuev: The United States? Honestly, I never aspired to get over there. Basically, that is that.

Slava: Understandable. I just remember reading an interview with your former trainer, Oleg Shalaev, and in it, he said that the conditions in which you lived here were dismal for a boxer. I just personally hope that not all of your experiences in the country were that negative.

Valuev: I see. Letís say that America is too distant a place for me, and I canít perceive it or look at it that well. For me, Europe is closer, and clearer in that sense. For us, there is a huge difference in time zones, and it's difficult to travel across the ocean, for me, my family, my friends, and close ones. All of this leaves it's mark.

Slava: Now some questions about the start of your career. Your first professional fight was against an American named John Morton. Do you, by any chance, remember what was the first advice you received from your trainer in between rounds? The fight ended in the second, right?

Valuev: Unfortunately, that is not something I remember.

Slava: Okay, do you remember the most important advice you received in your career that helped you win a fight?

Valuev: The most important advice? Of course, I am not ready to answer that question. I canít remember the one most important one. After all, I received a lot of advice. It would probably be something along the lines of, "always before I do something, I should always think."

Slava: And you canít remember the opponent or anything like that?

Valuev: Well, that is the thing, right now I canít remember it was more like advice in general.

Slava: Your amateur career didnít last long, correct?

Valuev: You could say that. It didnít last at all.

Slava: At all?

Valuev: Started without starting

Slava: (laugh) How many fights did you have?

Valuev: Thirteen

Slava: Did you fight anybody relatively famous?

Valuev: Well, I fought Levin (Attila Levin).

Slava: Oh really? Anybody else?

Valuev: Meaning somebody famous?

Slava: Well, maybe not. Maybe they are famous for only some of us.

Valuev: No, I donít think I did. I mean, there were international masters of sport, masters, but those that really had a lot of fame, no. Levin was, however, he had won many (amateur) titles and such.

Slava: What about somebody who is a pro now, besides Levin?

Valuev: No, out of those guys, no.

Slava: What are your thoughts about Vitali Klitschkoís retirement? Do you think he made the right choice or should he have given up the belt in the ring?

Valuev: Well, no, I think he made the correct decision. Especially since he had an injury. There could be other reasons, too, of course. Itís really only possible to guess what they were, however. I donít know, maybe they really made him a decent offer in Kiev. Still, though, first thingís first. I know what it is to have a knee injury; I am extremely familiar with that. Itís a serious injury, and a serious reason to leave the sport.

Slava: Thank you. I read that you saw Alexander Povetkin in action and gave good reviews of his potential.

Valuev: Yes

Slava: Did you have a chance to talk to him in private and give him some valuable advice?

Valuev: I donít like to give advice if people donít ask me for it.

Slava: Oh well, what about just a regular conversation, without any advice?

Valuev: At this point, no, we didnít have a real, serious, big conversation yet.

Slava: Did you see the fight between Maskaev and Sam?

Valuev: Well, yes.

Slava: If you can, please, tell us who you were hoping to win? Your teammate or?

Valuev: For Samil Sam

Slava: For Samil Sam, really? Not for? Well, Maskaev came in under a Russian flag, right?

Valuev: Well, I mean, wait a second, after all, me and Sam train on the same team, and well, on second thought, let's not discuss politics.

Slava: Okay, sure. How can you appraise Maskaevís victory? Was he just better or was Sam just worse?

Valuev: No, he was definitely better. There was definitely something. Well, let's say that, I think there were some mistakes allowed by Sam, or his team, in preparation and this was made clear in the ring.

Slava: You do know that Muhammed Ali will be in the arena on the 17th?

Valuev: That is what they say.

Slava: How did you feel? Well, where they are any feelings when you heard this? Pride, maybe?

Valuev: Well, of course, he is a great human being, but after all, he isnít coming to see me fight. After all, his daughter will be fighting. So his presence, really, is not directly connected to me. As far as respect for this great human being, obviously that is so, and I completely understand why.

Slava: In case of victory on the 17th of December, you will become the first Russian professional champion at this weight. Does this thought help or limit you in your preparation?

Valuev: To be honest, I try not to think too much about it. There are other bigger and more interesting motives.

Slava: Like?

Valuev: I wonít say that, why should I? There are a lot of them but this is also one of them. It always feels good to be first.

Slava: I read an interview with Roman Karmazin, where he said that he is probably more well known in America than in Russia. When you are at home, do many people recognize you as a boxer?

Valuev: Well, yes, this is a problem. Yes, Roman is not well known, and itís a problem of many Russian boxers, who are famous enough abroad, but are not well known in their own homeland. Mainly, itís a problem that is clearly related to management, you know? Problems of marketing because when they leave, when a Western promoter, roughly speaking, makes an ďacquisition,Ē of a Russian boxer letís say, right? It never even crosses his mind about P.R., and Marketing of that fighter in his native land.

Slava: I see what you mean.

Valuev: Its not beneficial for him, simply put, he doesnít see any profit, or money, or any of those other things. This is exactly why the situation is the way that it is now. Whatever Roma said is exactly the way it is right now.

Slava: Is it the same for you?

Valuev: My situation is a little different, and lets say that, there are people in Russia, who are working to make sure that we arenít forgotten in Russia either.

Slava: Well, yes, you have your website,

Valuev: Lets say I have no problems. Yes, yes. For me, it's difficult to walk out onto the street.

Slava: (laugh) difficult?

Valuev: Yeah

Slava: People run up to you and ask for your autograph?

Valuev: Yeah, and all sorts of similar things.

Slava: Will this fight be shown in Russia?

Valuev: Of course, all boxing matches are shown in Russia.

Slava: Itís just that the Karmazinís fight, I donít think was shown live in Russia?

Valuev: It's ok, my fights arenít shown live, either.

Slava: Oh, so this fight wonít be shown live?

Valuev: I donít know. Right now, I donít know for sure about it being live. Right now, I donít know because I am in an information vacuum in training, and I donít have a chance to talk with or call anybody.

Slava: Well then, my last question: it's not even a question, but would you like to say something to your viewers, Americans, Russians, or whoever?

Valuev: I want to wish all viewers, including the American ones, I want to wish them health in the first place, that everything will be okay for them at home, and all the best that they wish for themselves, and that all their dreams come true. I want to use this opportunity, to wish everybody a Merry Christmas because its coming up soon. Christmas is coming up in the West, correct?

Slava: oh yeah, in a couple of weeks.

Valuev: Yeah, because it comes up before our Russian Orthodox one. Therefore, I want to wish everybody happiness for this big and joyous holiday.

Slava: Thank you, on behalf of all your viewers.

Valuev: (laugh) You're Welcome

Slava: Well, that is it, then. Sincerely, I wish you luck and I hope that wellÖ will be the winner on the 17th of December.

Valuev: Thank YouÖI want that as well.

Slava: Thank you good bye.

Valuev: Good luck and good bye.

I want to thank Sauerland Promotions and especially Heiko Mallwitz for the opportunity to conduct this interview. I want to also thank Nikolai Valuev for taking the time out to speak with me. Again, we as fans, do not realize how difficult it is for a fighter to do an interview from training camp. I know that most of us, including myself, wonít have a chance to watch the fight live but there are usually a few Europeans on our forum who do the play by play. So if you want to be kept up to date on the bout stop by the forum and read the threads.

Article posted on 07.12.2005

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