When a boxer reaches 33, as the humongous Russian Nicolay Valuev did on Aug. 21, it becomes more than prudent to at least consider what you’ll be doing when it is no longer prudent to lace the gloves up and trade punches for money. It becomes necessary, unless you are a genetic freak (like Bernard Hopkins) or you have salted away a Fort Knoxian pile of riches (like Oscar De La Hoya) that will allow you to do nothing more than watch Matlock reruns and scarf Fritos on the sofa if that’s what your heart desires.
I’m happy to hear that Valuev, who came to New York on Monday for a tour of our fair city, and surely turned heads from downtown to midtown as tourists gawked at his impressive (7 ft tall, 330 or so pounds, a face that would give Charles Manson the shivers if lit correctly), has contemplated what comes next when his boxing career closes.
The movies beckon, the Giant Russian, through his interpreter, told the media hordes at the Russian Firebird Restaurant in the theater district/Times Sq. region of Manhattan on Wednesday afternoon.
Scripts attached to DeNiro and Vin Diesel are on standby for now, however, as the 44-0 from St. Petersburg first looks to show boxing fans, and plenty of other merely curious non-fight-fans, that he is no freak show on Oct. 7 in Chicago. The Giant, who is being shown around town by co-promoter Don King, will be punching down on that night towards the head of Monte Barrett, a Queens, NY heavyweight who maintains that he will be the man to bring heavyweight bragging rights back to the US, or at least, the WBA belt, which Valuev took off John Ruiz in December 2005.
I got to the restaurant late after threading my way past the hordes of out-of-towners that we semi-surly but deep-down-underneath-softies from the City mutter about profanely as they clog sidewalks or walk a sad, Midwestern-mile-per-hour pace. It was 12:45 PM, so the grub was picked over, and the joint was insanely packed. I found a seat next to Harold Lederman’s bride, who seems to perhaps enjoy these dog and pony shows, as opposed to merely tolerating them. As we waited for The Giant and The Don to appear Lederman made a good point that I hadn’t thought of: who manufactures gloves that will be large enough to fit Valuev’s catcher mitt sized paws, and still weight the requisite 10 ounces? Harold said Bowe threw a scare into the suits at HBO twice when after getting his hands wrapped, he said his gloves wouldn’t fit…
At 1:40, Valuev appeared and we all craned our necks to get a peek at the massive slab of man. He looked sharp in his suit, with his promoter Wilf Sauerland and trainer Manuel Gabrielian in tow.
King kicked things off with a pro-Dubya/terrorism sucks stump speech and had me chuckling when he pronounced the Giant’s name as “Value-ev.” As in “value,” as in this is a solid commodity that I’m going to make some dough on.
Kery Davis, the HBO chief, talked up the Oct. 7 scrap, which will be shown on the net and said that people have been accosting him everywhere he goes asking him about “the big Russian guy.”
Monte Barrett, Davis said, will help all of us determine whether or not Valuev is anything more than a momentary diversion from the more attractive lighter weight fights that are on the near horizon, or something more.
I’m leaning towards something more; any time you get a man this large, with anything more than average coordination, you have something compelling. Valuev can hit OK, but more importantly, he knows how to box, how to set things up with the jab, how to deflect advances with that jab, he knows his limitations and doesn’t get caught up in needless trading and he remembers to step away after he throws. That step, mind you, covers about half the ring so I am hard-pressed to see Barrett, with his wide receiver body, being able to get much done on Oct. 7.
Barrett has a different opinion. The second-tier heavyweight, who has faltered when asked to step up to a higher class, against Derrick Jefferson, Wladimir Klitschko, Joe Mesi and Hasim Rahman, told TSS that he’s as mentally and physically fit as he’s ever been since he turned pro in 1996. At the podium, Barrett, styling in a blue Izod polo and sunglasses, said his game was off when he met Hasim Rahman a year ago, his last paid outing.
“I had personal issues the day of the fight,” he explained. “I found out my sister was stabbed and I had issues with my son’s mother…Mentally, I was not there.”
Barrett’s new trainer—he’s had a slew, including Al Davis, Jimmy Glenn, Tommy Parks, Eddie Muhammad, Tommy Brooks, Shadow Knight—is James Ali Bashir, a Kronk guy, so maybe this combo will stick. Barrett painted a picture of the height disparity and a mythological parallel.
“David destroyed Goliath on fate and it took him five stones to do it,” Barrett said. “It’s going to take me two stones.”
Stan Hoffman then used the mike to state that he considers Barrett his fourth child, and goosebumps erupted everywhere.
After Bashir said his piece, the man that everyone came to see, the mountainous Valuev, took to the podium.
“I’m happy to be in America,” he said in English and then switched over to his native tongue as an interpreter translated.
“Walking around New York, I was happy to see so many people smiling…don’t forget September 11th, but we’ll get over it together. Please accept my sincere sorrow over what happened September 11th.”
A sweet touch, though it must be said that he doesn’t need to go all Dick Cheney and play the 9/11 card; most of us, like the morons who appropriate Fed money for terrorism defense to the states, are over it. We all thought the other shoe would’ve dropped by now. End digression…
Sauerland took the stand and told us that “Nico,” as he calls him, tried out for him three years ago and was underwhelming, but has improved immensely since then, and in each fight.
Valuev came back to show off his other phrase in English:
“Only in America,” he said, using King’s trademark motto, to great guffaws.
The Giant, as nimble of tongue as King promised, then took questions from the keyboard calloused wretches.
How would he fight himself, Steve Farhood asked?
“That’s a secret I only share with my students,” he said.
Then a comedian asked if he were to lose to Barrett, would he move down to cruiserweight? Hey, sign that cat up for America’s Next Great Comedian! They have a show called that, don’t they?
“I’m not going to lose,” the Giant said, “and to do that I’d need to lose both my legs.”
He’s the largest man in the division, and possibly, the funniest too!
Another questioner gave him the opp to slag the Russian bloc of heavies but he took the high road. “I’m happy for them,” he said.
The Giant doesn’t win classiest heavyweight champion honors with that answer; Maskaev and Klitschko are both humble sons of guns, while Liakhovich has a bit of the lone wolf snarly posturing in him…
Your TSS correspondent asked if he ever considered doing anything but boxing, like, say, the movies?
Valuev has already been in a German flick, the Seven Dwarves, a manager told us, and he’s considering scripts featuring DeNiro and a Vin Diesel vehicle to shoot in Paris but for now, boxing’s on the brain.
Next, Valuev won a skirmish with a questioner who wanted to know who he’d beaten of consequence.
“I beat Ruiz,” he said. “Do you think he is not a serious opponent?”
The questioner shrugged, and made it clear he didn’t think Ruiz was all that and indicated that he hadn’t seen enough of that fight or the rest of Valuev’s conquests.
“Then why do you ask this question?” the Giant chided.
Have you ever been hurt, the large and in charge boxer was asked?
“Nyet,” he said, no translation needed.
In person, the Giant doesn’t look as tall as you might expect, but I’m not saying there is any creative measuring being done.
It’s probably because he’s so thick and we’re used to seeing 7 footers with basketball player physiques, and he’s got a pro wrestling build.
Come to think of it, should Barrett pull the upset, and the Giant tanks in Hollywood, Vince McMahon’s WWE is a most logical landing zone…
(Check out pix of the Valuev-Barrett Presser in the TSS Photo Gallery)