ROSEMONT, Ill. – Nikolai Valuev made one small step over the ropes, and Monte Barrett made one giant leap at taking away Valuev’s World Boxing Association title Saturday at Allstate Arena.
Barrett (31-5-0), however, ran out of gas late after wrestling the giant Russian for almost 11 full rounds – much more than most prognosticators gave him against the champ. An exhausted Barrett was saved by trainer Ali Bashir darting under the ropes and giving Valuev (45-0) the technical knockout at 2:12 into the 11th round.
“I thought Monte was in the fight that’s why I let it go as far as it could go,” Bashir said. “I saw that he was tiring and he was hurt and there was no reason to go on. It was just a risky thing at that point, so I stopped the fight.”
The smaller Barrett, who weighed in at 222½ pounds while standing outside Chicago’s tallest building, wasn’t supposed to stand up against the world’s tallest heavyweight champion for more than three, four or five rounds. The prediction was a knockout for Valuev, leaving the American viewing public’s appetite for hard punching adequately fulfilled as well as its curiosity.
Valuev exhibited a slight degree of showmanship, embracing the sensationalism surrounding his 7-foot stature, by stepping over all four ropes to get into the ring. It seems only a Rockette or hurdler could accomplish a similar feat without too much difficulty.
Barrett presented a few of his own surprises. This wasn’t the seemingly timid fighter that gave Hasim Rahman an interim heavyweight title. Barrett was nothing more than a jabber taking jabs from Rahman at another Chicago area venue just down Interstate 90 last year.
No. This wasn’t that same Barrett at all. This 35-year-old Queens native, who donned pink Everlast gloves out of respect for breast cancer awareness, came directly after Valuev.
The tactic couldn’t be much of a surprise since Valuev’s people chose an 18-foot ring. Call it a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel philosophy.
Barrett’s fight plan played out well: through the first half dozen rounds. He didn’t need to knock out or even knockdown Valuev. He just needed to score on counters and inside punching, all of which needed to happen without getting caught a mule kick-grade shot from Valuev’s right or left.
The champion easily outweighed the Barrett, as Valuev had 100 pounds on the challenger. As sluggish as Valuev’s stalking of his agile prey seemed, he borrowed a little trick from the man who made him a champion, John Ruiz. The Russian leaned and pushed down on Barrett, who punched his way out of most clinches.
After seven rounds of dancing with the Russian bear, the effects became more apparent as Barrett staggered back to his corner in a manner of those finishing the Boston Marathon.
“I couldn’t get my range,” Barrett said. “He’s a very tough guy. I was trying to bring it to him. Much respect goes out to him.”
His fatigue snowballed and resulted in a knockdown in the eighth. During the ninth, Barrett’s legs nearly gave out after a 1-2 combination from Valuev, and by the 10th he was slipping on the canvas.
He lost his footing again in the 11th before Valuev connected and sent Barrett tumbling to the mat for an eight-count. Barrett, though, persisted and walked right into an uppercut that sent him to the canvas a final time.
Within seconds of Barrett standing back up and desperately tugging on whatever energy he had left, Bashir had seen more than enough.
We came here, we gave it our best,” Bashir said. “We challenged the champion. Nikolai is not just another big guy. He’s a good boxer. He took some shots out there himself. He took some hard shots out there and stood the test.
“Nikolai Valuev is a champion and should be respected as a champion by all. I think that this was his stiffest challenge yet.”
The contest was Barrett’s first in the 14 months since his unanimous decision loss to Rahman. He hoped Saturday’s performance would bring more title opportunities.
“I would like to fight any other champion that Don King has,” Barrett said. “I hope HBO was impressed by the performance and will have me back. And Don, keep me busy, baby.”
BELOW THE BELT
Chicagonative Mike Mollo had no fear after knocking out hulking Irishman Kevin McBride, who was touted as Mike Tyson’s conqueror. Mollo (16-1) wasted little time in calling for his own chance against Valuev.
“Nikolai Valuev is coming up on Rocky Marciano’s (49-0) record,” Mollo said. “I’m an Italian, I’m a small heavyweight, but I pack a punch. I’d love for Don to come back to Chicago – soon – before he gets close to that record.
“Give me an opportunity and I’ll stop him dead in his tracks.”
Nate Campbell (29-5-1) won his International Boxing Federation lightweight title eliminator with a unanimous decision over Polish contender Matt Zegan (37-2). Campbell threw a hard right to put Zegan on his back in the sixth round.
Former two-time light heavyweight Keith Holmes (39-4) earned a 10-round UD over Cory Cummings (15-2).
In an all-Chicago fight, Louis Turner remained undefeated (7-0) with a unanimous decision over David Estrada (10-9).
Heavyweight Bermane Stiverne also protected his pristine record (8-0) with a second-round knockout of Charles Brown (6-12-1).
Featherweight Justin Savi (2-0-1) picked up a technical knockout in the third round of a scheduled six-round bout against Terrance Roy (8-19-1).
Anges Adjaho went all eight rounds before judges awarded him a majority decision over Edgar Vargas (9-3-1).
Tomasz Adamek (31-0) successfully defended his World Boxing Council light heavyweight title in a rematch against Paul Briggs (25-3) by way of majority decision.
Who will win the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight?