After having demolished Owen Beck (by TKO 3) last June 3 in Hanover (Germany), WBA heavyweight champion Nicolay Valuev has many options in front of him. He could keep defending the belt against the official challengers, he could face the other champions or he could simply pursue big money in the United States. The latter choice looks more attractive from a financial point of view. American promoters really need a big heavyweight star since none of the boxers currently  fighting on U.S. soil was good enough to sell-out Madison Square Garden and the other major venues (while Antonio Tarver vs.  Roy Jones III drew 20,895 fans in Tampa and Cory Spinks vs. Zab Judah sold 22,374 tickets in St. Louis). A giant like Valuev (7’0 and 325 pounds), undefeated in 45 battles (32 KOs) and born in Russia, could be promoted much more easily than John Ruiz, James Toney or Hasim Rahman. The fans who grew up watching the saga of Rocky Balboa, would immediately think of Valuev as the real-life version of Ivan Drago. The problem is that Valuev doesn’t want to be compared to a fictional character or to anybody else. He doesn’t even accept nicknames like King Kong, Power Tower, Beast from the East or the Eighth Wonder of the World. While I interviewed him in Kienbaum (Germany), he said: “My parents called me Nicolay Valuev and that’s how I want to be called.”  

If going to the United States meant turning himself into a showbiz attraction, he would probably have something against it. Anyway, there are many fighters in the United States who would provide a good challenge for Valuev: Samuel Peter and John Ruiz already said that they want the Russian badly. Another option could be a rematch against Larry Donald. Their first battle took place last October 1 in Oldenburg (Germany) and was highly spectacular. On paper, it looked like a mismatch since Valuev was coming off convincing victories over Paolo Vidoz, Gerald Nobles, Attila Levin and Clifford Etienne. On the other hand, Larry Donald had always lost against major opponents in their prime (Kirk Johnson, Vitali Klitschko and Riddick Bowe) and had scored draws with boxers that most fans never heard of (David Dixon, Obed Sullivan and Ray Austin). The only major victory in Donald’s record was a decision against a faded Evander Holyfield who had won only two of his previous eight fights. Since professional boxing history is not made by résumés, Valuev vs. Donald turned out to be a much better fight than it looked like on paper. Larry Donald danced around the Russian and hit him many times providing him some cuts to the face. According to many journalists, trainers and boxers, the Cincinnati-born fighter won the majority of the rounds. This impression was strengthened by the TV cameras that always showed in slow-motion Donald’s best punches. In the last eight months, Valuev improved a lot and could win a rematch with Donald.

Valuev has the power to KO anybody with a single punch. If you don’t agree, ask Owen Beck. I talked about it with Nicolay’s trainer Manuel Gabrielian who is quite a character himself. Born in Armenia, Gabrielian started working in his own country and later toured Europe as coach of top amateur boxers. He learned the job by himself, like he loves to point out: “I never had any mentor teaching me. My boss in the amateur federation spent his time sitting in his chair and watching his belly become bigger and bigger. I was lucky to work with some great talents who became Soviet Union champions, who took part to the Olympics and to the world championships. They had great coaches and I learned watching them. I took some tricks from any trainer I worked with. The most important thing that I learned is that a coach must care about his fighters  even outside the gym, to make sure they don’t make stupid mistakes. The trainer must be like a father to the boxers.”  When I asked Manuel what he thinks about Larry Donald and the other possible opponents for Valuev, the answer was short: “Nicolay will knock them all out!” 

Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s a strong chance that Valuev will win most of his upcoming fights. WBO champion Sergei Lyakhovic looks hardly unbeatable. WBC king Hasim Rahman has to get past Oleg Maskaev next August 12. Neither of them has an iron chin: Oleg’s five losses came all by KO and he KOed Rahman. The only heavyweight who looks too dangerous for Valuev is IBF titlist Wladimir Klitschko.The list of top-ranked opponents defeated by Klitschko comprises Axel Schulz, Monte Barrett, Chris Byrd (twice), Francois Botha, Ray Mercer, Jameel McCline, DaVarryl Williamson and Samuel Peter. Most people complained that Wladimir went down three times against Peter, but what counts is that he got up three times. Besides, Klitschko has great power and has showed formidable accuracy in his last win against Byrd (TKO 7). Maybe, five fights from now Nicolay Valuev will be ready to face Klitschko. In Germany and Russia, both champions are so popular that a match between them would set a new attendance record and would keep millions of people in front of their TV sets. Probably, Valuev vs. Klitschko would sell-out Madison Square Garden too. The last heavyweight battle that went close to fill MSG was Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield which drew 18,477 people (the Garden has 20,000 seats). Sauerland Event, which manages the Russian, will try everything to make Valuev vs. Klitschko a reality. Before that event, it’s likely that we’ll see Nicolay KOing another opponent chosen from the WBA rankings. Manuel Gabrielian is sure that his champion won’t disappoint the Russian fans: “Nicolay is always improving. Besides, Sauerland Event gave us a training center  provided with the most modern facilities and that helps a lot. In Armenia, I used to train in an old building with old equipment and I know how much that is annoying for a fighter.”

Nicolay Valuev
Born in St. Petersburgh (Russia), on August 21, 1973
Height: 7’0
Weight: 325 pounds
Stance: Orthodox
Trainer: Manuel Gabrielian
Manager: Sauerland Event
Record: 44 wins (32 KOs) and 1 no-contest
Debuted in 1993  
Heavyweight Titles
Russian champion
Pan-Asian champion
WBA intercontinental champion
WBA international champion
WBA world champion
December 17, 2005 – Berlin – Defeated on points John Ruiz to win the belt  
June 3, 2006 – Hannover – Defended the title against Owen Beck (TKO 3)