It ain’t easy for a 7 feet, 320 pound man mound to elicit anything other than gawking and gasping when he’s placed in front of normal sized souls, but Nikolai Valuev did just that on Saturday night in Illinois, in front of a crowd that showed the spark of participants at the annual National Convention of Insomniacs.

Don King did his job, barking excitedly from coast to coast about this marvelous mutation of genetics, and pumped up considerable interest in the Russian import.

Monte Barrett did his job, acting as a decent, but fairly benign foil.

So the stage was set for the big man to come up big. Valuev had to show the crowd and the TV watchers, a large segment of which rarely tune in to watch boxing, that a showdown with the Ukrainian-born midsized model, Wladimir Klitschko, wouldn’t be a mismatch. The expectations weren’t sky high; after all, how much coordination could fight fans expect from a ceiling-sized slugger who only picked up the gloves at age 20?

Valuev did not succeed.

Sadly, I might insert.

I rooted for the big man to show his stuff. I wanted this hesitant giant, who really yearns, like a prickly teenager, to be regarded like the other regularly proportioned people, to excel. I usually root for an underdog, and the Giant was dismissed by stereotypers, mostly those who hadn’t seen him, as a no-hoper.

How could he be anything other than a gangly clod, they’d ask? No, I’d reply, I’ve seen snippets of the guy on YouTube, and he’s more coordinated than you might think. Plus, he has an acceptable jab and is schooled in the fundamentals, so he moves his feet smartly enough to stay out of trouble, if not win a slot on Dancing With The Stars.

On Saturday, Valuev didn’t exactly bolster my standing among friends and colleagues as someone who might know what the hell he’s talking about. OK, he wasn’t cloddish in Illinois, but he didn’t wow anyone with his ring generalship. But the jab, where did that disappear to? It flourished like the proverbial American heavyweight. Was there an elbow problem that hampered the big man’s setup shot? Or was he flustered by the massive ramp-up to his USA unveiling? Because the Giant, who looked tentative too much of the time for someone enjoying such a monumental physical advantage, and rarely used the jab as anything more than a range finder and viewing obstructor, didn’t look too much like the man on YouTube.

Manny Steward certainly wasn’t blown away by the big fella's outing, and he has several million reasons to be exceedingly laudatory in his judgment of the pillar of St. Petersburg. Larry Merchant told us he thinks there’s no bigger money fight, save PBF/Oscar, on the near horizon in the game than a Wladimir Klitschko/Nikolai Valuev bout. Steward gave TSS his day late take on Valuev’s effort and forward prospects.

“It wasn’t overly impressive,” Steward said. “I have to give him the benefit of the doubt and see him again against a standup boxer.”

So, Manny, would your guy eat Valuev alive?

“Experience has taught me to be cautious,” Steward said. “But I think Wladimir would beat him.”

Was it nerves, Steward was asked, that kept Valuev from showing his range of skills, such as they are?

“He seemed cool to me,” Steward said. “His stamina was good. He didn’t seem to get rattled.”

While we’re harping on the bright side of things, I thought Valuev’s beard stood up to Barrett’s leaping lashes.

“I was very impressed with his chin,” Steward said, “but Barrett’s wild haymakers didn’t have power. Some haymakers, like Tim Witherspoon’s overhands, have power but not Barrett’s.”

And that MIA jab, what was up with that?

“He just used it to touch Barrett before throwing the right,” Steward said. “It was not an impressive fight. The question of how good he is is still lingering.”

Fair to say. The jury is still deliberating. They haven’t come to the conclusion that this guy is freakily impressive, to go with his extraordinary height and girth. But the public’s appetite for the Giant hasn’t been erased, either. He still has that “O” to plug, and if anyone can plug, it’s DK.

Steward has to hope that the “O” will stay in effect until Valuev and his guy can book a soccer stadium in Germany and sell a buttload of tickets.

“Wlad and him would break all records,” the trainer/manager/analyst said. “It wasn’t an impressive fight but I’d like to see him one more time.”

SPEEDBAG In the “ouch” department…poor Kevin McBride. The kid had momentum on his side in a big way following his 2005 win over late-stage Tyson, and he frittered it away, in Buckneresque fashion. There were injuries, and managerial indecision also hurt the Colossus, who isn’t likely find himself in a better-leveraged spot than he was in June 2005 again. Fighters, manager and promoters squandering momentum is one of my pet peeves. Strike while the iron is at least lukewarm, if not hot, I say…

—Oh, by the way, you do see that Tyson/Holyfield III is the desired matchup for many of those associated with both guys, don’t you? And I think the Holyfield/Oquendo scrap is going to do record PPV numbers –record lows, that is. The wallets are going to be velcroed shut after the PBF/Baldy Nov. 4 beef, as customers note that they will have to spend excess cash on holiday gifts, not boxing cards…

—So I knew you guys would be curious about how Grady Brewer spent his Contender payout. So I called him and he told me he got paid. I asked him what he spent it on, he put me on hold, and I waited a few minutes for him. He didn’t come back. Maybe he thought I was going to hit him up for a loan…

—Ivaylo Gotzev hasn’t had any prelim talks with Don King about matching Sergei Liakhovich with Valuev if Sergei handles Shannon Briggs on Nov. 4 in Arizona. “Sergie has expressed interest in fighting Wladimir, because he wants to fight the best,” Gotzev said. “But he’d fight Valuev in a heartbeat.” Liakhovich has been going rounds with undefeateds Roderick Willis and Teke Oru, and also Ice Cole, to prep for Briggs.