WBA heavyweight Nicolai Valuev the giant seven-foot Russian, was toppled by the much shorter Ruslan Chagaev that in turn crumbled several proposed showdowns between other gargantuan fighters in the heavyweight division.

The little guys struck again.

They were lining up for a tournament of Eastern bloc heavyweights that included behemoth brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko of the Ukraine and Russia’s Oleg Maskaev, but Uzbekistan’s Chagaev proved it’s not the size of the dog that wins the fight, but the fight in the dog.

With Chagaev winning the title from Valuev by majority decision, it opens the floodgate to American heavyweight fighters calmly waiting on standby for their turn. The first to test the waters will be WBO heavyweight titleholder Shannon Briggs on June 2, in Atlantic City.

Here come the Americans.

The muscular Briggs captured the title with a last-second knockout of lanky Sergei Liakhovich with a right hand that sent the Russian through the ropes to the floor below. He packs the kind of combustible power that most fighters dream of possessing.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, the boxer known as “the Cannon” brings tremendous power along with surprising speed despite his usual 268 pounds.

“He’s a big puncher with good hand speed,” said Eddie Chambers, an undefeated heavyweight prospect out of Pittsburgh, Penn. “His offense is great. You have to stay away from him the first four rounds. After that he seems to slows down.”

Briggs will be defending his WBO title against yet another Russian heavyweight in the undefeated Sultan Ibragimov. Anything can happen in that fight.

Another hard-hitting heavyweight calmly poised to get a shot at any of the titleholders is former WBO champion Lamon Brewster. After losing a close decision to Liakhovich, the California heavyweight was forced to endure eye surgery.

“Everything is fine now,” said Brewster who was at a Las Vegas fight card recently. “I’m ready to go again.”

Brewster captured the WBO title in 2004 with a come-from behind victory over current WBA heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko. Now’s he’s training for a rematch that takes place on July 7 in Germany.

Of course there’s always James Toney, who can give any heavyweight a tussle with his vast boxing skills. Though excess weight has slowed him down, if he should ever drop below 230 pounds the five-feet, nine-inch former middleweight, super middleweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight champion can beat anybody. Regardless of height or power Toney has tremendous possibilities if he can reduce the pounds.

“Nobody knows more about boxing than James Toney,” said Henry Ramirez, who trains Riverside, California heavyweight prospect Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola.

Another clever boxer who could easily topple a heavyweight or two is Las Vegas resident Chris Byrd.

Byrd has problems with the big hard-hitting guys but you have to hit the former champion first before you can beat him. He practices in his backyard inside a 12-foot square ring with much larger heavyweights. Few ever connect.

The prospects

A number of young American heavyweights are anxiously waiting to follow behind the current heavyweight world titleholders. In California there are Arreola, Damian “Bolo” Wills and in the other part of the country Chambers heads the pack of heavyweight hopefuls on the verge of a title opportunity.

“I think I’m about a year and a half away from being ready to fight for a world title,” said Chambers, 25, who is scheduled to fight Dominick Guinn in Las Vegas on May 4. “I think I do need a few more fights.”

So far the six-footer has shown quick hands, quick feet and defensive movements that enable him to fight much bigger opponents.

“Most of the guys I fight are bigger than me. I’m used to that, it’s just the way it is,” said Chambers (28-0) who is preparing in Vero Beach, Fla. “It’s pretty much the norm for me.”

Though maybe only 210 pounds, Chambers continues to out fox opponents who carry 50 or more pounds than him. But he wins nonetheless.

“My speed and quickness allow me to get in and out of there,” Chambers says. “That’s the key for me.”

Also boxing on the same fight card will be Arreola who has graduated to another level with some convincing wins that were televised.

“Chris has improved every time he fights,” says Ramirez who trains Arreola at the Lincoln Boxing Club in Riverside. “One of the keys for him is he stays near his fighting weight.”

Arreola, 26, has learned that countering an opponent’s weight with weight doesn’t always work like it does for a football lineman. It’s a different sport where stamina is more important than girth. Now the Mexican-American heavyweight walks around at 230 pounds. As recent as 2005 he weighed 256 pounds.

The Riverside-based heavyweight could meet undefeated former 2004 Olympic representative Devin Vargas in a battle of heavyweight hopefuls on May 4. The contest is scheduled for 10 rounds at the Palms Casino.

Arreola (19-0) belongs to a new young wave of American heavyweights in their mid-20s ready to move in such as Travis Walker, Malik Scott, Alonzo Butler and Chazz Witherspoon. Their time could be very soon.