The post-bout press conference had just wound up when Don King came up with his sales pitch for Nicolay Valuev. “He’s the eighth wonder of the world,” the great American showman said. “True value for your entertainment dollar.” Valuev won the WBA heavyweight title with a majority points decision over John Ruiz, the champion from the United States, on Saturday night. At 7ft and 23st 3lb, Valuev became the tallest and heaviest world champion in history, as well as the first Russian to win the world heavyweight title.
It was as if the Cold War had just finished and America had lost. King even did his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech for good measure. Not that King had to worry because the man who arrived in Germany as the champion’s promoter had neatly switched sides at the end — Ruiz not being the first boxer to discover that King had backed both entries in a two-horse race.
It was a drab fight and the 10,000 crowd at the Max Schmeling Halle booed the decision of the judges — Derek Milham, of Australia, and Hector Hernandez, of Mexico, scored it 116-114 and 116-113 respectively, while Francisco Martinez, of New Zealand, scored it a draw, 114-114 — but Ruiz, though bitterly upset, could not have too much to complain about. Valuev lived up to his reputation as a lumbering hulk, but, whenever Ruiz stood still, Valuev dominated with the jab. Ruiz was just not busy enough.
“I worked 12 years for this,” Valuev said. “I excuse myself for not having the most beautiful performance but the most important thing is that I won the decision and the title. I truly believe I won. I’m used to the crowd booing me. I’m used to fighting shorter guys so the crowd is always supporting the opponent.”
Valuev was written off as a sporting freak as he was forced to travel the world to make a living. It was not until Wilfried Sauerland, the German promoter, put faith in him two years ago that the idea of winning a world title became a possibility.
He truly is gigantic. At the after-bout party, Valuev was kept busy until 4am by a stream of people asking for their picture to be taken with him — not so much just a shot of the new champion, this was “me and the monster”. Posing for pictures was the first time Valuev had smiled all night.
From the moment he stepped over the top rope and into the ring, the 10-inch size advantage in the Russian’s favour was apparent. As far as the action went, it was a case of whether you preferred the thudding jab of Valuev or the infrequent bursts of the champion. Valuev also seemed to land more punches, which rendered the American camp’s cries of foul all the more ridiculous. Norman Stone, Ruiz’s trainer, has a reputation as a man who can pick a fight with anybody and has regularly disgraced himself at weigh-ins in the past. Having been on his best behaviour all week, a close decision against his man was too much to stand. As Valuev posed with the championship belt, Stone ran up behind him and grabbed it off his shoulder, holding it aloft and running around the ring before Valuev’s cornermen and a group of security guards took it back.
“Boxing is the only sport where you can be robbed without a gun,” Ruiz said. “Everyone told me not to come here because American fighters get screwed all the time. If the people of Germany feel I lost, I’ll leave quietly, but if they feel I got robbed they should scream like they did tonight until I get a rematch.”
But Ruiz, 33, has no chance of a rematch in the near future. Even if he did have a legitimate claim of a bad decision, Ruiz had long since used up all his goodwill. He has a reputation as a deathly dull boxer and will be remembered as a man who lost a world heavyweight title to two former world middleweight champions. He was easily outpointed by Roy Jones Jr nearly three years ago and then lost to James Toney in April, only to be handed the title back when Toney failed a drugs test.
While Germany does have a reputation as a hard place to get a decision, it is hardly one-way. A decade ago, Sauerland managed Axel Schulz, a heavyweight who lost a decision to George Foreman, which was far worse than any adjudged impropriety on Saturday, and last year Felix Sturm, a middleweight, lost a stinker to Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, reports Times. I.L.