When you know you’re going to write about Nicolai “The Russian Giant” Valuev in his HBO debut, you start racking your brain for clever put-downs and quips. It’s not too hard, really. You could go after the Chewbaca-like fur that covers his body. Or his Early Man bone structure, which suggests he applies Victor Conte’s designer steroids to his mug before he gets his beauty sleep.
Alas, by the time the 7-foot behemoth dispatched courageous opponent Monte “Two Gunz” Barrett at 2:12 of the eleventh, all my cheap-shots had escaped me. I was left with a grudging admiration for the now 45-0 (33) fighter from St. Pete—not Winky Wright’s hometown in the Sunshine State but the colder place known as “City of the Tsars.”
Don’t get me wrong, despite his awesome size, this guy isn’t the next big thing. He’s too slow, too crude, and doesn’t even crack that hard for a man who goes 338. Rather, he’s a curiosity, a sideshow act worthy of P.T. Barnum, or in this case his co- promoter Don King. But he is not a total hoax.
He demonstrated a good chin, a strong will and impressive stamina. While the fight was ugly and often dull, Valuev ultimately handed Barrett the type of thrashing he’d only experienced once before, when he faced Wladimir Klitschko in 2000. A host of decent pros—Joe Mesi, Hasim Rahman, Dominick Guinn—couldn’t break the man. None other than “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. said in a post-fight interview via satellite that he was “impressed” by the WBA titlist; he had a good work-rate for a man his size, said the P4P kingpin. Throughout the bout, the cynical yet astute commentator Larry Merchant commented on the Russian’s flaws. In the end, though, he conceded Valuev’s no paper bear.
Another reason I’m finding it difficult to harass the big guy: the more I learn about him, the more I like him. He’s noble, thoughtful, private, and intelligent. Watching footage of him smiling at his diminutive wife and playing gently with his young son, he reminds me of Fezzik, the kindly cohort Andre The Giant played in The Princess Bride. But Valuev understands that, unless you’re Shaquille O’Neil, nobody likes Goliath. This Tolstoy reader accepts the hissing and boos fans often direct at him. When you’re twice the size of your opponent, you’ll never be seen as the underdog—even if you only learned to box at 20 and may be outsized for the unique physics of boxing.
It’s too bad Valuev isn’t a better fighter. He could be a huge shot in the arm for the sport; the only heavyweight the general sports fan would be drawn to. The 14,000 people who showed up at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, speak to his allure (note: many present were Chicago Poles who came out for light heavy Tomasz Adamek). Consider that he hasn’t boxed on U.S. TV before and really only became known on these shores when Don King started banging the drum for him last year.
The staredown was worth the price of admission—call it Rocky IV Redux. (Who would’ve ever thought Stallone so prescient?) And the action in the first round constituted 90 percent of the drama offered in the fight. Technique went out the window; it was a Pier 6 brawl all the way.
A minute in, Barrett—31-5 (17)—landed an overhand right to the head. Valuev cagily grabbed Barrett and pressed his weight down on his back. Using his 106-pound weight advantage, veteran moves like this quickly sapped the strength from Barrett’s old legs. They exchanged a series of shots, and a short right to the jaw sent the American lurching backwards. Watching on TV you couldn’t see it, but the commentators said his glove touched the canvas. The ref didn’t catch it and let the action continue. Both swinging wildly again, Barrett got caught by another right, and this time he did the holding. A few seconds later a push-punch left hook from Valuev sent Barrett to the canvas.
It was ruled a slip—the commentators concurred—but I thought it was a legitimate knockdown. When he got up, Barrett swung for the fences with another looping overhand right, hit air, and lost his mouthpiece in the process. I’m used to seeing a more disciplined technician in Barrett but the height differential (nine inches) had him looking like a novice golden glover who’d never make it past the prelims. I expected him to get inside Valuev’s jab and rip his body with tight uppercuts and hooks. It never happened.
Valuev’s fighter’s instinct to retaliate and his ability to take a shot was impressive. But most of what happened for the following 10 rounds wasn’t. When they weren’t grabbing, they were throwing sloppy shots that mainly grazed their target. In round five, a glum Merchant said, “It looks like they’re fighting in amber.” It was ugly.
As the rounds progressed, Barrett was clearly the wearier of the two and his legs looked shot. He never stopped trying and when he was hurt, he always swung back. Several times he went down—ruled as slips—as much from exhaustion as anything. Valuev, on the other hand, remained virtually unchanged. In the 10th, it was plain “Two Gunz” had spent all his bullets.
When Barrett went down from a slip in the 11th, he got up groggily. “The Eighth Wonder
of the World” rushed him, connecting with a sickening overhand right with all his weight and momentum behind it. Somehow Barrett got up from the shot and went on to absorb more punishment, getting dropped again from a thudding jab. The announcers began protesting that the fight be stopped. Thankfully, his trainer James Bashir stepped in at the right time, saving Barrett from himself and Valuev’s big fists.
Even Don King can’t fool the public into thinking “all roads lead to the Giant,” as the shock-haired huckster has been repeating at press conferences lately. But as for this fight, Larry Merchant said it right: “That was no gentle giant in the end.”
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Easily the fight of the night (not just on HBO but Showtime, too, which featured the unsatisfying rubbermatch between Diego Corrales and Joel Casamayor) was the co-featured light heavyweight rematch between WBC champ Tomasz Adamek and Paul Briggs. This came as no surprise.
Their first fight, last may, was on the non-televised undercard of the HBO heavyweight clash between Lamon Brewster and Andrew Golota. It was a shame HBO didn’t air it as a co-feature since fight fans were dying to see these two get it on. It turned out to be 2005’s “Greatest Fight You Never Saw.”
Thanks to YouTube.com, I have seen some clips of the bloody war. Once again, they didn’t disappoint. And once again, Adamek, now 31-0 (21), held onto his belt by a thin margin. The MD scores were 113-113, 114-112, 115-111.
A picture-perfect left hook in the first put the Pole on the seat of his pants for the first time in his pro career. The Aussie Briggs, now 25-3 (18), is not a graceful athlete but he throws straight hard punches and possesses all the intangibles you’d want in a fighter.
Except for the punch that put him down, Adamek dominated the round—including what happened after he pulled himself off the canvas. He put on a boxing clinic in the second and third. He is exceptionally busy and does many things you wish other fighters would attempt; doubling- and tripling-up the jab, hooking off of it, finishing combos with crisp left hooks to the body. His footwork is sound and he has abandoned a former bad habit of admiring his work. Now, after he gets off, he moves his head and feet or swivels his hips and shoulders, helping him discover fresh angles.
Adamek wanted to box instead of brawl. He employed a new cornerman in Buddy McGirt, the man who earned his rep for getting Gatti to box Ward. But in the fourth, Briggs made it difficult to for Adamek to stay on message. Already cut on his left eyelid, Briggs didn’t want to be the only bleeder out there. Clean right hands bloodied the champ’s nose—it looked to be broken.
The fifth was another big round for the aggressive Briggs, as his explosive surges and great right hand made the difference.
Adamek got back on track in the seventh, throwing 87 punches via fluid combos and body work. His power was no match for Briggs but he evened things out with his better technique and intelligence. As far as conditioning and toughness, both are nonpareil. The eighth was another gorgeous exhibition for the Bielsko Biala native who now trains out of Jersey City, NJ. As if he was trying to one-up Kassim Ouma, he threw a whopping 106 punches. Briggs kept himself in the fight with an occasional thudding connection. Whether it’s a jab, a hook or a right hand—he looks to hurt you with it.
An accidental low blow in the ninth put Briggs down. Larry Merchant observed that Andrew “The Foul Pole” Golota may be sitting ringside, but his countryman in the ring still ought to be considered “The Fair Pole.” Briggs didn’t take the five minutes allotted to him, using under a minute instead. Maybe he should’ve taken more?
Adamek blinded him with jabs and rocked him with a right. With surgical precision, he went to the body and head with dozens of answered shots. A lesser man would’ve taken a knee, if not an entire count. Not only did Briggs stay on his feet, he concussed Adamek with two critical right hands. Later in the round, a body shot strayed to Briggs’ left hip and the ref wrongly took a point from the champ—and still Fair Pole. Regardless, this was one of the best rounds I’ve seen all year.
The 10th was competitive. As usual, Adamek pitched more while Briggs pitched harder. The next round featured more give and take. Somehow Briggs retained his coiled strength, springing out of a crouch, reminding me of a bigger version of Ricky Hatton—in fact the Sydney resident wears similar long trunks with tassels. Like Hatton, Briggs transfers his weight well and derives much power from his legs. Adamek stands erect and would do well to occasionally bend his knees for some better dig.
But nobody’s perfect, and Adamek doesn’t have to be. He finished the 12th like the champ that he is. He knew the fight was close and he wasn’t going to assume his belt was secure. This is the second time he’s fought a brave, skilled fight in front of Chicago’s Polish community. He keeps doing this and they might build a statue of him adjacent to the one of Michael Jordan.
At this point, I think Adamek is better than Antonio Tarver, Glenn Johnson and Roy Jones. There are many other compelling matches to be made for him. Joe Calzaghe might move up before he retires. Danny Green, Librado Andrade, and Chad Dawson would all be game opponents. But if a rubbermatch with Briggs is made at any point, I’ll be writing that report from ringside in Chicago.
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Lightweight Nate Campbell beat Matt Zegan via UD 12.
Heavyweight Mike Mollo trounced Tyson conqueror Kevin McBride in a TKO2.
Keith Holmes beat Corey Cummings by UD 10.
Featherweight Justin Savi stopped Terrence Roy in TKO3.
Bermane Stiverne got a KO 2 over Charles Brown.
In an upset, welterweight Louis Turner beat David Estrada by UD 6.
Anges Adjaho won a MD 6 over Edgar Fabian Vargas.