Valuev snags a title but fails to capture fight fans' attention

"Hey, what happened?" John Ruiz figured he had done enough to earn the nod over Nikolai Valuev. Couretesy David Martin Warr

Frank Maloney, ex-manager of former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, believed that he could do something with Nikolai Valuev from the moment he first set eyes on the 7-foot Beast from the East.

"I looked up at him … and I kept looking up and kept looking up … what was not to like?" Maloney said. "He was like a freak of nature and he intimidated people. I mean, he was frightening just to look at. There was just one problem … he couldn't fight."

Valuev has improved from the days when he was little more than a circus act, travelling to fistic fairgrounds in St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk in Russia, then around the world to Sydney; Yokohama, Japan; Prague; Seoul and London. But heavyweight boxing today does not discriminate against mediocrity.

So the rematch between Valuev and John Ruiz at the Max Schmeling Halle in Berlin was a title fight, even though their first brawl at the same venue in December 2005 was the kind of slapping match that would be stopped expeditiously on the street.

"Who do you think you are?" a couple of bystanders might say, laughing while pulling the two bruisers apart. "Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali?"

Ali was ringside when Valuev and Ruiz first came together -- his daughter, Laila, boxed on the undercard -- but, wisely, he stayed way from the rematch. Joe Louis-Schmeling II this wasn't.

The bout did have its moments, such as the point in the second round when Ruiz landed a right hand on the Giant's head that shook him. Valuev tripped over his own boots, causing his gloves to touch the canvas. No knockdown.

But the most noteworthy punch of the night was Valuev's jab and from Rounds 4 through 10, the Russian utilized it sufficiently to keep Ruiz at bay and to pile up the points. The Las Vegas-based Puerto Rican could not get past it.

Anyone who witnessed Valuev's win over former titleholder Sergei Liakhovich in a February 2008 title eliminator in Nuremburg might have predicted as much. His jab is no thing of beauty but, if a 7-foot man can throw it with any degree of accuracy and authority, it becomes hard for a man like Ruiz, who is 6-foot-2, to fight his fight.

Ruiz needed to get inside to do damage and he was unable to do this often enough, despite his plaintive cry.

"I thought I won the fight," Ruiz said. "I don't know what was going with the scorecards."

Valuev had been penalized a point by Australian referee Derek Milham in the 10th round for pushing down on the back of Ruiz's neck and, although he rocked Ruiz with a short right hand in the penultimate round, the Puerto Rican finished the round strongly -- as he did the last. Some in the crowd booed the decision but, for Valuev, this is nothing new.

"I am used to crowds supporting my opponents mostly because I am always boxing against people who are smaller than me," Valuev said. "It is natural that the crowds support my opponent. But I won this fight clearly and I feel like I am improving all the time."

Certainly, the work he has been doing with new trainer Alexander Zimin, who coached the old Soviet Union amateur boxing team, is paying dividends but only a unification bout against Wladimir Klitschko -- or Vitali Klitschko, if he can beat Sam Peter on Oct. 11 in Berlin -- will earn Valuev more than sideshow status.

Even in victory, Valuev remains more Shrek than Tyson or Ali.

Brian Doogan is a sportswriter for the London Sunday Times and is the longtime European correspondent for The Ring magazine.