Primo “The Ambling Alp” Carnera, Toro “Man Mountain” Molina and Nikolai “The Beast from the East” Valuev. Three heavyweights united by their unusual size; one a world champion, one a character in a novel and the third a fighter stuck somewhere in the middle, writes Steve Bunce.
Carnera, a 6ft 7in giant who briefly held the world title in the 1930s, was dogged by rumours of underworld connections. Molina is the sad-eyed Argentine from Budd Schulberg’s bittersweet 1947 book The Harder They Fall. Valuev will fight for the World Boxing Association heavyweight title on December 17 in Berlin.
Valuev, a 32 year-old Russian, is 7ft tall, weighs 25 stone and is undefeated in 42 fights. However, like poor Molina, he has been fed a steady diet of stiffs.
“I was treated like a circus act when I started but now people are starting to take me seriously,” claimed Valuev, who is just the latest in a long line of mysterious fighters to secure a world heavyweight title fight.
Valuev will have to beat Puerto Rico’s John Ruiz, a man whose fight history is remarkable. In his last fight, Ruiz was beaten by James Toney. Afterwards, however, Toney tested positive for a banned drug and was stripped of the WBA belt, which was returned to Ruiz.
Two years ago, Ruiz lost his belt to Roy Jones, a light heavyweight who gained 50 pounds simply to fight Ruiz. “John’s not a great fighter,” Jones said at the time, and promptly relinquished the heavyweight title, lost his excess weight and returned to the lighter division. Ruiz won the title back before losing it to Toney, then amazingly getting it back again.
Now Ruiz has to find out if the Russian, who has fought in 10 different countries, often against men without traceable records or any type of pedigree, can really fight.
The Valuev-Ruiz fight is typical of modern boxing, which suffered another blow two weeks ago when Vitali Klitschko retired as the World Boxing Council champion. Klitschko had so many injury problems that it was pointless staying in a division robbed of its glory a long time ago.
The void left by Klitschko was filled within 48 hours by Hasim Rahman, without a punch being thrown. It seems the WBC, a self-regulating governing body based in Mexico City, was keen to keep its title active. Rahman had held the WBC title for a few months in 2001 before Lennox Lewis separated him from both the belt and his senses in Las Vegas. Rahman has been toiling in obscurity since.
Rahman’s promoter, Don King, has agreements with the WBA’s Ruiz, the International Boxing Federation’s Chris Byrd and Lamon Brewster of the World Boxing Organisation. Rahman’s coronation completed the set for King, once again boxing’s most powerful figure.
A rich purse may well be contested by Rahman and Klitschko’s younger brother, Wladimir, in the new year. But that is only one option. It is possible, for example, that the winner of next Saturday’s fight in London, between Olympic champion Audley Harrison and Danny Williams, will get a shot at Rahman.
King has promised a tournament to find the true heavyweight champion of the world but none of the champions, nor any of the contenders, looks capable of reforming a division in turmoil. Lewis, who quit in 2003, was the last quality champion and even his reign lacked glamour.
The next five years look grim, with nobody young and dangerous coming up. Harrison is the best of the contenders but he has been a professional for four years. He is 34, young for an experienced heavyweight but old for a prospect.
A bout between Harrison and Valuev would be interesting – a fight between Toney and the winner of that clash would be an event. Toney, 37, who, since his positive test has won a different version of the world heavyweight title, has been a brilliant boxer at various weights since the early 1990s. “I can beat these fat, slow heavyweights without even trying,” he said earlier this year. Right now, Toney, who sometimes smokes a cohiba esplendida Cuban cigar between rounds, looks untouchable.
A bloated former middleweight champion against a 7ft, 25-stone monster will keep the division entertaining. But it illustrates the credibility gap – heavyweight boxing now belongs to the freaks.