Why Beast from the East could be out for the count

When hulking Nikolai Valuev won the title last December, President Vladimir Putin congratulated him and held up the boxer as a hero. But Valuev, at 7ft 2in the tallest ever world champion, is now mired in allegations that threaten to damage his carefully-crafted image.

The 32-year-old heavyweight has been accused of beating up a 61-year-old parking attendant, and murky reports have started to emerge of his moving in criminal circles in the "wild" 1990s. It is not the kind of PR that Valuev, who recently mused aloud about possibly taking on British boxers Danny Williams or Matt Skelton, needs.

Indeed, the champion's minders have tried to ensure that he does not come across like Ivan Drago, the machine-like Russian boxer played by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Instead, Valuev is known as a man who reads Leo Tolstoy and Agatha Christie, and who is more gentle giant than Soviet-style killing machine. Much has been made of his family credentials: he penned poetry to woo his diminutive wife Galina and is devoted to their three-year-old son Grisha.

But Yuri Sergeev, the parking attendant, claims he was savagely beaten by the boxer for an imaginary slight upon Galina. Valuev counters that Mr Sergeev was rude about his wife's parking, and that he swore at her, making her cry. He claims he stepped in to defend her honour.

While admitting he grabbed Mr Sergeev by the collar, Valuev denies beating up an older man nearly half his size. "There was a lot of black ice in that parking lot," he told a news conference. "What can I say? He slipped and fell. If I were to have hit him, the consequences for this man would have been far more serious."

Mr Sergeev was treated for concussion, bruises to his face, and scratches. The police are investigating but have so far not pressed charges.

To compound Valuev's discomfort the Russian media have also started to expose details about his somewhat shady past in St Petersburg during the 1990s. Valuev's representatives have acknowledged that he was used to intimidate people in disputes between rival businesses and gangs. In police files he was known as The Sledgehammer".

Valuev was never charged, and there is no suggestion that he used his 24 stone to beat people up, but his golden boy image has been tarnished. The boxer's management claims the parking attendant and other ill-wishers are trying to extort money from him and that Valuev is being attacked by people jealous of his phenomenal success.

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