Boxing: Haye pledges to tame 'Beast'

Londoner is undaunted at facing Russian giant for the WBA heavyweight title
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The Independent Online

The Battersea Town Hall faithful of drunks, cynics and experts all stopped to watch the "Big lump from Russia" when he stepped over the ancient ring in October 1996. Since that night Nikolai Valuev, whose nickname is now "The Beast from the East", has lost just once in 47 fights and is currently the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion.

Late on Wednesday night Valuev and his people agreed terms with Britain's David Haye for a world title fight in Germany on 7 November. Valuev will be about eight stone heavier and 12 inches taller than his opponent on the night. "The Beast" is over 7ft tall and weighs 330 pounds in his socks.

Valuev has been called a freak and a machine and his safety-first approach to winning fights has not won him many fans. However, after 16 years as a professional, "The Beast", a nickname that he is trying to drop, has become a defensive master. Haye will have to take incredible risks just to get within striking distance, but that will suit the Londoner, who is a great risk-taker.

The fight is not the most bizarre in the history of the heavyweight title. In 1957 Floyd Patterson defended his crown against fellow American Pete Rademacher, who was having his first professional fight after winning Olympic gold the previous year. Rademacher lost in six rounds.

This is Valuev's second reign as WBA champion, his second defence this time around and it has to be better than the disturbing hitless fight last December against Evander Holyfield, who is fast approaching 50, in his first. Valuev won a close decision in a fight where experts at ringside struggled to spot scoring punches.

"It was dreadful night, but I will make him fight and that will be the key to victory," said Haye, which is a strategy that both defies logic and goes against all the rules of heavyweight engagement. However, it is thought that American broadcaster HBO will enter the equation for staging the fight because in America, where there has not been a decent, young heavyweight for about a dozen years, Haye is considered something of saviour.

Valuev is the latest in a long line of heavyweight champions from the former Soviet bloc who will not be missed. Haye is not the greatest heavyweight of all time, but all he has to be on 7 November is the best heavyweight of his time, and he is perfectly capable of that.

Many boxing insiders think that Valuev is nothing more than a slow and predictable freak, but that fails to convey just how hard he is to hit. He seldom commits, which forces men to chase him or, like Holyfield, retreat for 12 rounds of tedious self-preservation. In November the Russian could just move and move and deny Haye a clean shot. It goes without saying that he has never been knocked down, which is lucky considering the often flimsy construction of boxing rings.

Haye will start as the underdog and in the weeks before the fight charm the German public. However, Valuev is unlikely to let Haye's insults penetrate his thick skin. Even Haye admits that the wind-ups used with the Klitschko brothers will need to be refined to upset Valuev.

It will be a fantastic few weeks before the first bell, possibly the best part of the fight, and when it sounds Haye will finally be sharing a ring with a real heavyweight. "I can't wait," said Haye, who is fearless enough to be telling the truth.

Walking tall: Valuev's vital stats

Born: 21 August, 1973, Leningrad, Russia

Height: 7ft 2in

Weight: 23st 2lb

Reach: 2.16 metres

Nicknames: Shrek, The Beast from the East, Lurch, Rock Man

Career: 52 fights, 50 wins (32 KO), 1 defeat

* Played lead role of a retired boxer in the film Stonehead

* Eats three kilos of meat a day

* Labelled "the eighth wonder of the world" by boxing promoter Don King