Boxing: Out of the east comes a feast of fistic contenders

Former Soviet republics produce hunger and desire lacking in US heavyweights

David Haye's spot of spinal discord has turned out to be more a pain in the backside with his impudent quest for a shot at the world title shelved indefinitely. Wladimir Klitschko has moved smoothly into an alternative heavy date with Uzbekistan's Ruslan Chagaev in Gelsenkirchen next Saturday, meaning that while the Hayemaker's hopes go west, the championship will remain securely in the east.

The fistful of versions of what used to be the richest prize in sport before football's transfer market sucker-punched the Sock Exchange are held by big men from the east. Haye had hoped to break the Klitschko duopoly but it will be a long wait before he gets another crack at Wladimir who, should he beat Chagaev in what could be a tedious tussle, has a mandatory defence of his IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight belts against Russia's 2004 Olympic champion Alexander Povetkin in September.

Around the same time, elder sibling Vitaly is due to defend his WBC crown against Oleg Maskaev of Kazakhstan, though Haye thinks Maskaev could be persuaded to step aside. The chances are slim and anyway he would have as much hope of beating Klitschko Major as Gordon Brown has of winning the next election. Reprimanded for tastelessly displaying the severed heads of the Klitschkos on a T-shirt, Haye would be in danger of having his own block knocked off by the giant's jab.

Also looming large on the heavyweight scene is Russia's "Beast from the East", the 7ft Nicolay Valuev, who has been reinstated as WBA champion – a natural Eastern bloc-buster for either Klitschko. He heads a conveyor belt of champions and contenders boxing out of what used to be the red corner. At the start of the 20th century there was a mad dash to find the great white hope to defeat the infamous Jack Johnson. Now one of the great ironies is that they seek a heavyweight to challenge the increasing white dominance of the title by big hitters from the old Soviet bloc.

And there are some new kids on that bloc. Apart from the established Klitschkos, Chagaev, Maskaev, Povetkin, Sultan Ibragimov of Russia and Sergei Liakhovich of Belarus, there's the undefeated Russian pair Alexander Ustinov and Denis Boytsova, German-based like the majority of these Eastern European emigres.

Emanuel Steward, the American who coaches Wladimir Klitschko, says new Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis, whom he also trained, was possibly the last of the great western heavyweights and that it's now the Eastern Europeans who show the hunger and desire he once saw in the United States. "It was all to do with the break-up of the Soviet Union," he says. "Now as pros these guys are applying the same principles they did as amateurs. They train hard, have discipline and listen to everything you say. They are accused of fighting like robots but they're very effective and hard to beat. And most are really big guys who know how to use their height and reach."

It is not just the heavy mob. Andreas Kotelnik, who was due to defend his WBA light-welter title against Amir Khan in London on Saturday week – as we report above, the show may have to be delayed because of his injury – is a Ukrainian, while Haye victim Enzo Maccarinelli was hoping to resuscitate his shattered career against his Russian cruiserweight stablemate Denis Lebedev, a new Frank Warren protege. The 29-year-old Muscovite has a 15-0 record with 10 stoppages, and can terminate the Welshman's career when the fight happens.

"I can't keep having these off-nights," says Maccarinelli. "If I don't win this, I won't be boxing again. People are saying I'm shot, and that's what's hurting me so I'm fighting this Russian to get my career back on track."

He has left his old trainer Enzo Calzaghe, claiming he did not see him for four weeks while son Joe fought Warren in the courts, and is now with Karl Ince in Bolton. "He's a brilliant trainer. He's made me stronger. I'm ready to go, to show people what I'm really made of. This is make-or-break for me. I just want to get my world title back. I was embarrassed by my performance against Haye and last time out [KO'd by little-known Ola Afolabi]. But I've got my hunger back and I'm just going to do the business. Trust me."

Khan fight 'may be off'

It emerged last night that Amir Khan's world-title fight against WBA light-welter champion Andreas Kotelnik is in danger of going the same way as David Haye's aborted challenge to Wladimir Klitschko.

The bout, scheduled for London's O2 Arena on Saturday week, may be called off as Kotelnik has a mouth infection, apparently caused by a tooth broken in sparring which lodged in his cheek.

The promoter Frank Warren confirmed it may have to be delayed or rescheduled if Kotelnik pulls out, or an alternative opponent sought. "We will know the situation tomorrow," he said. "We are looking at a couple of things. But if we can go ahead with the show we will."

Khan returned from his training camp in Los Angeles yesterday. "As you might expect, he's gutted," said Warren.

Alan Hubbard

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