Man mountain's winning debut

Nikolai Valouev, a 7ft Russian boxer, made an impact in Battersea last night
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The Independent Online
Boxing

Does size matter? Recent events in the coverage of boxing suggest it does. Only one British journalist - myself - was in New York to watch the International Federation super-middleweight champion Roy Jones Jnr defend his title in devastating fashion last Friday. Jones will be remembered with the reverence afforded to the sport's greats. Yet his display received barely a mention in the British press.

This week's sports pages focus on a fighter with a fraction of Jones's ability yet almost twice his bulk. The cause of the commotion was the arrival in London of a Russian freak show named Nikolai Valouev, a 7ft, 23st native of St Petersburg.

The pride of British sports journalism's boxing and feature writers crammed themselves into the confines of south London's Battersea Town Hall last night to witness the Russian colossus go to work against Barnsley's Neil Kirkwood. The contest, scheduled for the novice four-round duration, ended in the second after Kirkwood had been down twice. The men with the pens were happy. Big was best.

The fight was of little importance, neither was it the main event on Frank Maloney's promotion, but such is the attraction of a massive heavyweight that media attention was proportional to the size of the giant Russian.

Initially, Kirkwood, himself 6ft 5in and 17st 3lb, was the fighter to whom Maloney was considering offering a promotional agreement. But when Valouev's size 17 feet touched down on British soil at the weekend, everything changed.

"We were told he was big - 6ft 7in, 6ft 8in - but I wasn't expecting a human monster," said Maloney, barely disguising his excitement. "To be a successful boxing promoter you have to have a bit of luck every now and then." And Maloney believes his ship has come in.

But could Valouev make it? That was the question on everyone's lips. The answer? Yes, sort of. His movement was as slow as molasses, his hand speed negligible, but his bulk was too much for Kirkwood to contend with.

history is full of out-sized heavyweights who look far better than they can actually fight, the most successful example of this breed being the former circus strongman Primo Carnera, "The Ambling Alp", who won the world heavyweight title and made three defences in the 1930s. But, at 6ft 5in, even Carnera would have been dwarfed by Valouev.

The 23-year-old Russian, undefeated in five fights (four inside the distance), is not even the tallest fighter to have fought in Britain. That honour belongs to a 7ft 2in Afrikaner named Ewart Potgieter who fought three times in London in 1955. But, says Maloney, that is a record that soon could be broken. "They tell me that they've got an even bigger one in Russia," he said. "And he's only 18 so he's still got plenty of room to grow."

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