When we talk about the Heavyweight division we really do talk about one of the strangest divisions. The size disparity in some of the fights in the division is frankly ridiculously and the term "David Vs Goliath" can be used in the division in a way it can't be used in any other. It's pretty much the only division in the sport where we can see the height difference between two fighters being a foot, if not more. Sure some divisions have freaks, we're looking at you Sebastian Fundora, but they are one of off's, whilst the Heavyweight division has a lot of variation in size and shape.
Today we are looking are looking at one of the notable David Vs Goliath bouts. The fight may not have been the most exciting, but it sure was a notable event, and an upset.
April 14th 2007
Porsche-Arena, Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Ruslan Chagaev (22-0-1, 17) vs Nikolay Valuev (46-0, 34)
We don't tend to think of Asian fighters making a mark at Heavyweight but that's exactly what Ruslan Chagaev did, both in the professional ranks and the amateurs. Following a successful amateur career he committed to professional boxing, albeit not until he had gone back and forth between the two codes. By spring 2007 he was a rising contender in the professional ranks and had earned a place as the WBA's #1 ranked contender. At that point he was 28 years old and although a very talented southpaw, and an unbeaten one at that, he had struggled against Volodymyr Vyrchys and John Ruiz.
Stood at just 6'1" and with a 74" wingspan Chagaev was seen as being on the smaller side for a Heavyweight, but was still well regarded. Despite being small few, if any, fighters dwarfed him quite like 7'0" behemoth Nikolay Valuev, the then WBA champion and the man that Chagaev was needing to face.
At this point the 33 year old Valuev was looking like man that the money men were angling to break the 49-0 record of Rocky Marciano. He was 46-0 and had defended the belt 3 times, all by stoppage. Not only was Valuev a giant unbeaten man, but he also seemed to have key players behind him, that seemed like they were pulling strings to keep his unbeaten record intact. That had seen him take close wins over Larry Donald and John Ruiz, and it was assumed that if he was still standing he would get the decision against anyone. In terms of his boxing skills he was limited, slow, and fought at a low pace, but he was also a genuine behemoth in the land giants. He was over 300lbs, an awkward guy to get close to, with huge arms and when up close he could exhausted fighters by clinching them and leaning on them. Although very limited, he was so awkward that he managed to be a very, very hard man to beat.
Heading into the bout Valuev was the betting favourite. It was assumed that even if he "lost" he would get the decision. All he had to do was make it close enough to give the judges a nudge. Given his size advantages, and with the bout taking place in Germany that wasn't expected to be too much of an issue.
From very, very early on we knew this wasn't going to be very exciting.
From the off Chagaev, who looked like a child in comparison to Valuev, was trying to stay away, use his speed, and not allow Valuev to hold him. Valuev, who took the center of the ring, followed Chagaev, but lacked the mobility to really close the distance, and instead applied rather slow by deliberate pressure. Although not exciting it was an interesting first round that saw Chagaev trying to figure out the giant, and have some success late in the opening round. It was a close round but one where Chagaev's class in the final 45 seconds or so proved to be the difference.
The pattern of the first round set the style for a number of rounds. What Chagaev was doing, to neutralise, the giant was smart, toying with his lead hand, countering, drawing mistakes and relying on his amateur background. Despite that though Chagaev wasn't exactly wowing audience, instead he was taking a cautious approach to the action, creating additional space and making Valuev follow him and making Valuev miss, a lot.
To his credit the big man kept plodding forward, pressing and showed surprising energy for someone so big. He kept throwing out the jab, and kept the pressure on. Sadly for himself the jab, against a southpaw, wasn't an effective weapon, despite his reach. After 4 rounds he seemed to bow his head and looked a little dejected at the way the fight was going. Despite his effort he was having very limited success and eating some solid left hands from the challenger.
By the the end of round 6 it was clear that Chagaev wasn't going to hurt Valuev, who he had caught clean with some really solid left hands, but that he had also piled up the points with some very effective, if unexciting, boxing. He was fighting to a tailor made game plan and it was working marvellously against the clumsy but game Russian champion. It was however a game plan that was always going to be a tough one to keep to mentally, especially given the success he was having and the sheer amount of movement he had to do to control the bout on the back foot. In round 7, for the first time, we began to see cracks in Chagaev's game plan, as he got too close, letting Valuev clinch him a couple of times. Chagaev also ended up trapped in the corner once or twice as Valuev managed to have some genuine success.
The success of Valuev in round 7 may not have been quite enough to take him the round but he built on it and had a very good round 8, snapping Chagaev's head back with a jab early in the round and having success through out. It seemed like the giant champion was finally turning the tide and that maybe, just maybe, Chagaev was starting to feel the effects of Valuev's constant pressure.
Despite seemingly building some momentum Valuev's success was thwarted in round 9, with Valuev looking slower and less energetic than he had in the previous two rounds. The pressure was still there but there wasn't as effective, and instead it was Chagaev's clean left hands catching the eye.
As we went into the final 3 rounds it seemed clear that Valuev was going to have to step on it. At worst it seemed like Chagaev needed just 1 rounds to secure a decision, though from the first 9 it was quite possible to have already given him 7. Things then got worse for Valuev as Chagaev put on one of his tidiest rounds for a while and forced Valuev to back off at one point, essentially securing the round and the bout on the scorecards.
With more than enough rounds in the bank Chagaev then got super negative in round 11, making the action messy, spitting out his gum shield, and being as risk averse as possible. Although he was negative through out he was more so in round 11, trying to counter less. It was clear that was feeling the bout, his legs not as quick as they were earlier. He wasn't being dominated, not by any stretch, but he was certainly throwing fewer full blooded left hands than earlier in the bout and looking to "old man" Valuev, who finished the round very nicely. Despite some nice flashes in the final round, Chagaev again seemed happy to keep the tempo slower and tie up when he needed to, smartly doing it so late in the bout that there was no real chance for Valuev's bulk to tire him. It was a really messy round to finish the fight but it was the sort of round that worked fine for Chagaev and his early lead.
After 12 rounds Chagaev celebrated, knowing he was deserving of the win. Valuev on the other hand went back to his corner looking dejected and exhausted.
Despite Chagaev having done some great work, there was always the risk of him being robbed on the cards, especially given the relatively strong finish for Valuev. It was something that Chagaev and his corner didn't seem to consider. They seemed to have felt he dominated the bout and did so in a way that he couldn't be robbed.
Despite Chagaev seemingly winning the bout with ease the first card was read out as 114-114, drawing huge boos, the second score was 115-113, a card that felt all too close, then the third card came in 117-111. The bout was a majority decision...with Chagaev being announced as the new champion.
The win wasn't just a solid upset, without being a massive one, but was also a massive moment for Asian boxing, with Chagaev, from Uzbekistan, becoming the first Asian to win a Heavyweight title.
Sadly Chagaev's reign was a terrible one with two defenses in 2 years before a rematch with Valuev was cancelled and Chagaev would then lose to Wladimir Klitschko. Despite how poor his reign was this win, this fight, this moment was huge for Chagaev and for Uzbek boxing. It would take until 2019 for another Uzbek fighter to win a world title, when Murodjon Akhmadaliev took the WBA and IBF Super Bantamweight titles with a huge win over Daniel Roman.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).