When the undefeated giant Russian Nicolai "The Beast from the East" Valuev entered the ring in Berlin on Saturday-all 7 feet and 323 ½ pounds of him-to make his first appearance in a world championship match against World Boxing Association champion John "The Quietman" Ruiz, it was much the same as when Valuev fought another American in Germany, Larry "The Legend" Donald, in Oldenberg on Oct. 1.
Huge banners throughout the sold-out 10,000-seat Max Schmeling Halle hung from the rafters, and not a single photo of Ruiz was featured on the cover-or inside-the event program.
If one didn't know better, they might think that Ruiz was the challenger and Valuev the champion, until Ruiz did see his name illuminated in sparkling fireworks during his walk to the ring.
But just as the audience in Oldenberg lustily whistled and booed when Valuev won a majority decision over Donald in their country village-that crowd of about 5,000 was not swayed by the one-sided propaganda they were fed and rightly sided with the American whom they felt had clearly out-boxed the Russian-the crowd in Berlin reacted in similar fashion when it was announced
that Valuev had won a majority decision to become the first Russian to win a world heavyweight title.
In fact, possibly the loudest applause of the evening erupted after the fight when Ruiz's colorful trainer, Norman "Stoney" Stone ripped the belt off Valuev's shoulder and held it up to the crowd in defiance.
That started a melee inside the ring with Stone being struck by Valuev cornerman Hagen Sevecke and the corresponding retaliation from Stone before order could be restored.
Ruiz did exactly what he promised at the beginning of the fight by coming right at Valuev, delivering left jabs and burrowing in to attempt to neutralize the Russian's huge advantages in height, reach and weight.
Ruiz then did what nobody thought he would do midway into the round. He removed himself from the inside, content to stay on the outside. Valuev himself appeared a bit confused when Ruiz stepped back. The Russian waited to fire shots, and Ruiz came back inside with a flurry that delighted the crowd at the end of the opening stanza.
Ruiz continued to press the action in the second, but the lumbering giant seemed to have just warmed up. Ruiz then landed his best punch of the fight to that point, a big right hand. He tried to follow it with another shortly thereafter but missed while Valuev rallied to land a few jabs.
Valuev continued to establish his jab in the third round, which was enough to win the round on one of the judges scorecards-the first judging deviation after all judges were in agreement that Ruiz had won the first and Valuev the second.
Ruiz seemed comfortable to stay on the outside during the first minute of the fourth round and paid the price by again being on the end of Valuev's jab. Ruiz was better served when he moved back inside and began to throw combinations, many of which scored including a right hand that landed flush on Valuev's face that seemed to stun him just before the bell sounded ending
It wasn't enough for Ruiz to win the round on two of the judges' scorecards, and the judge who sided with him, Francisco Martinez of New Zealand, was the only judge to side with Valuev in the second.
The bout, which had the appearance of a tugboat battling a supertanker at times with the size difference of the fighters, moved into the fifth round where Valuev landed his best right hand of the fight to that point, which may have been the difference in a close round that was unanimously won by the Russian-as he did again in the sixth round.
Ruiz sensed that he needed to rally, and he did with strong combinations in one of the better rounds of the fight, the seventh. All three judges gave that round to Ruiz, and all three judges were in agreement that Valuev was ahead by one point going into the eighth.
Valuev's trainer screamed at him to increase his intensity, and Ruiz remained right where he wanted him to be-on the outside-where Valuev again worked his jab and also landed a solid right, which was enough to win the round on all three cards and extended the Russian's lead to two points across the board.
Ruiz burrowed inside again in the ninth where he boxed effectively and won the fight on two scorecards while the third judge, Derek Milham from Australia deviated by scoring it a 10-10 draw. (This wouldn't be his last 10-10 scoring as he did the same thing in the final round, which had produced some of the most spirited action in the contest.)
The tenth appeared to be an even round until Ruiz unloaded a right hand and promptly followed with another that may have been his best punches of the fight. Valuev answered with a right of his own with both fighters still punching at the bell.
The scorers differed in this round as well: two gave it to Ruiz, probably swayed by those strong back-to-back rights, but Hector Hernandez from Mexico gave it to Valuev.
The fight was still up for grabs entering the championship rounds where one judge had the fight even, the two others were at 96-95 and 96-94 favoring Valuev.
It should also be noted that referee Stanley Christodoulou, from South Africa, had warned Valuev repeatedly throughout the fight for throwing elbows and holding but never deducted a point.
Ruiz slowed his punch output in the first half of the eleventh round while both fighters had marks showing under their eyes by this point. The judges were obviously confused in this round as two judges split the round and the other, Hernandez, scored it a draw.
Stone yelled at Ruiz during the break before the final round, much like Valuev's trainer had implored his fighter to step up the action earlier.
Both fighters seemed to give what they had left in the final round with many ringside observers feeling Ruiz had won the round but two judges gave it to Valuev. The remaining judge, Milham, inexplicably scored the final round of a heavyweight championship match a draw.
In the end, one judge scored the fight 114-114, while the two remaining judges favored Valuev by scores of 116-114 and 116-113, giving the Russian the WBA title by majority decision.
"I worked 12 years for this moment," Valuev said after the fight. "I excuse myself for not having the most beautiful performance but the most important thing is that I won the decision and the title. "
Ruiz felt he was robbed of his championship.
"I think this [decision] is ridiculous," Ruiz said in his locker room after the fight. "This is a sad moment. Not only does this destroy me but it doesn't do any good for boxing.
It's up to the people of Germany and around the world who saw this fight on TV to decide what they thought of this decision."
Ruiz added: "Other that the [bad] decision, I loved everything about Berlin, Germany and its people. I'm gonna let them decide but I want a re-match. Boxing is on a path to destruction [with decisions like this].
Ruiz was also critical of the Christodoulou, who he said didn't do enough to stop Valuev's holding and elbows.
"The referee didn't do his job. He should be fined. If they [referees] can't maintain the rules its chaos in there."
Ruiz's attorney Anthony Cardinale said at the post-fight press conference that he would petition the WBA to review the fight and determine if a re-match is in order.
Ruiz did his part for sportsmanship when he and his entire team entered the ring wearing specially made warm-ups with the German national soccer team's logo emblazoned across the front. This was done to wish the team good luck in the World Cup being staged in Germany in 2006 and to also pay tribute to Berlin and the people of Germany.