A Closer Look At The Ruslan Chagaev – Nicolay Valuev II Mess

For some reason, I can’t resist the urge to poke at the disaster that is Ruslan Chagaev – Nicolay Valuev II, from conception to cancellation to radioactive fallout. Forget the Silver Bullet. For this mission, I need Basil Hayden’s.

(Valuev, left; Chagaev, right.)

First, let’s review all the things that made this heavyweight fight terrible, which I went into at fuller length here, adding a couple details below. Then we’ll go from there to today’s news and what’s up next.

The Nightmarish Match-Up
Chagaev is a heavyweight (ranked #3 by Ring magazine) from Uzbekistan based out of Germany whose nickname is “White Tyson” but is in no way like Tyson, since he is neither a big puncher nor exciting in any other perceptible way. Although he IS white. The most remarkable aspect of his career is the comprehensive way in which he has gone about accumulating the entire rainbow of disease and injury, my favorite being “acute inflammation of the body.” The man is a factory. This marks the third time one of his injuries or illnesses has scuttled a Valuev rematch, and the second time the reported reason for him not going through with a fight is hepatitis B.  The WBA had deemed him the organization’s “champion in recess,” since he’d beaten Valuev for the “regular” title but was unable to defend it when Valuev was later named his mandatory challenger.
Valuev is a Russian heavyweight (ranked #5 by Ring magazine) who was named WBA “champion” when Chagaev couldn’t fulfill his mandatory obligation to fight Valuev again. The thing that distinguishes him is how ridiculously large he is — 7′, more than 300 pounds — and his caveman-like head. He has arguably lost four of his most important fights, against John Ruiz twice along as well as Larry Donald and a shot, 46-year-old Evander Holyfield, only to come away with the decision victories. But he wasn’t able to surpass Rocky Marciano’s heavyweight unbeaten streak because he lost to Chagaev in 2007. His rematch with Chagaev wasn’t going to be televised in the United States because the first one was no good, but Europe for some reason digs boring heavyweights, so Valuev and Chagaev were going to split a $2.8 million purse.
The Muddled Explanation
The official reason for the cancelation of the fight, hosted by Finland, was that Chagaev “was unable to fulfill the Finnish boxing federation’s medical requirements,” according to a statement released by Valuev’s promoter Sauerland Events, although Finnish law prohibits the disclosure of the exact illness. A Sauerland official added that “Our top priority is Nikolai’s health and it could not be guaranteed.” Numerous outlets have reported that Chagaev came up positive for hepatitis B, which is why Valuev’s “health” might be at stake. A couple outlets reported something like this: Valuev “was understood to have been given the option to go ahead with the bout against Chagaev and have a hepatitis vaccination within 24 hours.” 
However, the promoter for Chagaev, Universum, denied all this in a statement. “We cannot understand all this. Ruslan Chagaev is ready to box. His blood work has been stable for several years, including before this fight. The German Boxing Federation, the WBA and Dr. Walter Wagner, the doctor representing the Austrian Boxing Federation which regulates cards of Sauerland Events, have all classified him as safe. They are trying to dodge Ruslan Chagaev here by hook or by crook. We will examine this situation very closely and take any steps necessary.” Chagaev’s team is making its case against a mountain of information here, and they’re countering with vague charges that don’t go to the heart of what the Sauerland team said, and by raising the specter of, what, a lawsuit? Are they saying the Valuev team bribed the Finnish authorities to taint Chagaev’s medical tests? Or that he didn’t fail the Finnish tests? Those dastardly Fins! Getting cocky with their tourist attractions that include “known to have excellent water quality!” I suppose the alternative answer, though, is that Chagaev’s team knew he had hepatitis still, which is a pretty uncool thing not to disclose. Ruiz — who will become a player in a moment — issued a release saying “Team Ruiz believes the consistent rumor that Chagaev has Hepatitis B was the reason he failed his medical exam, noting that since the rumors began, Chagaev hasn’t fought outside of his home-base in Germany.”
Then there’s the question why a replacement opponent couldn’t be lined up. ESPN reports: “With former heavyweight titleholder Lamon Brewster of the United States and fringe contender Kali Meehan of Australia scheduled to box on the undercard, Sauerland Event said it tried to negotiate with both fighters to fill in for Chagaev on short notice in order to salvage the card. However, terms could not be reached with either fighter.” I dunno. Meehan’s team sure sounded optimistic here, in the Daily Telegraph which broke the story of Chagaev’s situation only to then look like they’d put out an erroneous report only to then be redeemed by the subsequent cancellation. Ultimately, the whole card got cancelled.
The Dim Future
Valuev’s team wants him named the full champion. Don King Promotions, who’s involved in Valuev’s promotion, issued a news release: “The World Boxing Association should act swiftly and unequivocally to designate Nikolai Valuev as its undisputed heavyweight champion,” King said from New York just before boarding a plane bound for Helsinki where he will make his case in person. “Nikolai has been patient in waiting for Chagaev to become medically fit to fight.  We applaud the WBA for making every effort to allow Chagaev to return, but it is clear now that we must move on.”
Ruiz wants a piece of that action, so he’s piggybacking in a bid to make Valuev-Ruiz III, which would no doubt go down in history as the least-wanted heavyweight trilogy in history. At least, in America, it would. Ruiz had been appointed the mandatory challenger for the WBA title, and has been waiting for the mess to sort itself out, and now argues that the WBA is legally obligated to strip Chagaev of its “champion in recess” designation. “We believe Chageav’s ‘Champion in Recess’ is now completely meaningless,” Ruiz’ advisor Anthony Cardinale explained. “He last fought for the WBA title in April of 2007 and he owed Valuev a mandatory when he got hurt last year.” Ruiz has won me over of late by saying he’ll fight any American heavyweight to prove he’s the best of them — a bold move considering he was waiting on a mandatory title challenge — but the fact remains that Ruiz is just a terrible fighter to behold and whether it’s “just” or not for him to get his title shot now (and I believe it is, at least judging from the warped standards of an alphabet title universe that I repudiate with all my heart) I absolutely cringe at the idea of Valuev-Ruiz III. Since Ruiz says it the WBA is “legally obligated” to do this or that, one gathers that there will be lawsuits filed if it doe
sn’t work out his way.
The WBA ain’t answering yet what it will do. “It’s a decision that the board of the directors of the WBA has to make,” WBA official George Martinez said to the Associated Press. “We will meet as soon as possible and address the problem. We have to collect all the facts and in a proper time we’ll make a decision.” In fact, they sound completely in the dark about the circumstances of the fight cancellation.
To Summarize
Awful heavyweight fight, featuring top-ranked heavyweights who epitomize how terrible the division is right now, were to meet for a long-delayed bout that would determine which of the two heavyweights was the undisputed holder of one of the four crappy sanctioning organization belts, since both somehow held a version of one of the four crappy sanctioning organization belts. Fight gets cancelled for mysterious reasons that point to somebody or multiple somebodies behaving in a way that is less than honest and quite possibly dangerous, and a replacement opponent can’t be arranged for the heavyweight who is deemed healthy despite the apparent eagerness of one of the potential replacement opponents, resulting in the cancellation of the entire show. Moving forward, likely and fairest outcome is that boxing ends up with arguably the worst heavyweight title trilogy in the history of the galaxy, and one way or the other, protracted legal action is a distinct possibility.
It sure is a good thing the rest of boxing is doing so damn well in 2009. Because the heavyweight division is a fucking wasteland.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.