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Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 17:39 GMT
"I'm really not a beast"
The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC correspondent in St Petersburg

You can always tell when Nikolay Valuev walks into a room.

Everyone in there tilts their heads 45 degrees to see him.

Boxer Nikolay Valuev
The Slavic skyscraper towers above his opponents

Two metres 13cm (7ft) tall and weighing 147kg (323lb), Nikolay is the tallest and heaviest world champion in the history of boxing: a Slavic skyscraper who towers over his opponents.

Last weekend in Berlin he notched up the 43rd victory of his career by beating American John Ruiz to snatch the WBA world title.

Now the champion known as the "Beast from the East" is back home in snowy St Petersburg.

WBA champion

"I'm really not a beast," Nikolay says down at his local sports centre. "I'm a very calm person. I even used to write poetry.

"But what I like about boxing is the feeling of danger, all that adrenalin. I don't get enough of it in my normal life."

When Nikolay begins laying into a punch bag, before my eyes the calm poet transforms into a fighting machine.

As the punches rain down, I can imagine how the battered John Ruiz must have felt during last Saturday's big fight.

After his victory, Nikolay has become Russia's latest sporting hero. But that does not stop old friends from giving friendly advice.

The WBA world title belt doesn't fit around my waist. They're making a larger one for me.
Nikolai Valuev

"I watched the fight on TV," one acquaintance tells Nikolay at the sports centre. "I wrote down all your mistakes. I'll tell you if you like."

"If I listened to everyone's advice," Nikolay grins, "I wouldn't have time to do anything else!"

I ask Nikolay to show me his big prize - the WBA title belt.

"I don't have it," he replies. "It wasn't big enough - it didn't fit round my waist. They're having to make me a larger one."

Instead the world's newest heavyweight champion takes me home to meet his family.

Normal life

He lives in a tiny one-room flat on the edge of St Petersburg with his wife Galya and Grisha his son.

Boxer Nikolay Valuev
The giant boxer clinched a controversial points win

Grisha is three years old - but he could easily pass for six.

It must be the genes.

One of Grisha's favourite toys is a giant robot which, at the press of a button, starts firing guns and barking "My mission is to destroy! You will surrender!"

Once again, I thought of John Ruiz.

Nikolay hopes his success will help promote Russian boxing on the world stage and give other fighters here the chance to challenge for top titles.

He is also planning to help the younger generation get into boxing. The Nikolay Valuev Boxing School will take in street kids, young drug addicts and other underprivileged children.

And what about his next fight?

"It'll probably be next spring," he says.

"First though, I'm going to have a rest, spend some time with the family. And do a spot of hunting."

John Ruiz had better keep well away.


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