The Big Man Reads Tolstoy

Nikolay Valuev was crowned in December as Russia’s first World Boxing Assn. heavyweight champion. The LA Time’s Kim Murphy wrote about him today.

“Valuev strode into the gym recently during his triumphant return to Russia after the title bout, in which he defeated American John Ruiz on a controversial decision in Berlin to become the tallest (7 feet) and heaviest (323 pounds) world champion in history. He’s so big he usually steps into the ring over the top rope … so big that the adolescent pugilists at the Stepashkin Club would have barely been able to land a hook as high as his belly, if they had the nerve to try.

Most just craned their necks and gawked, or melted into nervous grins.

“I don’t know about the world, but here in Russia, he’s been very famous for a long time. For the kids here, this is such an emotional thing,” said Alexei Barsukov, a former trainer who came back for the spread of iced tortes, fresh fruit and champagne laid out in the manager’s office in Valuev’s honor.

In the rest of the world, Valuev, 32, is known as the “Beast from the East” (promoter Don King wants to call him “King Kong” when he defends his title in the U.S.), but in his homeland, he is more often known as the “Russian Giant.”

His brain is played up here as much as his brawn — a boxer who reads Tolstoy and writes poetry to his wife? — along with his diffident, quiet demeanor.

“You can’t impose your own manner of fighting on him, and that’s because of his life position. He’s very calm, and very, very controlled,” Barsukov said.

Added Vladimir Grachev, boxing coach at the club: “You have a person born with such a physique once in a hundred years. Such a build, and such an intellect — Russia may not get another such man in our lifetimes.”