Bryan Armen Graham
Saturday December 20th, 2008

SI.com's Bryan Armen Graham brings you blow-by-blow, round-by-round thoughts on the WBA heavyweight title bout between Evander Holyfield and Nikolai Valuev.

5:55 p.m. -- The chorus of critics who insisted this fight would end in farce ... well, they were right. But nobody could have foreseen this. To be sure, Holyfield never dominated the action against Valuev tonight in Zurich. But the American fought a smart fight and did enough to earn a decisive points victory against a champion who, during many stretches, simply refused to engage. What a sham.

5:52 p.m. -- More from Holyfield: "I hit him more times than he hit me. I moved a lot and made him miss punches and I fought the fight that I thought I needed to win."

5:49 p.m. -- Says commentator Nick Charles: "I am shocked, dazed and amazed, that is the worst display of officiating I have ever seen." A German interviewer talks to Holyfield near his corner. Says a conciliatory Holyfield: "I can't be disappointed with what I did in the ring. I felt I did the things that were necessary to win. The judges, they scored the fight. Whatever they scored it, that's what it was."

5:46 p.m. -- Michael Buffer takes the mic to read the results. The first judge scores it 114-114 even, the second scores it 116-112 to Valuev, while the third scores it 115-114 to Valuev. In an utterly shocking development, the Russian has retained his title by majority decision.

5:44 p.m. -- SI.com scores the fight 118-110 to Holyfield. But the fate of the WBA heavyweight title goes to the judges. They're currently tabulating the cards as Holyfield and Valuev embrace in the center of the ring.

ROUND 12 -- Is Valuev going to flip the switch, or simply hand Holyfield his title belt on a silver platter? Holyfield, not content to sit back and just finish the fight on his feet, moves forward and throws a pair of hard shots to Valuev's head. For the first time in this fight, Holyfield looks a little tired. Valuev lands a number of hard shots in the final minute -- and the Russan probably won the round as a result -- but it's too little too late. VALUEV 10-9

ROUND 11 -- Valuev needs a knockout to win the fight. There's no doubt about it. But Holyfield's lateral movement continues to confound the comatose champion and Valuev simply cannot mount a serious offensive. Holyfield might not have landed a serious shot in this round. But by completely and absolutely neutralizing the offense of a fighter who needed a knockout, Evander gets the narrow edge. Again. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 10 -- Holyfield is winning this fight with his legs, moving from side to side and refusing to serve as a stationary target for the lumbering Valuev. He's not landing a ton of shots -- at one point he misses wildly with a right hand -- but at least he's working. Once again, the American is imposing his game plan on Valuev, and wins another round as a result. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 9 -- The best action of the fight comes early in the round as the fighters trade blows near Valuev's corner. But just when it seemed like we'd see some pyrotechnics, Valuev went back into his shell. Holyfield forces the action, moving inside and doing damage on the interior. Yet another round where Holyfield's limited work rate manages to win the round. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 8 -- Valuev starts walking in, but he's still not punching. He's firing a more and more jabs but not landing anything substantial. At one point, Valuev connects with a hard right jab but Holyfield responds immediately with a hard left to the temple. For the first time tonight, Valuev is really pressing the action and even landing a few punches -- but nothing to waver Holyfield from his impressive circular course around the ring. VALUEV 10-9

ROUND 7 -- So our readers don't get the wrong idea: Holyfield hasn't looked spectacular or even great. But he's fighting the smart fight and taking advantage of his opponent's absurd inactivity. He's doing just enough to win each round, and his movement is better than anybody could have expected. There were times during the seventh round we saw Valuev awaken from his slumber and start to mount an offensive -- but nothing was sustained. Another for Holyfield, who wins the round on a handful of hard hooks to the head. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 6 -- After another cautious opening, Holyfield gets inside and unleashes three hard punches to Valuev's head. The champion looks like a guy who just doesn't want to fight. Midway through the bout, I don't think Valuev has thrown a single punch with conviction. As commentator Al Bernstein notes from ringside, this is perhaps the most dreadful performance we've seen from a heavyweight champion in decades. Another round for Holyfield, the busier and more aggressive fighter. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 5 -- We're starting to discover why Valuev has gotten virtually no exposure in America. Bernstein makes a great observation, saying Valuev's inactivity is devaluing what Holyfield might accomplish with a decision victory. With one minute remaining in the round, Holyfield lands a sharp left hook to Valuev's head. Holyfield isn't doing much, but he's doing much more than Valuev -- and he's growing more emboldened and aggressive. Holyfield should be careful not to walk into one of the dormant giant's uppercuts. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 4 -- I'm not exactly sure what Valuev's game plan is. Unless the champion starts to throw punches, Holyfield could really open up an insurmountable lead in points. With just two substantial exchanges in the round -- and Holyfield getting the best of both of them -- another round goes to Holyfield. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 3 -- Holyfield's legs look great. His consistent lateral movement is making Valuev look like the older man. Valuev continues to throw the occasional half-hearted left jab but he's not even close to establishing the punch. Valuev has landed nothing. I'll be curious to watch this round a second time afterwards to see if Valuev even landed a single punch. I'm almost certain he didn't. Holyfield's one very solid right hand to Valuev's cheek has to give the round to Evander. I'd be tempted to score this fight 9-9 if not for the 10-point must system. HOLYFIELD 10-9

ROUND 2 -- Holyfield is still bouncing around the ring like a twentysomething and frustrating the champion. Valuev is not doing a good job of cutting the ring off. Valuev throws a fierce right uppercut but misses as the crowd calls for more action. Holyfield moves inside but Valuev wraps him up in a clinch. Holyfield is neither throwing nor landing many punches -- but by refusing to allow Valuev to mount any kind of offense, he's really doing a great job of making the champ look slow. With 15 seconds left in the round, Holyfield pounces inside and unleashes three fierce shots to the body. Valuev's dumbfounding inactivity just cost him the first two rounds. HOLYFIELD 10-9.

ROUND 1 -- A very tentative opening from both sides. Valuev, looking calm but not overly confident, throws a dozen straight left jabs to open the round but lands nothing. Holyfield is moving pretty well, refusing to stay stationary in front of the champion. (You just wonder how long he can keep it up.) Holyfield makes his first foray inside about 75 seconds into the round but doesn't land much damage. Both fighters seem to be feeling one another out, but Holyfield is the busier fighter in the first. Valuev's inactivity ends up costing him the round. HOLYFIELD 10-9

4:54 p.m. -- The fighters touch gloves in the middle of the ring and we're underway from Zurich.

4:52 p.m. -- Buffer makes the fighter introductions, alternating between English, German and Russian with impressive facility.

4:50 p.m. -- Anthem time, with a chamber quartet playing swift but pleasant renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner and The Hymn of the Russian Federation, in that order.

4:46 p.m. -- The more spectacular entrance is reserved for Valuev, whose entrance is preceded by a live performance of a rock band I don't recognize. Near the end of the song, the platform holding the frontman rises slowly to reveal Valuev, wearing a blue robe with red-and-white trim.

4:42 p.m. -- Buffer announces Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield first. Holyfield, wearing a red robe with right trim, walks down a staircase past eight scantily clad dancers waving American flags. His entourage trails some 20 feet behind.

4:41 p.m. -- With HBO taking a pass on tonight's event, Charles and Bernstein are calling the action for Integrated Sports, the outfit distributing the fight in the U.S. As they kill time, the house lights go down and the introductions begin.

4:30 p.m. -- It's mostly with a sense of morbid curiosity we sit down for today's title fight in Zurich, Switzerland.

Valuev, the tallest and heaviest champion of all-time, makes the first defense of his heavyweight belt since reclaiming the vacant WBA title on Aug. 30 with a unanimous decision victory over John Ruiz. Meanwhile, Holyfield -- at 46 years old -- hopes to surpass George Foreman as the oldest puncher to win a piece of the heavyweight title.

Holyfield (42-9-2) weighed in Friday at a svelte 214 pounds, while the 7-foot Valuev (49-1-0) tipped the scales at 311 -- the lightest weight of his 15-year pro career.

Various boxing officials and the international fight press have lampooned this fight throughout the week. ESPN.com's Dan Rafael called it "one of the most shameful mismatches in modern boxing history." Promoter Frank Maloney, who managed Lennox Lewis in his two 1999 fights against Holyfield, dismissed it as a "freak show," while my own SI.com colleague Arash Markazi said it "signals boxing's official death."

While today's title bout hardly represents a high-water mark for the sport, I'm not certain it's the completely lopsided mismatch everybody's clamored about. Valuev is known more for his freakish stature than his athleticism, and I'm not sold on his closing ability against a fighter with Holyfield's otherworldly determination and single-mindedness of purpose.

That said, I don't think Holyfield -- a 6-to-1 underdog -- can turn back the clock and find a way to win today. I simply don't see the four-time heavyweight champion solving Valuev's imposing height and reach advantages. Expect Valuev to control the pace, distance and range, outpointing his American opponent handily. But every champion believes he's got one more great fight left in the tank, and if Holyfield can summon one last brave effort, I wouldn't be floored to see the old man take this fight the 12-round distance. I'll say Valuev wins by a unanimous decision.

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