Former heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev says Oleksandr Usyk probably had little choice but to join Kiev’s territorial defense forces
Russian former boxing giant Nikolai Valuev has said he is relieved that reigning Ukrainian world champion Oleksandr Usyk left his homeland unharmed after joining Kiev’s territorial defense forces, adding that Usyk likely had little choice but to sign up for duty.
World heavyweight king Usyk is currently preparing for his blockbuster rematch with Anthony Joshua, where the Ukrainian star will defend the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles he sensationally won from the Brit in London last September.
The Crimean-born Usyk, 35, had been outside Ukraine at the outbreak of the conflict with Russia in February but traveled back via Poland and later shared images of himself taking up arms as part of Kiev’s defense forces.
Usyk then fled Ukraine again at the end of March, explaining that he had been persuaded he could better serve the country by facing Joshua in their rematch set for Saudi Arabia on August 20.
Russian former two-time WBA heavyweight champion Valuev – now a State Duma Deputy – suggested that Usyk effectively had no choice but to take up arms in the first place.
“I do not know all the details of how Sasha [Usyk] got there [in Kiev], but he probably didn’t have a chance to do otherwise,” said Valuev.
“After all, he was on the territory of his native country and could not stay away from their processes. And when he went abroad to prepare for his next fight, I said: ‘Thank God he’s alive.’”
Previously a controversial figure for some inside Ukraine for his supposed reluctance to criticize Russia, Usyk has vowed to return to the country “right after” the fight with Joshua.
He has, however, been stripped of any honors previously bestowed on him in his Crimean birthplace.
In a wide-ranging interview with RIA Novosti, Valuev also discussed the future for Russian sport in the face of widespread international bans.
Valuev is now a politician in his homeland. © Maksim Konstantinov / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images
Valuev said he did not expect the situation to change anytime soon, but that a new sporting world order could be formed.
“There is a global reorganization of the world, and in sports, as in other areas, most likely, new international alliances will also be created,” said the 48-year-old.
“Perhaps there will be an alternative to the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee. But for the moment that is difficult to imagine because it is very expensive.
“It depends not only on Russia, in a similar situation there should be several other large countries that would frankly say to the IOC: ‘Go ahead in the forest, we’d be better off creating something of our own.’”
Valuev, who hung up his gloves in 2009 with a record of 50 wins and two losses, said he did not see “anything rosy for [Russian] sport, but this does not mean that we will not develop the sport and will not compete.”
“We have individual victories in international sports… our professional tennis players and boxers perform, hockey players play in the prestigious NHL,” he added.
“We must rely on the fact that many understand that world sport without Russia is somehow not enough and not sport.
“These are illegitimate titles and medals [without Russia], because the strongest athletes in the world do not participate in tournaments.
“Absolutely everyone understands this – both foreign athletes themselves and officials. But nothing can be done about it now.”
Valuev took aim at IOC chief Thomas Bach for his recommendations that Russian athletes be banned from world sport, suggesting that Bach had “plenty of skeletons in his closet.”
When asked about Russian athletes potentially switching nationalities to avoid bans, the 7ft Valuev had a warning.
“In Russia they can forgive people for almost everything, but they do not forgive betrayal,” said the pugilist-turned-politician.
“This is our mentality, we were born with this, and this is how we are raised. In our history, even murderers became saints, but traitors – never.”