BERLIN -- The crowd at Max Schmeling Halle was more honest than the judges last night.
Nearly 10,000 lustily booed Nikolay Valuev after he became the first Russian in boxing history to win the heavyweight championship, albeit the old-fashioned way. He had it stolen from John Ruiz.
The 7-foot-2-inch Valuev was aided and abetted by judges Derek Milham of Australia and Hector Hernandez of Mexico, who scored the bout 116-114 and 116-113 respectively, for Valuev. Francisco Martinez of New Zealand saw it a 114-114 draw, while the Globe's card had Ruiz winning easily, 116-112. Valuev held, elbowed, pressed down on the back of Ruiz's head, and was warned repeatedly for elbowing by referee Stanley Christodoulou but never penalized.
After the decision was announced, Ruiz seemed stunned, then left the ring but his volatile manager, Norman Stone, returned to the ring and snatched the World Boxing Association belt off Valuev's shoulder in the middle of the ring. The new champion did as much to defend it from Stone as he had in trying to take it from Ruiz, which was nothing. Stone then walked to the edge of the ring, holding the belt aloft as the crowd cheered him wildly before Hagen Sevecke, one of Valuev's cornermen, rushed over and sucker-punched Stone, landing the cleanest punch of the night.
Stone wheeled back and the two went at it until a security guard grabbed Stone from behind and held him as Stone clutched the belt. As he did, Sevecke stepped toward Stone with fist cocked again only to be confronted by 6-6 heavyweight contender Jameel McCline, who had come out of the crowd to defend Stone. That ended that dispute, but a larger one raged on in Ruiz's locker room, where the suddenly former champion told German television he would let the people of Germany make his case for him.
''They booed their own champion," said Ruiz (41-6-1, 28 KOs). ''That tells you a lot. Everyone told me not to come here because American fighters get screwed all the time. That's how he got a title shot. They screwed Larry Donald in October and gave him a decision everyone booed. Then they brought me over here and did it again.
''If the people of Germany feel I lost I'll leave quietly, but if they feel I got robbed they should continue to scream like they did tonight until I get a rematch. They should scream like I'm going to scream."
The fight was fairly close after eight rounds, although Ruiz's body shots and sneaky right hand seemed to have him slightly ahead. He had a welt under his right eye from an occasional heavy jab from the 323-pound Valuev (43-0, 31 KOs), who became the biggest man to win the heavyweight title. Valuev is 53 pounds heavier and seven inches taller than Primo Carnera, the Italian giant who won the title from Jack Sharkey in 1933.
Valuev had red bruises on both cheeks and seemed to be slowing from the body attack Ruiz had used to negate Valuev's 91-pound weight and 12-inch height advantage. With his right hand landing more frequently in the last four rounds and his body attack continuing, Ruiz appeared to easily win three of the last four rounds, although not in the opinion of two judges.
Ringside officials refused to release the judges' cards but promoter Don King's publicity director, Alan Hopper, threatened to report them to Ruiz's representatives and to WBA president Gilberto Mendoza. The officials quickly relented and the cards told an odd story.
All three judges had Ruiz trailing, 77-75, after eight rounds but over the final four rounds the judging became difficult to comprehend. The Globe card and Martinez's both gave rounds 9, 10 and 11 to Ruiz and the 12th to Valuev. But Hernandez gave two of the last three rounds to Valuev, including the 10th, which favored Ruiz on all other cards. Hernandez also scored the 11th even, the only round he scored even.
As for Milham, he scored the ninth round even while the other two judges scored it for Ruiz, and he scored the 12th round even as well while the other judges had it for Valuev. Milham split rounds 10 and 11, the only judge to give the 11th to Valuev. It is unusual for a judge to score two of the final four rounds even in a close fight with a world title on the line. As scoring goes, Ruiz had the right word for it.
''Ridiculous," the former two-time champion said.
Ruiz's attorney, Tony Cardinale, intends to protest the decision to the WBA, seeking a mandatory rematch because of the controversial outcome. That would seem unlikely because Valuev could be looking at a huge money fight in Germany against former World Boxing Organization champion Wladimir Klitschko, who is the No. 1 contender in both the WBO and the International Boxing Federation ratings.
''I excuse myself as it wasn't the most beautiful performance," Valuev said. ''But I worked for 12 years for this moment. The most important thing is I won the decision and the championship."
As for Ruiz, he said he will return immediately to his home in Las Vegas to begin a vigorous protest effort to force a rematch, even saying he would return to Germany to fight.
''This is ridiculous," said Ruiz, whose right cheek was bruised but he had more revealing scratches and scrapes on his right shoulder and across his chest, markings from the glove lacings of Valuev, who constantly held Ruiz. ''He was holding and hitting all night," said Ruiz. ''He kept pushing my head down. It's a sad moment for boxing for this kind of thing to keep happening in Germany but I'm not going to let this ruin the whole experience over here. Other than those judges and the referee, the people were great to me. Now if Don King is really my promoter he'll do something for me."
That was a reference to the news Stone received after the fight: King negotiated a deal that gave him 50 percent of the revenue from the fight as well as four options on Valuev if he won.
''If I knew that we never would have come over here," said Stone. ''I knew the kind of things that happened to guys here, but I really thought we'd get a fair decision. I was wrong. Somebody has to do something about this or nobody will ever come over here again. That was awful."
Then Stone put his head in his hands, looked toward the floor and said to a member of the German press, ''Who won the fight?"
''Ruiz," the reporter said, ''but not the decision."
This is boxing, the only place in the world where robbery isn't even a misdemeanor.