After the late cancellation of last weekend´s title fight between WBA heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev and “champion in recess” Ruslan Chagaev, Wilfried Sauerland, Valuev´s manager, has given an exclusive interview, explaining the happenings in Helsinki and revealing additional background information.
Q: Mr. Sauerland, how disappointed were you about the cancellation of the fight?
Wilfried Sauerland: It was a major disappointment for everyone involved, especially the athletes. Not just the main fighters but also the undercard fighters were affected. I feel especially sorry for Nikolai. It was the third time he prepared to fight Chagaev. He has wasted almost a year of his life to get ready for this fight.
Q: How did the cancellation happen?
WS: The Finnish Federation requested an additional test because Chagaev´s hepatitis test had shown some positive values. At first, Universum refused, and when the Finnish Federation considered a cancellation, Universum informed them that they had ordered a test in Helsinki. Then all the parties involved agreed to let the fight happen if the test was negative like the attestation from Germany. After many delays the test was handed over by Universum on Friday evening, with the result being a low, yet not totally excludable danger of infection. Subsequently, the Finnish Federation called the bout off.
Q: Was there no chance to save the fight?
WS: There was the proposal of Nikolai getting an injection within 24 hours after the fight and then again another one four weeks later. Nikolai asked for some time to think about it and wanted to speak to his doctor, who was on his way from Russia, first. However, that did not happen because the Finnish Federation informed us they would not let a fighter in the ring who suffers from Hepatitis B illness and presents a danger of infection, no matter how low.
Q: There are experts who claim that the danger of infection is as good as zero.
WS: There is a big difference between “as good as zero” and zero. During the meetings in Helsinki I offered Chagaev´s doctor and Universum to stage the fight if they confirmed in writing an acceptance of risk (underwriting). They refused.
Q: Did you not try to save the event?
WS: Of course we thought about it, because with Meehan (#1) and Brewster (#7) there were two fighters from the WBA rankings on the card. However, Nikolai had been preparing for months to fight a southpaw, making it impossible to switch to a normal fighter on such short notice. There were claims we had moved the fight to Finland because we had anticipated that Chagaev would not be allowed to fight. If that really was the case, it would have been a good idea to sign a southpaw as a replacement for Chagaev.
Q: There was also the question why Professor Walter Wagner was not the ring doctor in Finland. Why?
WS: Professor Wagner has never been the ring doctor at an event with Sauerland fighters outside the German-speaking region. The national federations generally use their own people – also for insurance reasons.
Q: Professor Wagner said that in Germany he would have probably allowed the fight to be staged.
WS: He also said that in most of the other countries – like the USA, England and Italy – one would not have allowed the fight to happen given Chagaev´s test results. Because it was not published by Universum many people don´t know that back in 2003 a Chagaev fight was not allowed in Australia due to hepatitis. Since then Chagaev has made all of his fights in Germany and Austria.
Q: Mr. Kohl has called Valuev a coward.
WS: He just wants to provoke. This is now the third cancellation from Chagaev. I have not heard a single word from Chagaev or Universum where they apologise to Niko or express their regret. At the end of the day, Nikolai has put great efforts in his preparation. And we do not intend to mention the financial losses. But it is very sad that Chagaev has called off four bouts in the last two years. Putting aside all emotions and speculations, several facts remain: Chagaev became world champion in April 2007, two years and two months ago. Since then he has not made a single mandatory defence, which is normally due every year. During this period he has fought two no-name opponents, cancelling three mandatory defences and one unification fight due to health reasons.
Q: One last question, a private one. It was reported in several publications that you were celebrating after the cancellation.
WS: We did indeed celebrate. My youngest son, Nisse, turned 30, and that was the reason. Coincidentally, my son Kalle had turned 30 on the day of the first Valuev-Chagaev fight. Back then Nikolai´s defeat did not keep us from celebrating either.