As the battle between #4 Nicolay Valuev and #20 Sergei Lyakhovich is about to commence, here is a review of the "White Wolf" Lyakhovich's odd career, where triumph in big fights was twice was followed by late-round knockout losses.
Lyakhovich turned pro at age 22 after a lengthy and successful amateur career which included a bronze medal at the 1997 World Championships, participation in the 1996 Olympics for his native Belarus, and a knockout win over Audley Harrison. Wikipedia lists his overall amateur record as 145-15.
1999-2000 He was brought along slowly at first; in his first year as a pro he won five fights, all over nobodies, with four knockouts. He fought some recognized names in his second year, including Marshall Tillman and Everett "Bigfoot" Martin, as well as professional punching bag Bradley Rone. Though these fights left him 12-0 late in 2000, he was unranked in the SportsRatings heavyweight top 100, as he hadn't beaten any solid fighters yet.
2001 His next win, in December 2000 over Derrell Dixon, put him on the charts, albeit only at #95. He followed that up with a decision over Sedrick Fields, in a match where Fields had a full 2 points deducted for after-the-bell agressiveness; without this deduction, the fight may have been a draw. He had managed to dodge the bullets that would later hamper his career.
Instead, he rose to #70, then scored big in handing #23 Friday Ahunanya his first loss and taking the NABA heavyweight title in a unanimous 12 round decision. Lyakhovich replaced Ahunanya in the Top 25 at #23, and pushing his record to 16-0-0—which was Ayunanya's record, too, before the loss.
2002 But then the first bullet hit. On June 1st, 2002, Lyakhovich suffered a late-round knockout to Maurice Harris, who was just 18-12-2 at the time. The loss dropped him to #68, and he also lost his status as one of the most promising up-and-coming boxers; he would have to prove himself again.
2003-2004 Naturally the competition level fell. He KO'ed Joe Lenhart, which put him back in the top 50, but three more knockouts of even lesser fighters (Sione Asipeli, James Walton, and Ron Guerrero) and a decision over Onibe Maxime (who had lost 18 of his last 19) didn't move him up the rankings. The win streak was enough, however, to get him better fights, and he took advantage of it, beating #32 Dominick Guinn in December, 2004 and moving himself back into the top 25 at #20. The upset win made people pay attention again.
2005-2006 He didn't fight again for over a year, but eventually Lyakhovich got a shot at #5 Lamon Brewster's WBO title. On April 1st, 2006, he outpointed Brewster, who suffered a detached retina in the first round that left him blind in that eye for the rest of the fight. Still, Brewster managed to force Sergei to "take a knee" in the 7th round, which Lyakhovich said was intentional on his part to escape Brewster's best attack of the night. He recovered to win a punishing fight that left both men drained and bruised.
With the win, Lyakhovich achieved his highest rating in April of 2006, jumping to #6:
lm num Fighter rated record rating notes
1 1. LENNOX LEWIS (34- 2- 1) 54.90 inactive 34 months.
6 2. WLAD KLITSCHKO (31- 3- 0) 46.34 beat CHRIS BYRD
3 3. NICOLAY VALUEV (17- 0- 0) 40.12
4 4. VITALI KLITSCHKO (22- 2- 0) 35.22 inactive 16 months.
2 5. CHRIS BYRD (23- 3- 1) 32.32 lost to WLAD KLITSCHKO
22 6. SERGEI LYAKHOVICH (11- 1- 0) 30.07 beat #5 LAMON BREWSTER
7 7. JOHN RUIZ (18- 5- 1) 29.17
8 8. HASIM RAHMAN (17- 5- 2) 28.12
9 9. JAMES TONEY ( 4- 0- 1) 27.57
10 10. DANNY WILLIAMS (18- 4- 0) 26.85
lm num Fighter rated record rating notes
His celebration, as well as his holding of a title, was again short-lived. He met challenger Shannon Briggs, then rated #36, who was on a 3-year, 11 fight win streak but hadn't proven himself since taking the Lineal crown from George Foreman in a controversial decision. The fight was close; Lyakhovich led after 11 rounds by 3, 3, and 1 on the judges' cards. Though he needed only hold on and avoid a catastrophic round to win—and almost any outcome would still be a draw—he couldn't have known this, and his corner believed he needed to win the round to insure victory.
For two minutes the tired fighters traded sluggish blows, but Briggs staggered Sergei with a minute left, and knocked him down with 30 seconds to go. Then, trying to survive to the bell, Lyakhovich crouched by the ropes and Briggs knocked him out of the ring and onto the scorer's table; the fight was stopped with 1 second remaining, giving the TKO victory to Briggs.
Here's that crazy final round:
The loss dropped Lyakhovich to #14, and with subsequent inactivity he has fallen to #20. A win over the highly-rated Valuev would jump him right back where he was before the Briggs loss, however, into the top ten. Given his propensity for late-round disasters, it will be interesting to see how he copes with the huge Valuev, who outweighs even Briggs by 50 pounds.
And if he can win, will success again lead to disappointment if he then faces yet better technical fighters, such as Ruslan Chagaev? It seems that Lyakhovich has reached about as high as most observers think he can go with his abilities. If he wants to prove them wrong, he'll need to both beat Valuev, and follow it up with more wins to show consistency against higher-level competition. If he can accomplish that, a *real* title fight (i.e. Klitschko) might be on the table at some point for Lyakhovich, who at 31 still has time to make it happen.