Switzerland is to host its first world boxing heavyweight title fight on Saturday, when Russian giant Nikolai Valuev will square up to the American, Jameel McCline.This content was published on January 20, 2007 - 13:25
The contest, being held in Basel, is helping to boost the city's image as a centre for sporting and cultural events as well as conferences.
The World Boxing Association fight pits defending champion Valuev, who is 2.13 metres tall and weighs around 150kg, against McCline, slightly smaller at just under two metres and 123kg.
Valuev, who hails from St Petersburg, has an unbeaten run of 45 fights and is not far away from equalling Rocky Marciano's record of 49 consecutive wins.
The meet is being billed by organisers as the biggest and heaviest title fight in the sport's history.
Observers say it is quite a coup for Basel to stage the event, especially in a country where boxing is not one of the most popular sports.
This has not been helped by the fact that boxing is currently in chaos. It has no fewer than four international federations, each with their own heavyweight championships.
Nevertheless, the Basel fight is drawing a lot of attention, not least because of Valuev, one of the few characters left on the circuit.
St Jacob's stadium, which is hosting the event, is pretty much sold out and the fight will be broadcast in more than 60 countries.
Basel the winner
"It's undoubtedly a great deal, also for Basel as the city's name will go all around the world," Fabienne Repond of the Basel Tourism Office told swissinfo.
"In the meanwhile, we have already recorded more than 1,000 extra overnight stays this weekend due to the meeting."
It is more than 30 years since the last major fight was held in Switzerland, when the legendary Muhammad Ali fought Jürgen Blin in Zurich's Hallenstadion in 1971.
Heiko Mallwitz, from the German company Sauerland, which is organising the event, told swissinfo that it was by chance that boxing had returned to Switzerland.
"There have already been fights with Valuev in the United States, so we wanted to organise one in Europe too. The Basel option seemed to be the best," he said.
Basel was chosen because of its central position in Europe, its proximity to Germany – which in recent years has transformed itself into one of the main boxing centres – and because of the excellent sporting infrastructure in its stadium.
"These types of meetings need very large indoor sports stadiums, for example 90 per cent of German stadiums are too small," added Mallwitz.
Basel is aiming to make the most of the occasion to promote itself as a centre for international high-profile events.
Apart from boxing, the city on the banks of the Rhine already hosts the Swiss Indoors tennis tournament and Champions League football matches.
In terms of culture, the city boasts several renowned museums and hosts international fairs, such as Baselworld, for the watch and jewellery industry, and Art Basel, for modern and contemporary art.
"It's certainly the case that we have shown that we are capable of attracting international events of the highest level," said Repond. "This is as much thanks to the engagement and passion of our partners as to our excellent infrastructure."
"On this basis, Basel Tourism also has stepped up its efforts in the area of conferences, fairs and sporting events. It has become our speciality to some extent."
swissinfo, Marzio Pescia
The big fight
The fight in Basel, dubbed "One night of passion" by the organisers, will take place on Saturday night in St Jacob's stadium. It is already virtually sold out (8,500 person-capacity).
The price of tickets ranges from SFr50 to SFr1,100 depending on the category.
Valuev is 33 years old, 2.13 metres tall and weighs 150kg. He has an unbeaten run of 45 fights (33 knockouts).
McCline, 36 years old, and 1.98 metres tall, weighs 125kg. He has notched up 38 wins (23 knockouts), 6 defeats and three draws.
Four boxing federations
These all hold title fights and have their own champions.
International Boxing Federation (IBF): Vladimir Klitschko (Ukraine) (heavyweight)
World Boxing Association (WBA): Nikolai Valuev (Russia)
World Boxing Council (WBC): Oleg Makaev (Kazakhstan)
World Boxing Organisation (WBO): Shannon Briggs (US)
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