Huge step up for Bergeron

MURRAY GREIG -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

Canada's hefty lefty is set to do battle with the Russian Giant later this month - with a world heavyweight title shot hanging in the balance.

Jean-Francois Bergeron, a six-foot-five, 225-pound southpaw from St. Jerome, Que., is the first Canadian-born fighter to be ranked among the world's Top 15 big men since Grande Prairie's Willie de Wit more than 20 years ago. And if he manages to upset seven-foot-one, 325-pound Nikolai Valuev on Sept. 29 in Oldenburg, Germany, he'll be right in the thick of the title picture.

Ranked No. 1 in Canada behind champion David Cadieux of Trois Rivieres, Bergeron has compiled a perfect 27-0 record (19 KOs) against decidedly second-tier opposition. That's still good enough for the World Boxing Association to slot him at No. 14 in the current rankings, but this fight is a huge step up - literally as well as figuratively.

THREE DEFENCES

Valuev (46-1, 34 KOs), won the WBA belt from John Ruiz in December 2005 and made three successful defences before Ruslan Chagaev beat him in a majority decision in April and derailed the giant's chance to equal or surpass the great Rocky Marciano's 49-0 career mark.

"I have learned from the first loss of my career," Valuev said in a recent media tele-conference from Germany.

"I have something to prove, and the fight against Bergeron is the first step. I will beat him no matter what. I want to be world champion again."

After Chagaev utilized a steady - albeit boring - body attack to wear him down and take the title, Valuev parted company with long-time trainer Manuel Gabrielian, replacing him with taskmaster Alexander Zimin.

"I don't want to return to old strengths - I want to get better than I was before," said the 34-year-old ex-champ.

"I have a clear goal: I want to win my title back as soon as possible. I was very, very disappointed after losing it. I don't show my emotions in public, so I just went home to St. Petersburg and tried to get over the loss myself. It took a while for me to realize that I had really lost the belt. But all of a sudden I felt a new motivation, and I realized the result could make me a much better fighter if only I drew the right conclusions. It was time to make a move."

That move turned out to be the hiring of Zimin, former head coach of the Russian national boxing team. He has a reputation for being a fitness fanatic, and reportedly put Valuev on a strict conditioning regimen to eliminate the big guy's propensity for running out of gas in the late rounds - a weakness that Chagaev exploited to perfection.

Though not a devastating body puncher, Bergeron packs decent power in both fists and his southpaw stance could confound the Russian giant.

At 34, the Quebecer is running out of time to make a serious charge at the title, so look for him to throw everything he's got - early and often.

100-1 ODDS

German oddsmakers have made Bergeron a 10-1 underdog, while some bookies on this side of the pond - including online ring wagering guru stanjames.com - have him 100-1 to notch a first-round KO.

Meanwhile, unbeaten Montreal light heavyweight Adrian (The Shark) Diaconu is also looking forward to a big fight on Sept. 29: a World Boxing Council title clash with Chad Dawson at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif.

Dawson (24-0, 16 KOs), decisioned previously unbeaten Tomasz Adamek (31-1) in February to win the 175-pound title Roy Jones Jr. held from 1997 to 2004.

Diaconu (24-0, 15 KOs), earned the WBC's No. 1 ranking and became mandatory challenger to Dawson by scoring a third round TKO over Rico Hoye in a May elimination bout in Montreal.

With legitimate knockout power in both hands, Diaconu will be looking to test Dawson's chin early in the hope of lifting the American's crown.

Promoted by Don King, the bout will air live on Showtime in the U.S. No word yet on a Canadian telecast.


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