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Gentle Giant? Towering Ex-Heavyweight Champ To Host Russian Kids' Show

  • Tom Balmforth

Russian State Duma deputy Nikolai Valuyev speaks to children during his visit to a children's center and youth recreation resort on the annexed Crimean Peninsula. Standing nearly seven feet tall, the former world boxing champion has surprised many by guest-hosting a popular children's show.

Russian State Duma deputy Nikolai Valuyev speaks to children during his visit to a children's center and youth recreation resort on the annexed Crimean Peninsula. Standing nearly seven feet tall, the former world boxing champion has surprised many by guest-hosting a popular children's show.

MOSCOW -- He was known as the Beast of the East, a bruising giant of a man who retired from heavyweight boxing before taking a (specially enlarged) seat in the State Duma as a lawmaker for Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

But now, Nikolai Valuyev is turning his pugilist's gaze to gentler pursuits -- namely, guest-hosting Russia's most popular children's bedtime TV show.

The 2-meter-plus former knockout specialist says his hosted episodes of the legendary program Goodnight, Little Ones! (Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi!) will appear later this summer.

Valuyev published a photograph on Instagram on July 13 of himself posing with two puppet characters from the show, writing, "I could hardly have dreamed in my childhood that I would become the host of my favorite TV show."

Broadcast continuously since 1964, Goodnight, Little Ones! has been an institution for generations of Russians. Its main puppet characters are instantly recognizable to virtually any Russian child as the piglet Khryusha, a dog called Filya, and a hare named Stepashka.

"I couldn't turn down the offer to present the program; everyone's watched this program; children looked forward to evening," Valuyev said of the show, which airs on the national Rossiya-1 channel.

"Today we filmed the first four programs, which will come out in August. At the moment, I'm not prepared to appear more often on the television show -- there's a lot of work."

The retired two-time WBA champ said he hopes the show provides a good platform to convey his message about the importance of sports.

He was flooded with statements of support.

But some people joked about the choice, in one case suggesting that "kids will not be able to fall asleep" after seeing Valuyev. Another Instagram user seemed genuinely upset, writing, "The world's gone mad."

Valuyev is a departure in more ways than one from the list of the show's (mostly female) celebrity hosts.

In 2008, Valuyev was found guilty and fined for assaulting a guard at a St. Petersburg sports complex in 2006 after the guard demanded that Valuyev’s wife repark her car outside their son's practice. The sentence was later overturned after appeals by both sides -- with the guard demanding a more severe punishment for the broken ribs he purportedly suffered and Valuyev proclaiming his innocence. In 2010, a follow-up criminal investigation was launched against Valuyev -- this time carrying a potential jail sentence. That case, however, was dropped later that year.

Valuyev's latest term for the ruling United Russia in the State Duma ended with this term's final session recently. His seat in the chamber was physically enlarged to much fanfare in the Russian media in 2011.

The 42-year-old bowed out of pro boxing in 2009 when he lost his World Boxing Association title to Britain's David Haye. Valuyev has not returned to boxing since, reportedly because of bone and joint problems.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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