By Nikolay Valuev, 32, of Russia, the WBA heavyweight title, in a decision over John Ruiz in Berlin last Saturday. At 7 feet and 323 pounds, Valuev (above), Russia's first heavyweight belt-holder, is the tallest and heaviest champ ever. (He had 10 inches on Ruiz and outweighed the ex-champ by 85 pounds.) Ruiz appeared to have the upper hand in the fight, but two judges narrowly ruled in favor of the Russian. (The third scored the bout a draw.) "Boxing is the only sport where you can get robbed without a gun," an angry Ruiz said. "I'm always fighting a smaller man, and the crowd always supports the smaller man," Valuev (43-0) said. "But I was perfectly sure at the end I had won."
At age 66, baseball memorabilia collector Barry Halper, from complications of diabetes. Halper began collecting during his childhood in Newark--he would hang around outside Bears Stadium, looking for items from players on the minor league Newark Bears--and became known as a relentless pursuer of baseball treasures. (At a press conference after his successful liver-transplant surgery in 1994, Mickey Mantle shouted to Halper, "Hey, Barry, did you get my other liver?") At its height Halper's collection included 100,000 pieces, including more than 1,000 uniforms; a ticket to the first World Series, in 1903; and the jersey Lou Gehrig wore for his Luckiest Man speech in '39. In '98 half the collection was donated to the Hall of Fame; the following year Halper auctioned off the rest at Sotheby's for $21 million.
To Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Bruce Gordon, the CEO of the NAACP, for criticism leveled at McNabb by the head of the organization's Philadelphia chapter. In a Dec. 4 column in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, J. Whyatt Mondesire wrote that McNabb was a "mediocre talent" who was "hiding behind excuses dripping in make-believe racial stereotypes" by refusing to run the ball as often as he did earlier in his career. ( McNabb, who had season-ending groin surgery last month, has said he's pressured to scramble because he's black.) It's not the first time McNabb has been the target of racially tinged criticism: In 2003 Rush Limbaugh, working as an ESPN commentator, said McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black QB succeed. "The NAACP has many civil rights issues that require our attention," Gordon said. "Criticizing Donovan McNabb is not one of them."
As offensive coordinator at Arkansas, Gus Malzahn, 40, the head coach at Springdale (Ark.) High. Malzahn led Springdale to an undefeated season and a state championship this year, but the hiring nonetheless raised eyebrows around college football. Malzahn has never coached above the prep level. Plus, at Springdale his quarterback was Mitch Mustain (above), who was the country's top-rated high school passer this season and who days before the hiring said he was reconsidering his oral agreement to attend Arkansas next year. ( Mustain was upset that the Hogs fired quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke, who recruited Mustain.) Malzahn and Arkansas coach Houston Nutt both said that the hiring was done without Mustain in mind-- Malzahn interviewed for an assistant job three years ago--and the quarterback says he's still keeping his options open.
Bail for former Phillies reliever Ugueth Urbina, who was jailed in Los Teques, Venezuela last month on attempted murder charges. The 31-year-old free agent is accused of joining a group of men who attacked five workers with machetes and poured gasoline on them at his family's ranch near Caracas in October (SI, Nov. 21). A tribunal decided that Urbina must remain in custody until his trial, for which a date has not been set. Urbina faces up to 20 years in prison.
By Yankees manager Joe Torre, the Olympic torch for the Winter Games in Turin. As one in a series of Americans to carry the flame on Dec. 14, Torre took the torch (right) from actor Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) and jogged 400 yards to the foot of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. (The relay began in Rome on Dec. 8 and ends at the opening ceremonies in Turin on Feb. 10.) "I've only been here a few hours so far," said Torre, whose mother was born in Patina, Italy, near Naples, "and I've already seen some Yankees fans around the hotel."
By federal prosecutors, the largest illegal-steroid bust ever. A grand jury in San Diego indicted 23 people for allegedly selling more than 80% of the steroids used in the U.S. Eight Mexican companies--charged with conspiracy to import and distribute anabolic steroids and money laundering--are accused of selling $56 million worth of steroids on the Internet. During a 21-month investigation the Drug Enforcement Administration uncovered a client list and plans to contact more than 2,000 Americans who have bought steroids from Mexican suppliers. Said DEA special agent Doug Coleman to USA Today, "We have agents all over the country trying to track down who all these people are."
By Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, an indefinite leave of absence to care for his ailing mother in Canada. The first-year coach left the team last weekend and traveled to Ontario to be with his parents, Walter and Phyllis, who has lung cancer. Gretzky, who led Phoenix to a 16-14-2 start, is also the executive director of Canada's Olympic team, and it is not known if he will go to Turin. "We respect and support Wayne's decision," Phoenix G.M. Michael Barnett said. "Family has always come first to the Gretzkys, as it should."
An exemption from the LPGA's age minimum, 17-year-old Morgan Pressel, who will play on the tour full time in 2006. In July former commissioner Ty Votaw let the top-ranked amateur turn pro and go to qualifying school--but ruled that any money she made before her 18th birthday (May 23) would not count on the tour's money list. On Monday new commissioner Carolyn Bivens reversed the ruling, allowing Pressel, who tied for second at the U.S. Open this year, full LPGA membership. "[It's] a dream come true," said Pressel, who tied for sixth at the LPGA's Q school earlier this month. "I can't wait ... to be part of the rookie race."