Leapai rallies Pacific for world fight
Don’t judge a man by his past but his potential
That is the clear message Samoan Alex Leapai would like the boxing world to believe as he readies himself for what is deemed as the biggest fight on earth on April 27.
Leapai is destined to make history not just for his native Samoa but also his adopted Australia when he takes a crack at the heavyweight championship of the world next month in Oberhausen, Germany, against reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine.
Leapai is a man with a colourful past of all sorts—misdeeds, criminal records, stretches in prison and a habit of munching pies and coke before training.
At his prime in fitness, Leapai is now 34 with a comparable record of 30-4-3 with 24 knockouts since turning professional in Queensland in 2004.
He was installed as the number one contender for the world challenge after he knocked out the previously unbeaten Denis Boytsov in a WBO fight last November.
Leapai was handpicked to fight Boystov—who thought the six-foot Samoan would be an easy-beat and a routine victory as he himself was preparing to take a shot at Klitschko.
Leapai roughed up Boystov, knocking him out twice in the fight and went on to score a major upset in what was not even an official elimination fight for WBO.
“It won’t even be my toughest fight”
Now on a strict disciplinary food and training regime for the big clash, the beefy Samoan has suddenly got the world at his feet—Klitschko will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles against Leapai.
The winner on April 26 will wear the very same crown donned by Mohammed Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, George Foreman and Mike Tyson.
“I’ll beat Wladimir and it won’t even be my toughest fight,” Leapai told a world boxing magazine.
That’s easier said than done—Klitschko’s record speaks miles about the world champion. He has 51 knockouts from his 61-3 outings.
The 37-year-old Klitschko has had the title reign since 2006 and he is just come off a shutout decision victory against Alexander Povetkin of Russia last October.
His clash with Leapai is his 16th title defense as the Ukrainian has held the title longer than anyone in boxing history other than Joe Louis (nearly 12 years).
Some boxing insiders are billing this fight as a possible upset win for Leapai—capping it as the biggest surprise the world of boxing has since James Buster Douglas beat Tyson in Tokyo in 1990.
If Leapai does turn his miracle run to stardom into another milestone, then the Lionheart—as he is commonly referred to in his much-loved Queensland town—will find himself staring down the shot of a lifetime.
Leapai is riding high in confidence, pleading with Samoans, Pacific islanders and Australians to join in his campaign.
“All the people that back the Lionheart, make sure you stay tuned. Because we’re going to make history,” Leapai boasted to the local media in Australia as news spread about his world challenge.
“It ain’t going the distance. I promise you one of us is going to be knocked out, but it isn’t going to be me.”
Klitschko, dubbed Steel Hammer for his career’s efforts which has fetched him a net worth of US$24 million, is impressed with Leapai’s heavy hands.
“I’ve never heard of Alex Leapai until the fight with Boystov,” Klitschko told European news agency, ESPN.com last month.
“I think he did a great job to win that fight and become official mandatory for WBO title. I’m looking forward to that challenge from Alex and I’m sure he will give his best in that fight against me.”
Leapai will start the fight as an underdog as apart from Boystov he has never beaten a world contender though the defending champion said he will be taking no chances with the Samoan-Australian.
“He has shown strong punching power and a lot of heart. But, moreover, he can take a punch and feels confident in the role of the underdog.
“I will be very focused and prepare myself 100 percent as always and will look forward to this next challenge.”
For Klitschko, whose current reign began in 2006, the German outing will be another challenge for he is a former Olympian, heavyweight gold medallist from 1996.
It is a comparison of all sorts between the two competitors—Leapai rose to fame through the doldrums of boxing in Samoa and then in Queensland.
Leapai is a father of six who drives a Holden and is sponsored by a local property agent. This will be the first time he will train full-time for a bout.
Klitschko dates Hollywood actress, Hayden Panettiere and has sponsorship deals with Mercedes Benz.
His brother, Vitali—a former champion boxer—is now the opposition leader and could be the next president of Ukraine.
Leapai promises to wipe out Klitschko’s image and his career. “People talk about how great Wladimir is and the 61 victories he has had in his career.
“I, on the other hand, think of the fact that he has been KO’d three times by people who cannot punch nearly as hard as me. I will break Wladimir.”
Mega dollars await Leapai for just showing up for the world title fight, US$1.5 million with the scope of much more if he keeps his winning momentum, says Noel Thornberry, who first laid eyes on him at a Queensland gym in 2004.
The Samoan began sparring at Thornberry’s family fight factory in the food-town of Gatton, Queensland, 10 years ago and not everyone could catch Leapai’s potential.
After his loss on points at Brisbane’s Mansfield Tavern in his debut fight representing Thornberry’s joint, his trainer declared: “That bloke could fight for the world title one day.”
“Everyone said: ‘Are you kidding? He just lost’ But he had all the potential in the world. He had power in his hands and can really crack Steel Hammer.”
“Some blind faith in our destiny”
Both Thornberry and Leapai want boxing enthusiasts from the region and Australia to appreciate what Leapai hopes to accomplish.
When Leapai knocked on Thornberry’s doors, his ambition was to become the heavyweight champion of Queensland only, not the world but now he is one win away from boxing’s holy grail.
“Whether he wins or loses, this is the most significant fight an Australian (or Samoan for that matter) has been involved in,” Thornberry asserted.
“This is the dominant heavyweight champion of our era.
“I had some blind faith that this was our destiny.”
The former truck driver, now residing in Logan, Queensland, who used to only train between shifts, hopes to visit Samoa before his big gig so he can invoke the blessings of his ancestors.
He also hopes there would be a national holiday in Samoa should he pull off a mighty win.
“It’s just massive,” he said.
“I get phone calls from everywhere from my family down in Sydney, New Zealand, Samoa—they’re just real supportive and wishing me all the best in trying to make history as well.”
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