By David Finger
Photo provided by Noel Thornberry
Boxing has no shortages of underdogs, and no shortages of inspirational stories about the underdog bucking the odds. whether it be James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo or Hasim Rahman in South Africa, it seems like there is always some guy who refuses to accept the conventional wisdom that he is outmatched. Sure, most of these guys fall short. But ever once in awhile there is that fighter who has that perfect balance of grit, determination, and everyman likeability and who finds lightning in the bottle against the heavily favored champion. Needless to say, boxing is long overdue for a Cinderella story in the heavyweight division, but for boxing fans down under, the next James Douglas is already here. Samoan-Australian puncher Alex Leapai (30-4-3, 24 KO’s) has just been named the mandatory challenger to WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, and has all the tools in place to give boxing one more “Rocky” moment.
“For me it’s all new,” Leapai said in an interview with Fightnews, “with the media…its just gone crazy over here. It’s been a while since an Australian heavyweight has had the chance to fight for a world title. It means a lot to Australia and Samoa.”
The Samoan born Leapai stunned the boxing world when he scored the shocking upset over previously undefeated #1 contender Denis Boytsov two weeks ago in Germany. Most boxing insiders expected the fight to be a mere formality for the #1 contender, and expected the WBO to quickly anoint Boytsov as Klitschko’s mandatory challenger. There was only one problem with the plan, nobody told the hard punching Samoan.
“(Boytsov) can fight,” Leapai said, “he wouldn’t have been #1 in the world if he couldn’t fight. But I felt he didn’t feel the real power, his chin had not been tested. And I knew that if I could land a big shot I could back him up…and I did. When I hit him in the second round, he felt what I had, and he just wanted to hold and survive after that. I wanted him to feel what I had because once he did I knew his whole game plan would change.”
The hard punching Leapai has shown bone crunching power throughout his career, but his stamina and chin had failed him in the past. But against Boytsov, he looked like a new man in the ring. And more than a few boxing insiders began to whisper the unthinkable: this was a fighter who, if everything went right for him, could capitalize on Klitschko’s one major weakness: a suspect chin.
“Obviously I can’t tell you the game plan,” Leapai said with a chuckle, “but I am telling you now, this fight ain’t going the distance. Once he feels my power, he is going to want out, honestly.”
The hard punching, aggressive style of Leapai, coupled with his likable personality, has seen him emerge as one of Australia’s most popular celebrities in the last two weeks. But Leapai also recognizes that a win over Klitschko could turn him into a boxing superstar.
“Believe me bro, I’m going to bring boxing back,” Leapai added, “ever since (the heavyweight division) went over to Europe, it hasn’t been the best, like it use to be when Tyson and Lewis were fighting. It’s all going to be different though. I’m going to bring boxing back. For this fight I will be in the best shape of my life. Believe me; the world is going to see a new heavyweight. I’m going to bring back the old school; I’m going to bring boxing back.”