A shot needed out of nowhere

Alex Leapai believes in God.  He loves Jesus.  They got him through six months in prison.  Religion helped change his life, gave him strength.


Leapai is a fighter.  Boxing has changed his life, gave him strength and focus.  He was sent to prison for assault.  Upon his release, he is still assaulting people, legally, and his belief has placed him one punch away from the heavyweight championship of the world.


On Sunday 27 April 2014, Leapai will fight Wladimir Klitschko in Germany.  The fight seems a waste of time, a rank mismatch.  Klitschko hasn’t lost in ten years.


Leapai is short for a heavyweight, 183cm.  He’s heavy for a short heavyweight too, fighting beyond 240 pounds.  He’s a plodder, fighting with anchored feet.  Lacking in stamina, he is easy to hit.  He fights without a useful jab, all left hook and a wild, overhand right.


He is power without finesse.  He is strong and resilient.  He does not lose without a beating.  His record indicates the weaknesses, 30 wins and four losses, with 24 wins coming by way of knockout.


Leapai has been stopped twice, back in 2005 against someone called Baden Oui and in 2012 to American Kevin Johnson.  Since beating Leapai, Johnson has lost five of his last eight fights.


The loss to Johnson could’ve ended Leapai’s career, but he’s on a five fight winning streak against mostly average opposition.  His signature win, on points over ten rounds, came against Denis Boystov last year.


That unlikely victory set up the title shot against Klitschko.


Wladimir Klitschko is 198cm tall.  He seems sculptured.  He carries devastating power and is highly skilled for such a big man.  The fight should be a cinch.


Every boxer has a weakness.  Some, like Leapai, have more than others.  Klitschko, for all his ability, has a suspect chin.  He’s been stopped three times and knocked down plenty.


Klitschko could fight better without the glass jaw, which means he fights safety first.  He’s a plodder, big steps, reaching in to let the jab go and occasionally throwing a right hand.  A mauler, he will wrestle if there is any danger.


He has stopped 51 of his 61 opponents, but he fights boring.  Klitschko, along with his brother Vitali (also a former heavyweight champ) have beaten everyone possible in the past decade and they are still derided, for the way they fight.


Excitement is absent.  It is up to Leapai to bring the excitement.  He is going to have to knock Klitschko out.  He doesn’t have the height, reach or ability to win a decision.


It is all about one punch for Leapai.  He has to be relentless, working his way inside, to set up that punch.  If he can land a bomb, Klitschko will get knocked out.


But Leapai won’t.  There are miracles in boxing, but this can’t be one of them.  Klitschko has fought the best available fighters, which is an indictment on the heavyweight division.  Leapai, despite his ranking, is not one of the best available fighters.


Leapai is not a bum.  His title shot was hard earned but he has never fought anyone like Klitschko.  He virtually had no profile beyond Logan.  When Leapai defeated Dennis Boystov in Germany to earn a shot at the title, the news took days to filter through to Australia.


Few people knew who he was.  Few people in Australia care about boxing.


There has been much hype in the build up.  The final press conference was hijacked by Shannon Briggs, a 42-year old journeyman who is desperate for another payday.  Briggs called Leapai a bum.


‘You and me, now,’ Leapai said.  There was a standoff…


Much has been made of Leapai’s background.  A self-described grub, he spent six months in Woodford Correctional Centre for assaulting four bouncers on Caxton Street.  He has six kids and a car that continually breaks down.  He’s had a tough life.


Two fights ago, Leapai fought for a fistful of tickets instead of money.  His was a preliminary bout, almost hidden on the undercard.  There was no money to pay him, so he used those tickets to invite family and friends.


Now he is about to fight Klitschko for $1.5 million.  It is Cinderella money, yet the fantasy is reality.  Belief can be powerful.


Should Klitschko be embarrassed if the fight goes more than five rounds?  Probably, but his home country of Ukraine is being torn apart, on the brink of war.


Klitschko has other things on his mind.  It should not change the result.


Leapai is the first Australian to fight for the heavyweight title in 106 years.  Right now there is no more famous Australian sportsman.


Forty-four Australians have won world championships, but never has an Australian heavyweight worn the belt.  Our last title challenger, Bill Squires was favoured to beat Tommy Burns for the heavyweight title in 1908.  The fight was scheduled for 45 rounds.  Squires was knocked down three times in round one and lost by knockout.


Squires fought Burns twice more for the heavyweight championship, losing by knockout in the eighth and thirteenth rounds.  Those losses ruined him.  Boxing is like that.


Leapai will create history on Sunday morning when he steps in the ring.  When he steps out of the ring, I hope history shows he found the right punch…

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Andrew Starkie says

    Excellent article, Matt. Thanks.

    No sport produces the miracle like boxing, but you’re right I’m afraid, I can’t see one happening tomorrow.

    I wonder why Klitschko is fighting Alex and why he has put up all his belts. Is it arrogance, for his country or to resurrect a very boring division. Maybe a bit of everything. Boxing is the most Shakespearian of sports, it lays bare the human condition like no other. It Klitschko loses his pride and ego may be to blame and Alex’s courage will be lauded. Fingers crossed.

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