• Steve Bunce

Klitschko v The Samoan Bowler

Steve Bunce April 22, 2014
Alex Leapai will give away six inches and about two stone to Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday © AP

Alex Leapai is described by the Australian press as a "ham-fisted Samoan slugger" and this Saturday he steps through the ropes to meet Wladimir Klitschko, arguably heavyweight boxing's finest technician.

Leapai should be back in Logan City, Queensland, this Saturday playing with his six kids and getting ready for church and taking a break from his job as a delivery driver. That is what he should be doing, but will be instead walking to the ring in Oberhausen, Germany, to fight for Wlad's IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight belts and it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Buncey's Vaults

Axel Schulz lands a punch on George Foreman in their 1995 world title fight © AP
  • "Today should be the second day of George Foreman's permanent retirement." That was how I started my ringside report of Foreman's IBF heavyweight title win over Axel Schulz at the MGM. Foreman was 46 and fought like he was 56.
  • "The split decision was farcical and the result fails to convey the rambling incompetence displayed by Foreman." It was savage stuff and I continued: "He [Foreman] should now retire before his good work is tarnished by his bad work and before some keen young fighter inflicts serious damage."
  • I wanted Big George to quit and to never see him struggle again against the kind of men that the younger George would have pulped. I continued with my assault: "Foreman now relies on his resistance, basic strength and the goodwill of the gentlefolk seated at ringside."
  • It was, however, still an event and Big George was still an attraction. Foreman did fight again, winning two before losing a disputed decision to Shannon Briggs in 1997.
  • As reported in the Daily Telegraph, April 24, 1995

It's a simple story, a classic boxing fairy tale that started last November when Leapai travelled to Bamberg in Germany and nailed Russia's previously unbeaten Denis Boytsov. It was not part of the plan and Leapai hit Boytsov so many times with his trademark Samoan Bowler that the judges all voted in his favour; the fight against Wladimir was secured, Boytsov lost for the first time in 34 fights and the slugger from Down Under became an unlikely heavyweight championship contender.

Big Wlad, the one remaining fighting Klitschko brother, was placed in an ugly position because he had a commitment to fight the winner of the Boytsov v Leapai eliminator. It is no secret that the winner was meant to be Big Denis and a fight with him in Germany would have done good business. It needs to be remembered that Wladimir's last fight was against the unbeaten Russian Alexander Povetkin, it took place in Moscow and the pair spilt just under $20 million; it was the best guaranteed purse in the division since Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson traded punches a long, long time ago.

Anyway, the boxing fairy tale continues and Leapai, who spent time in prison when he was younger because he liked to fight with bouncers, is now officially the latest challenger to the decade-long reign of pain by Wladimir, who last lost in 2004 and has won 19 fights since then, including 16 world title fights. Imagine if David had a tiny cousin, then that is Leapai against Wlad's Goliath.

"I have told Alex to not wait, not wait a second and to just keep on smashing Wladimir," said Joe Bugner, the great British heavyweight from the Seventies who was known in later life as Aussie Joe. "He is the underdog and he has just the once chance."

Leapai has won 30 of his 37 fights; he will be six inches shorter than his opponent and a couple of stone lighter. The predictable and exposed Boytsov is by far the best name on Leapai's record, which was compiled in the heavyweight hotbeds of China, Indonesia and the Doomben race track in Queensland. Leapai has beaten the type of men that Audley Harrison beat and to be fair, Alex did better jobs on a couple of mutual victims.

Wladimir could in theory have the Ukraine crisis on his mind and will be concerned for his big brother Vitali's safety. Vitali is a crucial part of the new government in Kiev, a frontline veteran of the violence during the last few months. Wladimir also chose to take his training camp on the road, stopping long enough in Los Angeles to be attacked by Shannon Briggs, who lost the WBO heavyweight title in 2007 and is the last American to hold a version of the heavyweight crown. Briggs arrived at the gym, insulted Wladimir and threw a shoe at him. "He's scared of me and he knows it," said Briggs, who lost to Vitali in 2010.

On Saturday night Leapai could be in and out quick, which will not mean he is the worst challenger for Wladimir's belts. Leapai, you see, will take Bugner's advice to heart and go for it. Leapai has to try to force the fight and that will be his downfall; it will also be a far better tactic than standing on the outside of his range, just inside Wladimir's range, and having his face remodelled by the Ukrainian's thunderous punches.

In recent years a dozen men have surrendered at the end of Wladimir's fists without trying to win, which sounds harsh but is the truth: Leapai will not be part of that inglorious batch of failures. He will go down swinging and preying that one of his Samoan Bowlers lands on Wladimir's chops.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.