By: William Holmes
ESPN has made a lot of interesting moves in boxing in 2014. First they decided to broadcast a surprisingly entertaining and competitive tournament in the middleweight and lightweight divisions with it’s conclusion to be televised next month.
They’ve also decided to invest in the “glamour” division of boxing, the heavyweight division. They’re broadcasting two heavyweight title fights in a span of two weeks. On May 10th they’ll be broadcasting the WBC Heavyweight Title fight between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola from Los Angeles, California. This Saturday they’ll be broadcasting the WBO/WBA/IBF Heavyweight title fight between longtime kingpin Wladimir Klitschko and Alex Lepai.
Klitschko has long been an underappreciated and overlooked champion, but with several marketable American contenders on the scene he will have some lucrative options available to him if he is able to emerge victorious on Saturday.
The following is a preview of the heavyweight tile fight between Klitschko and Leapai from Oberhausen, Germany.
Wladimir Klitschko (61-3) vs. Alex Leapai (30-4-3); WBO/IBF/WBA Heavyweight Title
Many boxing analysts have erroneously stated that the heavyweight boxing scene is dead. They point to the lack of American pay-per-views in the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis retired and the lack of competitive fights in the heavyweight division.
However, they fail to point to the fact that Klitschko, the heavyweight champ since 2004 and undefeated since that time, is hugely popular in Europe and regularly sells out large stadiums in Germany. The heavyweight division isn’t dead, it’s just ruled by one of the most dominating champions the heavyweight division has ever seen.
Klitschko holds many physical advantages over Leapai. He will be six inches taller with a six inch reach advantage on Leapai. Klitschko is getting older, he’s 38 years old, but his opponent is not in his physical prime either. Leapai is 34 years old and earned the right to challenge Klitschko when he upset the then undefeated Denis Boytsov in November of 2013.
Klitschko has stopped fifty one of his opponents, including three of his past five opponents. Klitschko has also been relatively active for a champion. He fought twice in 2013 and three times in 2012. Leapai also has some power and can test Klitschko’s chin. He has twenty four knockouts on his resume, and has also stopped four of his past five opponents.
Klitschko has a large edge in amateur experience over Leapai. He won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in the super heavyweight division. Leapai has no notable amateur experience to speak of and has recently held a day job as a delivery driver in Australia.
Klitschko has defeated and dominated every challenger to come his way in the past ten years. They include Alexander Povetkin, Mariusz Wach, Tony Thompson, David Haye, Samuel Peter, Eddie Chambers, and Sultan Ibragimov. His losses have come to Lamon Brewster, a loss he later avenged, Corrie Sanders, Ross Puritty.
Klitschko has an excellent jab and perfected it under the tutelage of the late Emmanuel Steward. Very few boxers have the reach or height of Wladimir Klitschko.
Leapai came out of nowhere to challenge for the heavyweight title. Less than a year ago he was fighting a boxer with a 2-4 record in Australia. He shocked many when he defeated Boytsov, but prior to that his record is littered with unimpressive victories. Besides Boytsov, he also defeated Felipe Romero, Okello Peter, Owen Beck, and Travis Walker.
Leapai’s three losses came against Kevin Johnson in April of 2012, as well as Colin Wilson, Baden Oui, and Yan Kulkov.
On paper this fight is a huge mismatch. In the ring it will likely be an even bigger mismatch. Klitschko’s chin was considered questionable by many early on in his career, but a ten year undefeated streak as champion has erased most of those doubts.
This fight is on ESPN, but it is mainly a showcase fight for Klitschko to help increase his marketability for potential challengers that the American market is familiar with. The biggest question on Saturday is how quickly will Klitschko win and how soon will he fight again.
At Oberhausen, Germany (ESPN/ESPN Deportes): Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alex Leapai, 12 rounds, for Klitschko’s WBO/IBF/WBA heavyweight title;
Leapai 24 knockouts, 6 foot 75 inch reach; 34
Klitschko;51 knockouts, 6’6 81 inch reach; 38