by Cliff Rold
This quartet of names stands with a special place in Heavyweight history. They are the men that pulled what most would agree were the greatest upsets in history to win boxing’s most prestigious crown.
Alex Leapai could top them all.
Those men, despite the odds against them, had performances in their past that hinted they shouldn’t be taken lightly (or in the case of Spinks an Olympic pedigree and youth). Leapai has a come from behind stoppage of Travis Walker that was highly debatable and an upset of Denis Boytsov.
The gap between Boytsov and Wladimir Klitschko is interplanetary.
On paper, the sheer improbability of Leapai pulling the upset could put this in Douglas territory. Is there any reason to think the upset is possible on Saturday (ESPN, 5 PM EST/2 PM PST)?
Let’s go to the report card.
Title: IBF Heavyweight (2006-Present, 15 Defenses); WBO Heavyweight (2008-Present, 11 Defenses); Lineal/Ring World Heavyweight (2009-Present, 8 Defenses); WBA ‘Super’ Heavyweight (2011-Present, 5 Defenses); IBO Heavyweight (2006-Present, 16 Defenses).
Previous Titles: WBO Heavyweight (2000-03, 5 Defenses)
Weight: 247.4 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 246.3 lbs.
Hails from: Kiev, Ukraine
Record: 61-3, 51 KO, 3 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 22-2, 17 KO, 2 KOBY; 9-0, 6 KO (Lineal Title Only)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 11 (Chris Byrd UD12, TKO7; Ray Mercer TKO6; Corrie Sanders TKO by 2; Lamon Brewster TKO by 5, RTD6; Samuel Peter UD12, KO10; Sultan Ibragimov UD12; Hasim Rahman TKO7; Ruslan Chagaev RTD9; David Haye UD12; Jean Marc Mormeck KO4; Alexander Povetkin UD12 – WBA Regular Titlist)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 248 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 237.9 lbs.
Hails from: Logan City, Queensland, Australia (Born in Samoa)
Record: 30-4-3, 24 KO, 2 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st Title Opportunity
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0
Pre-Fight: Speed – Klitschko B+; Leapai B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Klitschko A+; Leapai B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Klitschko B+; Leapai C-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Klitschko A; Leapai B-
Klitschko enters maintaining a control of the division he’s held since winning the first of the titles he currently holds in 2006. He does enter with fans thrilled by his last appearance. Matched with an opponent who looked like he posed at least a modicum of threat, Klitschko fought a mauling, grabbing, brutally ugly fight. He scored multiple knockdowns and still left room to criticize.
Leapai, if he is dangerous, will be so early. The Samoan has quick hands early and some thud to his shots. He often winds up those shots and can be off balance on the attack, but he does more than headhunt. Leapai does go to the body, if sometimes inconsistently, and can get low in the pocket.
Where Leapai will be at a serious disadvantage is on the outside. He lacks head movement, making him vulnerable to Klitschko’s jab and grip. If he lunges for offense, he falls into clinches and Klitschko is good at not letting a guy whose best chance is a long bomb get that off.
There is also the issue of stamina. Does Leapai have enough if this gets going past four or five rounds? He was gassing before the Walker turnaround. Boytsov was fought at a measured pace on both sides. Klitschko has shown in recent vintage that some of his better aesthetic outings come against fighters he has no fear of. If he doesn’t respect Leapai, he’ll probably open up more and force more pace than the challenger saw in his last outing.
This is a joke, right? If anyone needs evidence of how ridiculous the mandatory allotments can sometimes be, there is this. The system is not an indictment of Leapai. He won the fight he was supposed to in scoring the upset over Denis Boytsov but, between that fight and a stoppage loss to Kevin Johnson, he beat dreck. How was he in that position in the first place?
And, given the opportunity of a lifetime, how does he show up at the highest recorded weight of his career? A fighter who 18 pounds lighter in December of 2012 now scales heavier than a man always in tip top shape and some six inches taller? A big upset is always fun, but this doesn’t look like the place to see it. This looks instead like a stopover before Klitschko resumes facing quality contenders. Kubrat Pulev and the winners of the Tyson Fury-Dereck Chisora and Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola rematches will all, like Leapai, be underdogs.
They’ll be better underdogs.
The pick is Klitschko in six.
Report Card Picks 2014: 15-6
The Heavyweight title match might be the biggest of the weekend (literally and figuratively), but there are a slew of other televised fights…They all look like sure things too…In Flyweight title action on Azteca America, WBA/WBO titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (25-2, 18 KO) should get some good rounds but ultimately establish himself the superior man over Richie Mepranum (27-3-1, 6 KO). It could go the route but a stoppage in the final third will be no surprise…Showtime features a tripleheader Saturday with two fights getting a tab here…Lucas Matthysse (34-3, 32 KO) should bounce back from a loss to Jr. Welterweight Champion Danny Garcia in his last outing and look good doing it. John Molina (27-3, 22 KO) comes to fight and often makes good showings but that’s a bad recipe here. The pick is Matthysse by the fifth…In the main event, interim WBA Welterweight titlist Keith Thurman (22-0, 20 KO) will keep himself in what is really a mandatory position (a good one in this case) for a theoretical crack at the winner of the Floyd Mayweather-Marcos Maidana. Former Lightweight tiltist Julio Diaz (40-9-1, 25 KO) did some nice work in two fights with Shawn Porter. He’ll suffer a nice knockout inside eight rounds here.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]