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Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alex Leapai: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

Briggs SeekinsFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 2, 2017

Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alex Leapai: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Aging can be a drag in places like the weight room or the doctor's office. But it has some advantages. As you get older, you are afforded the luxury of looking back in your memory on the times when "things were better."

    I'm old enough to remember when a world heavyweight title fight was the biggest sports story of the week, pretty much any time it happened. Sure, it might hurt my knees for days after any time I put anything close to 300 pounds on the bar at the squat rack, and I might have to endure lectures from my doctor on why she doesn't think India pale ales should be a staple of my diet.

    But that's a small price to pay for being one of the guys who remembers what it used to be like, when the heavyweight boxing championship of the world was still properly recognized as the biggest title in sports.

    Wladimir Klitschko, the best heavyweight boxer on the planet, returns to action this Saturday in Germany, against Australian Alex Leapai. The fight comes at a time when Wladi's older brother, Vitali, is heavily involved in the most potentially dangerous global-political situation since the end of the Cold War.

    So there's a lot of drama here. There's a champion who has dominated for a decade climbing back into the ring.

    It's more interesting than the opening round of the two-month-long NBA playoffs or early-season baseball, no matter what your local sports radio station and co-workers at the water cooler might think.

Tale of the Tape

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    Frank Augstein
    Per BoxRec     Wladimir Klitschko     Alex Leapai
    Record:     61-3, 51 KOs     30-4-3, 24 KOs
    Height:     6'6"     6'0"
    Reach:     81"     75"
    Weight:     About 245 lbs     About 235-240 lbs
    Age:     38     34
    Stance:     Orthodox     Orthodox
    Hometown:     Kiev, Ukraine     Logan City, Australia
    Rounds:     325     188

    The champion Wladimir Klitschko has huge advantages in height and reach, as well as experience. The younger Klitschko brother had already won Olympic gold and his first professional world titles well before Alex Leapai had debuted as an obscure prospect in the Australian club scene. 

    Leapai is an Australian citizen but was born in Samoa. The Ukrainian Klitschko has long been extremely popular in Germany, where this fight will take place.

Main Storylines

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    Frank Augstein

    Depending upon who you are talking to, Klitschko is either a brilliant boxing tactician with rare physical gifts or a boring fraud with a glass chin who has benefited from inferior competition in an era of depleted talent.

    Klitschko has given both sides of the argument ammunition during his long career. Despite his very high knockout percentage, the champion has sometimes relied on a jab, clinch and lean strategy to secure victories while simultaneously putting crowds to sleep.

    He's also been stopped three times in his career by opponents who will never go down in the ranks of the all-time greats.

    But Klitschko hasn't lost in nearly a decade now, while steadily dominating the competition. Aside from his older brother, Vitali, he's been the best heavyweight in the world for a generation.  

    Leapai earned this shot when he beat previously undefeated Denis Boytsov last November. He's a tough, well-traveled professional who came up in the sport the tough way. In his first two years as a pro, he compiled a record of 2-2-2. 

    As recently as April 2012, Leapai lost to Kevin Johnson by Round 9 TKO. At just six feet tall, he seems poorly designed to withstand Klitschko's battering-ram jab. 

    But Leapai has legitimate heavyweight punching power. If he can reach Klitschko's chin, we just might see the upset of the century. 

    That's an awful big "if," though.

Strengths

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    Associated Press

    Wladimir Klitschko has one of the best jabs in the history of the heavyweight division. It's a punishing battering ram of a punch, and he's perfected the technique of adjusting it mid-punch, turning it into a skull-rattling lead hook. 

    The jab and lead hook are offensive weapons but serve a defensive purpose as well, making it nearly impossible for most opponents to get into close range against the champion. And, of course, the lead left also sets up his crushing straight right. 

    Alex Leapai is a physically powerful fighter with a durable chin. He's hard to put away and remains dangerous for as long as he's standing. His hooks and uppercuts at close range are fight-changing punches. 

    Although his resume is less than overwhelming, Leapai is a fighter who has evolved and improved under tough circumstances. Guys like that tend to be extremely determined when they get their big break.

Weaknesses

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Wladimir Klitschko will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he'll always carry the tag of being a fighter with a vulnerable chin as well. Three times in his career he was stopped by opponents he should have beaten after they undid him with a solid shot to the jaw. 

    It hasn't happened in nearly a decade now. But anytime he gets in the ring with a fighter who can punch like Leapai, the vulnerability will hang in the back of everybody's mind.

    Alex Leapai is very much a tailor-made opponent for Klitschko. He's a stocky heavyweight who covers up and comes forward, leaving him very vulnerable to punishment on the outside. 

    Leapai has a tendency to lunge as he explodes forward. There is a real danger that he's going to be a clumsy, undersized bull against Klitschko's skilled and gigantic matador.

Wladimir Klitschko Will Win If...

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    Ivan Sekretarev

    Klitschko has an extremely well-established blueprint for victory going into this fight. Any casual boxing fan knows what it is. 

    Klitschko will look to use his jab and sweeping lead hook to keep Leapai out of range to hit him back. Once he starts to slow the challenger down, he'll let go with the crushing straight right. 

    It's possible he'll be able to dominate Leapai thoroughly without the challenger even getting into position to land a significant punch. But Leapai is a strong fighter, and if he can muscle his way inside, Klitschko will clinch and lean on the much shorter man, forcing him to carry his weight.

    It's a not a particularly charismatic way to fight, but it is highly effective. The great Emanuel Steward taught Klitschko that technique for a very good reason.

    As long as Wladimir Klitschko avoids getting hit with a big punch, he will win a completely one-sided decision, at the very least.

Alex Leapai Will Win If...

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    Leapai has one path to victory against Klitschko. He has to muscle his way inside, get his head against the champion's chest and then cut him down with hooks and uppercuts. 

    To do that, he has to finesse his way past Klitschko's dangerous jab and thundering straight right. That is no easy task. 

    As can be seen in the video included here, Leapai very nearly got stopped by journeyman Travis Walker. He's going to need to use a lot more head movement and level changes against Klitschko, or he's going to get battered. 

    Leapai should lead with left hooks and arching overhand rights, so that even if he doesn't connect, he will still fall into close range. To be honest, he's going to need some help from the referee. If the ref allows Klitschko to lean on Leapai the way Luis Pabon let the champion lean on Alexander Povetkin, Leapai will fight at an even more significant disadvantage. 

    Even though he ultimately wants to land the Hail Mary punch against Klitschko, Leapai should concentrate on the champion's body in the early rounds. It's a much more readily available target than Klitschko's notoriously vulnerable chin.

Prediction

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    Daniel Maurer

    If Alex Leapai can manage to land a big punch on Wladimir Klitschko's chin, it's possible he could shock the world and become a real-life Samoan version of Rocky Balboa. It would inject some real excitement into the sport. 

    The champion's home nation of the Ukraine is in a state of crisis right now, so it would be understandable if Klitschko's attention was not completely focused in the ring. Upsets happen. 

    But realistically, Leapai has very little chance to win this fight. If Kevin Johnson could knock Leapai out, Klitschko should be able to as well. 

    The big question isn't whether or not Klitschko will win, but whether or not he will win by stoppage. I actually think he won't. 

    I think Leapai will be determined and aggressive, and Klitschko will respect the threat of his power and patiently work on neutralizing it while stockpiling rounds on the cards. 

    I'm predicting Wladimir Klitschko by a shutout unanimous decision.

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