Alex Leapai and the Worst Heavyweight Challengers of the Klitschko Era
The standard of challengers to the heavyweight title has been criticised frequently through the history of boxing, especially when there is a dominant champion making his title defences look easy.
Famously, during Joe Louis' still-record 25 defences of the crown, the term "Bum of the Month Club" was coined to describe overmatched opponents.
In reality that was an unfair description of the men brave enough to step into the ring with a feared champion and, under close examination, you will find unworthy challengers across all weight-classes, especially with the modern proliferation of titles.
But, perhaps because all heavyweight title fights generate a certain amount of interest and coverage, weaker opponents still get thrust into the public eye more than those in other divisions—and are subject to ridicule and wider complaints about the state of the division.
Even with those qualifiers, Alex Leapai, the 34-year-old Australian who fights champion Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday in Germany, is an extraordinarily weak challenger.
Leapai's record holds only one notable win, which came over Denis Boystov in November, and although Boystov had been around a bit and proved himself a decent operator he was not proven at the top level.
In Leapai's only previous fight at fringe world-level he was stopped in 2012 by Kevin Johnson, a guy who has lost six times against anyone who can throw back.
While Leapai will argue he's been improving all through his career, if you go back to 2008 (his fifth year as a pro) you find he dropped a decision to Colin Wilson, a fighter who had previously lost 23 times against 33 wins.
All in all, it's certainly fair to say that Leapai has very little pedigree going into this fight. While at times weak opposition can be justified by champions who have cleaned out a division and beaten anyone any good, that just isn't the case right now.
There's at least eight fighters who'd make a more promising match-up versus Klitschko. From Europe you have Kubrat Pulev, Tyson Fury, Dereck Chisora and Czar Glazkov—and from North America you have Bermane Stiverne, Deontay Wilder, Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez.
On paper you could argue that Leapai is the worst challenger of the Klitschko era (2004-2014 and counting), but he deserves the chance to show what he can do on the big stage before being awarded that dubious distinction.
From 2004-2009 the quality of Klitschko opponents was pretty good, but about five years ago they realised that even when facing lesser opposition, they could still sell lots of tickets and attract healthy TV audiences on RTL in Germany. Quality control has since left the building.
Consequently all the men on this list fought against one of the brothers after 2008. From the 2004-2008 opponents, perhaps only Ray Austin was comparably bad—and he fought Wladimir before the younger brother was truly established as a champion in his own right.
So, from poor to poorest, here are the seven worst heavyweight title challengers of recent years. In each case you could make a good argument that they should never have been given their shot in the first place.
All records from BoxRec.
7. Mariusz Wach
Fought Against: Wladimir Klitschko, November 2012
Pre-fight Record: 27 wins from 27
Best Win Pre-fight: Jason Gavern
Outcome: Klitschko by decision after 12 rounds
Few challengers have done less to deserve a heavyweight title shot than Mariusz Wach. The Polish fighter had only two wins of stature: one over Gavern, a gatekeeper and nothing more, and one over 6'8" Tye Fields, who never matched the inherent hype of his size.
Wach did have seven stoppage wins in a row going into the title fight and, standing just over 6'7" and a lean 251 pounds, he made for a formidable-looking opponent.
On the night, Wach put up an incredibly brave stand to last the full distance despite taking sustained punishment from the heavy hands of Wladimir.
The challenger had a brief moment of glory in the fifth round when he hurt Klitschko near the end of the chapter, but there wasn't enough time before the bell for him to follow it up and push for a shock knockout.
Normal service resumed after that, and a lesser man would have thrown in the towel long before the final bell. The Pole heard that bell, which is an achievement of sorts given that seven of Klitschko's previous eight opponents had been stopped.
Wach can ultimately be pleased with his showing, albeit that this was only relative to his extremely low credibility as a challenger. He was big, brave and hard to shift, but totally out of his depth as a boxer. He has not fought since losing to Klitschko.
6. Kevin Johnson
Fought Against: Vitali Klitschko, December 2009
Pre-fight Record: 22 wins, 1 draw
Best Win Pre-fight: Robert Hawkins
Outcome: Klitschko by decision after 12 rounds
Like Wach, Kevin Johnson was able to see out 12 rounds in a world-title fight, with his challenge coming against older brother Vitali Klitschko.
Unlike Wach, Johnson showed absolutely no ambition in the fight and never came close to troubling Vitali and that puts him further up the list of the worst challengers.
The American goes by the nickname of "Kingpin," but his performance on the biggest stage of his career— covering up and pawing Vitali away with his jab without throwing many punches—earned him the unofficial tag of "Safety-Pin."
Johnson really hadn't earned the right to be there, his best wins coming against superior journeymen like Robert Hawkins and Robert Wiggins, as well as guys with pretty but thin records like Devin Vargas and Damian Wills.
In the last two years Johnson has become a superior journeyman himself, going on the road to lose to the likes of Tyson Fury, Christian Hammer and Dereck Chisora.
His one good win since 2009 came against Saturday's challenger Alex Leapai. That's how bad Leapai is—he was stopped by a guy who lost every single round against Vitali Klitschko.
5. Shannon Briggs
Fought Against: Vitali Klitschko, October 2010
Pre-fight Record: 51 wins, 5 defeats, 1 draw
Best Win Pre-fight: Siarhei Liakhovich (albeit way back in 2006)
Outcome: Klitschko by decision after 12 rounds
Shannon Briggs is the third and final challenger on the list who managed to go the full distance. However, he's the worst of those who did, because quite frankly the fight should have been stopped.
Briggs had the best career at heavyweight of this not-so-magnificent seven but by 2010 his best days were behind him. He had beaten an aged George Foreman in 1997, challenged for a belt against Lennox Lewis in 1998 and briefly held the WBO title in 2006 after beating Liakhovich.
Even so, Briggs had not registered a decent win since losing his belt to Sultan Ibragimov in mid-2007— by 2010 he had therefore gone over three years without beating a recognised contender and had by then turned 38 years old.
Vitali enacted a one-sided beatdown on Briggs, who was extremely game but couldn't offer much in terms of meaningful resistance.
As the fight wore on, Briggs took far too many clean shots, and the referee or his corner should have saved him further punishment by calling it off. Given Vitali's iron chin, Briggs simply didn't have the power to turn the fight back in his favour with one big punch—his was truly a lost cause.
Incredibly, Briggs, now 42, is continuing to call for a fight against Wladimir Klitschko, even though he still hasn't won a significant fight since 2006.
4. Albert Sosnowski
Fought Against: Vitali Klitschko, May 2010
Pre-fight Record: 45 wins, 2 defeats, 1 draw
Best Win Pre-fight: Danny Williams
Outcome: Klitschko by stoppage in Round 10
Vitali Klitschko fought Albert Sosnowski after Johnson and before Briggs in what is arguably the worst run of three defences by a legitimate world heavyweight champion.
Sosnowski came into the bout as the European champion, but that was a fairly meaningless title given that he had just claimed the vacant belt against the six-times beaten Paolo Vidoz.
Otherwise Sosnowski's record boasted a win over a faded Danny Williams and a draw with the then-unbeaten Francesco Pianeta.
At the time plenty of people couldn't believe that a guy who had lost to journeyman Zuri Lawrence within the previous two years was getting a title shot.
Sosnowski did show up in tremendous shape and with the will to win, but such efforts were pathetic in the face of the imperious Vitali.
Bad Left Hook's Scott Christ pulled as few punches as the champion, calling it a "garbage fight" and "a blatant mismatch," adding that the challenger "never had a chance."
Such unfortunate truths push Sosnowski below those who went the distance. Since his loss to Vitali, the Pole has been pretty inactive, his most notable contest being a Round 12 KO loss to Alexander Dimitrenko for the European title.
3. Manuel Charr
Fought Against: Vitali Klitschko, September 2012
Pre-fight Record: 21 wins from 21
Best Win Pre-fight: Taras Bidenko
Outcome: Klitschko by technical stoppage in Round 4
Manuel Charr is one of the harder boxers on this list to rank because his fight against Vitali was stopped due to cuts early on but, having gone into the title clash with a hopelessly weak record, he definitely earns his place.
Yes, he had 21 wins from 21 but Charr hadn't fought anyone in the Top 25, and although rankings don't really go that far, he maybe hadn't fought anyone in the Top 50.
This was to prove Vitali's last fight, and it was a rather sour note to go out on—beating a dreadful opponent on an unsatisfying cuts-related stoppage.
Charr had been down in the second round, and the vociferous way in which he protested the stoppage—as though he had any chance of winning—saw the self-described "Diamond Boy" make a ludicrous spectacle of himself on the big stage.
To be fair, the Germany-based Lebanese is the only fighter on the list to do better after his title shot than he did before, scoring five wins at a decent level. Aged 29, it is possible that Charr will come again, although it's hard to see him ever breaking the Top Five.
However, for being terribly out of his league, offering no resistance and getting stopped in four, Charr is the worst of Vitali's hall of shame opponents.
2. Francesco Pianeta
Fought Against: Wladimir Klitschko, May 2013
Pre-fight Record: 28 wins, 1 draw
Best Win Pre-fight: Matt Skelton (albeit in 2009)
Outcome: Klitschko by stoppage in Round 6
Although Francesco Pianeta had never fought at even fringe world-level, he had at least been around the European scene for about five years prior to fighting Wladimir.
In 2009 Pianeta battled to a draw with Sosnowski before beating former world-title challenged Matt Skelton.
However, the Italian then didn't really do anything meaningful in 2010 and 2011, and it wasn't until 2012 that he beat two stars from the 1990s—Frans Botha and Oliver McCall.
That meant his best wins before facing Klitschko were over the 42-year-old Skelton and the 47-year-old McCall—hardly a convincing run.
Pianeta's challenge of Wladimir was notable for its pure futility. Even at 6'5" and 240 pounds, Pianeta was not a plausible challenger and could not even frustrate or ask questions of Klitschko.
After six dull, one-sided rounds, the Ukrainian lowered the boom on the Italian for a routine win. Pianeta comes out so badly because of just how plain ineffective he was on his big night—there were absolutely zero positives in his performance.
1. Jean-Marc Mormeck
Fought Against: Wladimir Klitschko, March 2012
Prefight Record: 36 wins, 4 defeats
Best Win Prefight: Fres Oquendo
Outcome: Klitschko by stoppage in Round 4
In pound-for-pound terms, Mormeck is the best fighter on this list. Unfortunately for him, in the heavyweight division, pure size far outweighs pound-for-pound skills.
Mormeck was a legitimate world-champion in the cruiserweight division, making his name with wins over Virgil Hill, Wayne Braithwaite and O'Neil Bell to unify titles.
It was David Haye, another cruiserweight who would turn heavyweight, who knocked Mormeck off his perch back in 2007.
Mormeck, aged 35, initially seemed to take that as his cue to retire, spending over two years out of the ring.
He returned as an unconvincing heavyweight, believing, correctly as it turned out, that he could parlay his former world-champion status into some decent paydays at the higher weight.
In 2010, Mormeck scored two controversial points wins on home turf in France against Fres Oquendo and Timur Ibragimov. That he was competitive against that duo proved Mormeck wasn't a terrible heavyweight but proved that he wasn't terribly good either.
Somehow despite not fighting in 2011, the 39 year-old Mormeck got his chance to face Wladimir. It was the mismatch of mismatches.
Wladimir at 6'6" towered over the 5'11" Mormeck with an additional 28-pound weight advantage. Mormeck's only plausible weapon as the smaller man would be speed, but pushing 40 years of age he didn't have that.
Even the most imaginative of people could not envisage a way that Jean-Marc Mormeck could beat Wladimir Klitschko. He tops this list for being a small, old, not quick and for not possessing a knock-out punch, or a prayer.