Alex Leapai aiming to make history in world title fight
SAMOAN-born and Brisbane-raised heavyweight boxer Alex Leapai can create history in his world title fight against Ukrainian super champion Wladimir Klitschko in Germany on April 27.
If Leapai wins, he will become Australia's first heavyweight boxing champion.
He secured his dream fight by beating Russian Denis Boytsov, also in Germany, in November last year.
That victory capped a remarkable turnaround for the humble truckie, who did jail time in 2005 for assault.
After seeing his parents break down in the court room, then putting on 20kg behind bars, Leapai found guidance in God, his family and close allies upon entering the free world again.
I caught up with the 110kg powerhouse, who carries some of the most powerful fists in the world, to discuss his rags to riches story, soon after signing the contract to take on a legend.
Alex, do you feel like you can really set up dominance in this sport after this fight, if the result does go your way?
"Mate, I look at Tyson, and he was only a short fighter. He dominated for so many years. He had the power and I've got the power too, I've got the aggression.
"I've got some of those punches that all these heavyweights, they hate them.
"And trust me, when they land, you won't see them for a couple of weeks."
Do you enjoy all this media stuff?
"To be honest it's not my thing, but I'm letting the world know I'm here to fight.
In saying that, you seem confident enough in talking up your ability to fight …
"You've got to believe in yourself. We've got what it takes to overcome the champion. It's just a matter of doing all the little things right and getting the right sparring partners and training hard."
Noel (trainer Noel Thornberry) was saying you're going to be looking for real big boppers in your sparring sessions. You must be looking forward to that challenge over the coming months …
"We'll get a few big punchers and guys the same height as Wladimir. If they get knocked out in sparring, that's all part of it.
"We might get three or four guys in."
The extra height of Wladimir - will that bother you?
"No. The height thing doesn't bother me. We're all made equal. Everybody's got a weakness and on the night I'll definitely find that."
So you won't be afraid to get right up under his nose on the night?
"My style has always been an in-your-face type style - I've never feared anybody. And it's always to wear them down and take advantage."
You said this won't be your hardest fight - why is that, and why do you bring so much confidence against a legend of the game?
"Well, you've got to think like that and think positive. When you start doubting yourself you might lose the fight.
"Records don't mean anything. It's going to be a good challenge for me. It's very important for me to win this fight.
"That's because I've done some bad things in life. But to be able to turn it all around and to get here is the icing on the cake and proof that you can change.
"Some battlers out there think there's no hope. But I'm here to say there is hope."
How proud of yourself are you for changing your mentality around, and who are some of the people that helped you bounce back?
"My parents. I was always like 'what would they know? But they were right.
"Noel Thornberry made me mentally strong and Phil Murphy my sponsor at Oxmar Properties. These guys never gave up on me and I'm not going to give up on them.
"It's not always about the physical side of the game. If your mind is strong, you can dominate anyone."
Being a delivery driver for so long has helped you stay grounded …
"Yeah … I don't want to break the promise I made to my parents. That's what makes me determined to keep going.
"We're there now - it's just that one little step to go."
You're not daunted about fighting in Germany in front of some hostile fans again are you?
"Last time I fought there the crowd was really good and I ended up winning them over. I have a feeling I'll do the same this time.
"This guy's always dominated in Germany and it's about time someone goes over there and dominates him.
"If I can hopefully win this time, I can win the whole world over."
Those fists - you strongly believe they're the most powerful fists in the world?
"I've broken my hand a couple of times because once this overhand goes up it comes down with real bad intentions. Sometimes my hands just can't handle it.
"So I've got to strap them up really good.
"We have to be on top of strapping the hands."
And you like being the underdog …
"I love being the underdog. People are asking 'who's this guy, but on this night, people will say I knocked him out.
"I'm just an Aussie battler. Nothing special.
"If I have to knock him out to let people know who I am, I'll do it."
Tell us about your following in Samoa - you're a national hero over there …
"I'm going back there in a couple of weeks to get the blessing from King and PM. It means lot to them.
"It's not every day that you see an Australian-Samoan fighting the best in world.
"These titles held by the greats, (Muhammad) Ali, (Mike) Tyson and (Lennox) Lewis, that's why it's so important.
"And to have an Aussie-Samoan holding that title, mate, it will mean lots to them."
You must get swamped everywhere you go in Samoa …
"Well, I don't take anything too seriously. Nothing changes. I'm still a normal bloke.
"I just do my normal routine. Lunches and taking the kids to school.
"I'm just a battler and I'm trying to put food on table for the kids. Nothing special.
"The fame and fortune stuff - that's all for the guys who are single and have nothing better to do.
"For me I've got six kids and I've got to make sure they're alright."
Is it hard to switch between being humble, and stepping up and promoting yourself?
"Today I spoke from heart. I don't make up anything. I just tell you guys how I feel and this is what's going to happen."
Creating history - you mentioned Ali and all the greats. How humbling would that be for you?
"It'll make my kids proud and help my family. Knowing 100 years down track my grandkids and great-grandkids will know I was the champion and took down the legendary Klitschko.
"It's not about the money. I really want to make history and I've got the opportunity to do it."
How did you get into boxing?
"It was always my dad's game - he used to be a heavyweight fighter.
"I did it when I was younger - I had nine amateur fights, then Dad got me focussed on school.
"But it was only when I was 26 and went to court and did all the bad things ... I saw Mum and Dad crying. And thought I thought 'hang on I've got to do something'.
"Suddenly the Lord has put me back here on this track and somehow I fell back into boxing, and I didn't know how good I had it.
"Things happen for a reason. You've got to grab your second chance, and I grabbed it with two hands."