Steve Bunce on Boxing: World champion Wladimir Klitschko lines up another patsy while veteran Shannon Briggs taunts him for a chance to take title back to US
In the last 10 years the Ukrainian has dismantled the American heavyweight system
Thursday 24 April 2014
On Saturday Wladimir Klitschko will have his 25th world heavyweight title fight and once again the man coming from the opposite corner is unknown, expected to lose and getting paid a small fortune for being hit.
It is not Klitschko’s fault that during the past 10 years he has painfully dismantled the last ramparts of the old American system, shredding the champions, contenders and dreamers like so many balloons in the jaws of demented crocodiles.
On Saturday in Oberhausen, Germany, Klitschko takes on a once wayward street fighter from Samoa called Alex Leapai, who is now a church deacon at a tiny enclave called Logan City in Australia. Leapai’s best punch, and his only chance of victory, is called the Samoan Bowler – a big right given that wondrous sobriquet after he played in church cricket matches.
Klitschko has ruled ruthlessly during his second reign as world champion and this is his 17th consecutive championship fight since 2006; Klitschko has beaten into bloody submission eight Americans during this spell, stopping every single one of them, and did the same to five others during his first years as champion.
Leapai follows Russian Alexander Povetkin, Italy’s Francesco Pianeta and Poland’s Mariusz Wach into the ring with Klitschko, and officially the previous trio managed to win a grand total of one round between them. All three were unbeaten before being ruthlessly exposed by Klitschko, who really is a fine technician and not just a safety-first boxer.
However, there is good news for American heavyweights with the suggestion that the WBC are desperate to keep their world title out of Klitschko’s hands and at the centre of fights involving Americans in America. The WBC belt was discarded by Wladimir’s brother Vitali last year when he joined protesters behind the Kiev barricades; he is now a member of Ukraine’s parliament and leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party.
The vacant WBC title will be fought for in Los Angeles on 10 May when local boy Chris Arreola meets Las Vegas-based Haitian Bermane Stiverne. The winner already has one challenger in Deontay Wilder, who won a final eliminator in March, and just to make sure that the belt stays in America, Bryant Jennings meets Miami-based Cuban Mike Perez on May 24 in another WBC eliminator. The WBC belt is not coming back to Europe anytime soon.
“The world wants the heavyweight championship of the world back in America with an American as champion,” said Shannon Briggs, the last American world heavyweight champion. “I will bring the title back to the people because it is for the people and I’m the only man that can do it. Wlad knows that and is avoiding me.”
Four weeks ago Briggs, who is 42 and once beat George Foreman for a version of the world title in 1997, met Klitschko in a Los Angeles gym where they exchanged insults before Briggs threw a training shoe at him. “It missed, but he got the message,” said Briggs, who lost his WBO title in 2006 and lost on points to Vitali for the WBC title in 2010. Briggs won in the first round last Saturday night (his second first-round win in eight days) to stay in contention in a boxing world that often makes no sense.
After the fight he flew to Germany and disrupted Klitschko’s final press conference on Tuesday, taking off his shirt and once again challenging Wladimir (and Leapai) to fight him – in the process, of course, getting all the cameras to focus on him. Briggs, who has won 32 times in the first round, is probably too old now and did take a steady beating from Vitali. But he fought without fear and so, it seems, does Leapai.
He has been a nuisance in his time; he was involved on the fringes of Samoan bike gangs, he was in prison for an assault on a bouncer and his new-found faith combine to make him a fearless challenger. “Too many men go in with Klitschko and freeze – I will not do that, I will keep throwing punches,” said Leapai.
Leapai was picked as an easy target the last time he was in Germany and shared the ring with the avoided and feared Russian Denis Boytsov, who was unbeaten in 34 fights, 26 of them knockouts. Boytsov was next in line for Klitschko; negotiations had started before Leapai did a job on him and that is why he is challenging this Saturday.
However, Boytsov is not a Klitschko, not even close, and there is no chance that Wladimir has underestimated Leapai. It will be a hard night again for the man facing Klitschko, and that is likely to be the story for a long time yet.
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