Heavyweight Leapai hopes to surprise the world
Flick through Alex Leapai's life story and it has the makings of a blockbuster movie, particularly if April 26 goes to plan for the heavyweight boxer.
Leapai will take on reigning world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 26 in Germany with hopes of a Hollywood ending.
For Leapai, it all started in Samoa, where he was born, before moving with his family to New Zealand when he was 4. then, at 11, to Australia, where he has been based ever since. As a youngster he took up boxing but, by the time he got to 16, his father had halted the hobby so Leapai could concentrate on school.
It didn't work. Leapai went on to find trouble, and plenty of it.
He immersed himself in drugs and alcohol, and also had a problem with violence. He tried to play rugby league, but was banned for assaulting a referee. Leapai was often in trouble and the assaults kept coming, until a nasty one involving a bouncer when he was 24 pushed it all over the edge.
"I ended up inside. I ended up taking out a few bouncers and actually hurt one of them bad. I ended up doing a bit of time, just six months in jail," he told The Southland Times yesterday.
"One of the hardest things, too, was that when I went into jail my wife was eight months' pregnant to my fourth kid. It ruined me, thinking ‘what am I doing in here?' "
It was the sight of his parents crying in the courtroom when the sentence was handed down that really prompted him to change things in his life.
"When I was inside jail, I got close to the Lord. I just got on my knees and prayed to him to give me a second chance and help me out, and when I got out of that place somehow he pointed me to go back to the boxing."
Leapai took his first tentative steps back into the boxing game when he made his professional debut on July 30, 2004, at the Broncos Leagues Club in Queensland.
He fought a six-round draw against Mark de Mori, with few signs that he would one day compete for the world heavyweight title.
During the next decade Leapai has made the 90-minute journey to trainer Noel Thornbury's place. They are the kilometres and hours of hard work that most people have never seen, but Leapai says they have helped to propel him to the point he is now - one win away from being crowned a world champion.
"I've been doing it for the last eight or nine years, my car's broken down probably nine or 10 times, but it didn't stop me pushing for that dream."
Leapai has also put himself on the world stage while working fulltime. Up until just a couple of months ago he held down a fulltime delivery job, juggling that with his family commitments and boxing aspirations.
His big break came in November, when he registered a big upset over the previously unbeaten Denis Boytsov in Germany in a title eliminator bout. It was a victory that brought about the date with Klitschko.
Most importantly, a victory would be for those who are struggling and need some inspiration.
"Hopefully, people can say ‘that guy hit rock bottom, but he got back up and look at him now'."
- © Fairfax NZ News