Joseph Parker backing 'Samoan brother' Leapai
Kiwi boxer Joseph Parker is putting aside a lifelong admiration of Wladimir Klitschko to back his "Samoan brother" Alex Leapai in Sunday's world heavyweight title fight in Germany.
Parker fights Brazil's Luiz Nascimento on the undercard in Essen for the highlight of his young professional career.
He's got some mixed emotions about the main event, especially after meeting world champion Klitschko for the first time yesterday and eyeing the giant Ukrainian's four belts.
"Wladimir is very impressive, just the way he conducts himself," the 22-year-old Parker said of getting to chat to Klitschko, whom he had watched closely since he started boxing, looking to emulate some of the style and tactics from the tall fighter.
"I've watched all of his fights, but seeing him up close, you really see how impressive he is, as a person as well as a fighter in the ring.
"The way he presents himself and speaks and takes time out to sign autographs and have photos with people.
"I shook his hand and had a quick chat. He said he knew of me and about a couple of my fights which I thought was pretty cool." But Parker, a Kiwi-Samoan, hopes Samoan-born Australian Leapai can do the business.
"I always look up to Wladimir but when another brother is fighting him I have to back Alex," Parker said with seriousness.
Leapai, who spent time in New Zealand as a youngster before crossing the Tasman, is the second Samoan to challenge for the world title following David Tua's unsuccessful bid against British giant Lennox Lewis in 2000.
Parker got to know Leapai early in his pro career when they shared the same trainer in Maselino Masoe, Samoa's former WBA middleweight champion.
"Klitschko is a clever fighter and always comes prepared and in shape for every fight but Alex is in great shape as well," Parker said.
"It's going to be a tough fight. Alex is prepared and ready for the challenge. He seems relaxed so let's hope his head is in the right place." Parker has strong memories of watching Tua's Las Vegas title fight at an uncle's house in south Auckland.
"The whole family was there cheering David on. I can remember they were upset because he couldn't get in there and really mix it with Lewis. But David went the distance and did his best - you couldn't ask for much more." Conceding a similar height and reach advantage to Klitschko is going to be Leapai's greatest challenge. Parker expects Leapai to be aggressive and busy, looking to leave nothing out there in this rare opportunity.
"I know with their game plan Alex and his trainer Noel (Thornberry) have worked on a way to get inside. It will be good to see what they have been planning to do with Wladimir because he moves so well, dictates fights, and controls opponents in the ring.
"But I know it's a challenge that Alex is looking forward to." Parker continues to work on adjusting his own game plan with the late change of opponent presenting him with a taller challenge than Sherman Williams who has pulled out after a dispute with the Klitschko camp where he was helping with sparring.
* Duncan Johnstone travelled to Germany courtesy of Duco Events.