THERE was a time where Alex Leapai stop atop of the heavyweight division in Australia.
Fresh off an upset win over the undefeated Denis Boytsov in Germany, Leapai earned an unlikely shot at long-ruling lineal heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. That highly publicised Cinderella story marked the pinnacle of what was a ten year milestone for the Samoan born mauler, who became the first Australian to challenge for a heavyweight world title in 106 years.
Almost four years and a shortly-lived retirement later, Leapai (now 30-7-3, 24 KOs) looks to make a second run towards heavyweight world title honours, starting with his eight round comeback fight against New Zealand novice Thomas Peato at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on Saturday night for DDP Sports Management.
Leapai, now 37, cites an unfulfilled promise to his late father, who passed away just hours after he announced his retirement in 2015, as one of the main reasons for returning to the hurt business.
“The passion has always been there,” said Leapai, a father of six, to Aus-Boxing. “Since my father passed away, I’m just more determined now than ever to fulfil my dream. I made a promise to my dad that I would be world champion – now dad has gone – I want to do it for myself; I want to do it for my kids.”
“I’m more determined now because maybe I was doing it just for my dad before. Now it’s for me, my family, for my kids. So I now want to fulfil my goal – why I started all along – to become a world champion. I had no idea that my father was going to pass away five hours after I was to announce my retirement.”
“I couldn’t really come to terms with that, I guess having this break was the best thing for me. I think mentally I had to get my mind clear. I have been missing the game. It’s been two years now since my last fight. When the fire is still burning and it’s telling me to get back in the ring.”
“Every time I see someone fighting I’m thinking, ‘I can beat that bloke’. That is the reason I’m now back, I need to finish what I started. I know what it takes because I’ve been there, I just need to work harder this time and I need to fight smarter this time.”
Leapai’s return to the ring will see the former world title challenger reunite with long-time trainer/manager and Queensland boxing index Noel Thornberry, who has guided Leapai’s professional since his fourth professional fight in 2005. The familiarity of their relationship is something Leapai speaks fondly of.
However, Leapai admits there was an initial feeling out period when he strolled back into Thornberry’s gym nine months ago.
“I’ve been with Noel for over ten years now and he is a very smart man,” he recalled. “He’s not just a trainer – he is a businessman – and he has a business mind. He got me there; he got me a shot at a world title against one of the best fighters in this era. He won’t let me fight until he knows himself that I’m ready.”
“When he first saw me, when I went back into the gym nine months ago, his jaw dropped. I just let myself go, I let myself go too much. When I walked in that day I was 142 kilograms, to give you an idea, for my last fight I was 115 kilograms. Right now, I’m the lightest I have been since I fought Boytsov and I’m still working hard on getting it down.”
“We need to fight as much as possible and make up for lost time. We should have something scheduled for November and maybe something again in December. We can’t afford to have fights too far apart; we need to get right back on a roll again. I need to get my timing and distance back. The only way to get timing and distance is to keep fighting.”
With the potential to have three more fights under his belt before the year is out, Leapai has plans to become a player in the heavyweight division, just as he was four years prior. Boxing is all about relevance and Leapai sees a fight against long-time rival Lucas Browne as the quickest way to earn notoriety in his comeback.
“I’ve called out Lucas Browne, but at the end of the day he is an Australian too, and we support each other,” he concluded. “Any Australian that fights for a world title, we should get behind them. But it’s a good fight; it’s a fight to see who is the best heavyweight in the country. At the end of the day we are in the fight game.”
“It’s a fight that should happen down the track. He is leading by example – he’s been flying the flag – but eventually we should have a big domestic fight here.”
“I know Lucas would get in there looking for the knockout and trust me; I would be going in there to knock him out too. I’d be going in there to knock his head off.”
Tickets for “It’s Time” are available from Ticketek.com.au starting from $59.10. The card will be broadcast live and free on Epicentre.TV beginning at 7:00pm (AEST).