World heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s 16th title defense will be televised in the United States live on ESPN after the network reached a deal on Wednesday with IMG, the company selling the international rights for the bout.
Contracts are not signed yet, but both sides told ESPN.com that they have agreed to the television deal for Klitschko’s mandatory defense, which will come against Alex Leapai on April 26 at the König-Pilsener-Arena in Oberhausen, Germany.
By securing the rights to the fight ESPN will be televising two heavyweight title bouts in two weeks, although Klitschko is the recognized champion and has been for years. A few weeks ago, ESPN made a deal to televise live the May 10 rematch between Bermane Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KOs) and Chris Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs), who meet at the Galen Center on the campus of USC in Los Angeles for the belt that Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir’s older brother, vacated in December.
“With our coverage of the Stiverne-Arreola heavyweight title match on May 10th, we want to give boxing fans the complete heavyweight picture with a fight that features the other three major belts,” ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions Brian Kweder said of Klitschko-Leapai. “Two heavyweight championship fights in two weeks is just too good to pass up. We are working on finalizing the deal.”
In addition to airing on the main ESPN channel (5 p.m. ET), the fight will also air on ESPN Deportes in Spanish and be available on WatchESPN. ESPN will have its own announcers call the bout rather than rely on K2 Promotions’ English-language international feed.
“I think it’s perfect, the best I could imagine,” Klitschko manager Bernd Boente said of the deal with ESPN. “Wladimir is very happy. ESPN is the No. 1 sports station worldwide and to cover two heavyweight title bouts in two weeks, I think that’s a dream come true. As always, we wait until the fight is over and, knock on wood, Wladimir will win the fight, but after that it’s not a secret that he would like to fight the [Stiverne-Arreola II] winner.”
Leapai (30-4-3, 24 KOs), 34, a native of Samoa living in Australia, came out of nowhere to be appointed as the mandatory challenger by the WBO after scoring a major upset of Russian Denis Boytsov on Nov. 23 in Bamberg, Germany.
Klitschko (61-3, 52 KOs), 38, who is in his second title reign, will be fighting in his 25th heavyweight championship bout. The 1996 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist is 22-2 with 17 knockouts in world title bouts and coming off a shutout decision victory against Alexander Povetkin, whom he knocked down four times, on Oct. 5 in Moscow.
Klitschko, whose current reign began with a seventh-round knockout of Chris Byrd in April 2006, has held a heavyweight title longer than anyone in boxing history other than Joe Louis (nearly 12 years) and has made the third most title defenses in heavyweight history, trailing only Louis (25, a record in any division) and Larry Holmes (20).