- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko will make his 16th title defense when he faces Alex Leapai, one of his mandatory challengers, on April 26 in at the König-Pilsener-Arena in Oberhausen, Germany, K2 Promotions announced Monday.
The Klitschko and Leapai camps had agreed to a deal several weeks ago, which allowed them to avoid a purse bid, but it has now been signed.
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.
Boytsov had been one of Klitschko's mandatory challengers and the fight was on track to take place in March. But Boytsov's handlers wanted to keep him busy and he took on Leapai in what was supposed to be routine victory.
It turned out to be anything but as Leapai roughed up Boytsov. He knocked Boytsov down twice and easily won a unanimous decision. The loss knocked Boytsov from the mandatory position and even though it had not been an official elimination bout, Leapai was installed as the new mandatory challenger to replace Boytsov.
Klitschko (61-3, 52 KOs), 37, of Ukraine, told ESPN.com in December that he had never heard of Leapai until after he defeated Boytsov. But that win made an impression on him.
"It impressed me how Alex Leapai dominated Boytsov," Klitschko said in announcing the fight. "He has shown strong punching power and a lot of heart. But, moreover, that he can take a punch and feels confident in the role of the underdog. I will be very focused and prepare myself 100 percent as always and will look forward to this next challenge."
Other than Boytsov, the 6-foot, 245-pound Leapai, a professional since 2004, has never beaten a top contender, although he is riding a five-fight winning streak since suffering a ninth-round knockout loss in Australia to American Kevin Johnson in April 2012. Johnson once challenged Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's older brother, for his version of the heavyweight title and lost a near-shutout decision to him in 2009.
"People talk about how great Wladimir is and the 61 victories he has had in his career. I, on the other hand, think of the fact that he has been comprehensively KO'd three times by people who cannot punch nearly as hard as me," Leapai said. "I will break Wladimir and it will not be my hardest fight."
Klitschko, 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. The 6-6, 245-pound Klitschko is 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).
"Wladimir has proven to be the most dominant heavyweight champion in recent memory and we are looking forward to another great performance and victory on April 26," K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler said.
Wladimir Klitschko will defend his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles against Australian challenger Alex Leapai in Oberhausen, Germany, on April 26.