ON TARGET: World heavyweight title contender Alex Leapai (left) spars with trainer Noel Thornberry in Toowoomba.
ON TARGET: World heavyweight title contender Alex Leapai (left) spars with trainer Noel Thornberry in Toowoomba. Nev Madsen

Team Leapai focused despite delay in deal

THE on-again, off-again nature of Alex Leapai's heavyweight world title fight negotiations is no distraction to either fighter or trainer.

The bout, expected to be held in Germany on April 26, was supposed to be announced earlier this week.

But now Gatton-based trainer Noel Thornberry expects it to be announced mid-week next week.

"We just need a few amendments," Thornberry said of the fight contract, which he has viewed and sent back to the lawyers to sort out the finer points.

"Alex is great.

"He's still doing strength and conditioning and will for another three weeks."

Nothing can distract the committed pair from their goal, the seeds of which were sown the first time Thornberry saw a raw Leapai fight.

"The first time I saw Alex fight was at the Mansfield Tavern against Ivan Kulkov," Thornberry said.

"Kulkov had had about 100 amateur fights.

"He shouldn't have fought him because it was only Alex's second or third fight. He lost but I could just see he had something."

One fight later, Leapai joined the Thornberry stable, on the recommendation of one of Thornberry's two world champions, Maselino Masoe.

Masoe was Samoa's first world champion and was close to Leapai, who is fiercely proud of his Samoan heritage.

"His power was so obvious," Thornberry said of Leapai.

"His resilience was obvious.

"All the basic ingredients were there. He just had to find a way to develop it."

The admiration is mutual.

Leapai has said Thornberry was the best trainer he's had because he did not try to change him into something he wasn't.

"If you concentrate too much on your weaknesses, you'll neglect your strengths," Thornberry said.

"You've got to develop your natural abilities.

"Sometimes you can be surprised by how good you can be.

"People haven't seen the best of this guy. We've seen 40, maybe 50 percent of what he's capable of achieving."

Working on Leapai's strengths was one thing, improving his fitness was another area Thornberry had great success, turning him into a fighter capable of going the distance in a world title bout.

A change in diet overseen by Thornberry has seen Leapai's body fat go from 21.8 percent to 11.7 percent, despite putting on 3kg over the same period.



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