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Klitschko inspired by Hopkins

April 26, 2014
At 38, heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko has drawn motivation to keep fighting from watching Bernard Hopkins' historic run © Getty Images
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In near-solitude in the Austrian mountains, heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko was, as always, enjoying his training camp. Well, except for one thing.

He was unable to watch Bernard Hopkins unify light heavyweight titles with his masterpiece decision against Beibut Shumenov April 19 in Washington D.C.

Klitschko was in the final days of his preparation for title defence No. 16 - third-most in heavyweight history - which will come against mandatory challenger Alex Leapai of Australia on Saturday at the König-Pilsener-Arena in Oberhausen, Germany.

Television is not a training camp priority. But had the fight been available to him, Klitschko would have made time to watch Hopkins, a great fighter he has admired from afar for many years.

Klitschko is so enamored with what Hopkins has been able to do at such an advanced boxing age - still going strong at 49 - that before submitting to a formal interview about his own upcoming fight, he was far more interested in quizzing his questioner about the Hopkins bout, even though he had followed Twitter for round-by-round updates.

"How can you not be a fan of Bernard Hopkins? He is an inspiration to millions of people," said Klitschko, who has never met Hopkins. "The oldest champion [in boxing history]. It's amazing. It motivates me. I'm looking at myself at 38 and I feel better than ever - my speed, my reactions, my experience. I kind of get what Bernard is feeling. He has so much experience and knows what to do and what not to do. I get how he thinks. He is motivation for me."

Klitschko's interest in Hopkins might be bad news for the heavyweight division for years to come because he has no thoughts of retirement. He has been as dominant as ever during his second title reign, which on Tuesday reached the eight-year mark - the second-longest in heavyweight history behind only the 11 years, eight months, eight days that Joe Louis held the title.

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Klitschko, who is 22-2 with 17 knockouts in world title fights and owns a 1996 Olympic super heavyweight gold medal, has been all but untouchable in his 15 defenses since 2006, while unifying three major belts, becoming the lineal champion and taking on all comers. That Hopkins is still performing at such a high level has Klitschko thinking about trying to emulate boxing's No. 1 senior citizen.

"If I still have my health and motivation, why not?" Klitschko said. "It's not like I'm struggling. I'm really, really enjoying myself. Almost every second of my workouts, I am so happy to train and to do this sport.

"I'm a professional at this sport, and it's the best thing in life. I could do a lot of things in life, but this is the best. My congratulations to him and my respect for his ability and performance. He is a tremendous athlete, and he inspires me to see him doing what he is doing at his age."

While Klitschko (61-3, 52 KOs), of Ukraine, would never come out and say that he is stalking the Louis longevity record, he knows what it is, and because he sounded like a guy who plans to be around for years to come, the mark certainly could be in reach, with Louis' all-time boxing record of 25 title defenses also out there.

Next up is Leapai (30-4-3, 24 KOs), a strong and aggressive 34-year-old Samoan from Australia who was unknown to most in the boxing world outside of his home country until his previous fight, in November. That is when Leapai traveled to Germany, only his second bout outside of Australia, and scored a major upset.

Denis Boytsov had been Klitschko's mandatory challenger, but he took on Leapai in what was supposed to be a stay-busy fight. It turned out to be anything but. Leapai knocked Boytsov down twice and cruised to a lopsided 10-round decision in a shocker. Although the fight was not a formal title eliminator, the 6-foot, 245-pound Leapai was so impressive that the WBO installed him as the mandatory challenger. Klitschko, in fact, said he had never even heard of Leapai, who was knocked out by journeyman and former title challenger Kevin Johnson in 2012, until he was made the mandatory. Since then, Klitschko has done his homework on Leapai, whose troubles outside the ring have included a six-month prison stint, during which his son was born.

"Leapai has only one gear and that's throwing haymakers," Klitschko said. "He has no clue about strategy or anything in the way of technique and tactics. It's simple. One gear - move forward and swing and hope to land the right punch. But he's very strong. He has big guns and he throws them in different angles. He doesn't have great balance. Every fight I saw, he was on the floor because he swings so hard that he was losing balance because he put everything on every punch. I was sure Boytsov was going to be my mandatory. But credit to Leapai. He is highly motivated.

"The people in Australia are really rooting for him. They expect him to come back with the belts. He's a true Australian 'Rocky.' "

Like all Klitschko opponents, Leapai and his team talk a good game.

"I am here to win. I have been dreaming about this for many years," Leapai said. "Everybody will see this fight, and we will write history."

Said Noel Thornberry, his trainer: "Alex will be the first Australian heavyweight champion."

Klitschko, however, is the heavy favorite, as he always is. A win would mean a likely mandatory defense of another of his belts against Kubrat Pulev in his next fight. But the bout that he would most like - although he won't come out and say it - is a match against the winner of the May 10 bout between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola. Those two will be meeting for the belt that Klitschko's older brother, Vitali Klitschko, vacated in December to focus on his political career in Ukraine. It's the only belt Wladimir has never won, and he wants it to complete his collection.

"My attitude is to focus on Saturday and Leapai, but of course I know they are fighting," Klitschko said of Stiverne and Arreola. "I just wish the fighters good luck and that they come out without any injuries so they can defend the title soon. What that means, you know what I mean. The idea about it sounds exciting."

Meanwhile, Klitschko continues to plug away, inspired by Hopkins and hoping for a career that continues for years to come.

"It's not hard to find motivation because I am enjoying what I'm doing," Klitschko said. "I'm crying like a baby because my training camp is coming to an end. It's exciting times to be in the sport. I love to get ready. It's exciting and enjoyable to be a true professional.

"After the loss to Lamon Brewster [in 2004] I felt so bad. But I am thankful for that loss. What didn't kill me made me stronger. I have motivation to come back and be the best since that loss because everybody gave up on me. I know it could be over any second and that's why I enjoy my career for every second. And you know what? There are still improvements to make. I have much more capability and talent than I am showing in the ring."

For any heavyweight hopeful, that is a scary thought, especially if Klitschko keeps going for as long as Hopkins.

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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