By Thomas Gerbasi
Pop quiz. What’s the one thing you thought you would never hear out of the mouth of an unbeaten and highly touted heavyweight prospect with less than 20 fights?
How about this, from the mouth of Liverpool’s David Price on a media teleconference earlier this week?
“I’m not fighting someone who’s guaranteed to make me look brilliant,” said the Brit, referring to the man he meets at Echo Arena in his hometown on February 23, two-time world title challenger Tony Thompson.
He’s right. Thompson, despite being 41 and coming off a sixth round TKO loss to Wladimir Klitschko (his second defeat to the current heavyweight champ), is the type of fighter that has the style that can spoil a perfect record or at least end a streak of knockout wins by delivering a defensive-minded performance that will garner more boos than cheers. Price knows this, but he took the fight anyway. In fact, it’s the kind of fight he demanded from promoter Frank Maloney.
“This is a fight that maybe I would have looked at three fights down the road, but after his last fight David sat down with me and said ‘Frank, I really want a test; I want to be put in with someone.’ And I admire that,” said Maloney, who once guided Lennox Lewis to the heavyweight crown. “We looked at a few opponents, we sat with his trainer, and eventually we came up with Tony.”
It’s a gutsy call for the 29-year-old Price, an Olympic Bronze medalist in the super heavyweight division who in just 15 fights has got an entire legion of boxing fans both in the UK and abroad excited about his potential for world title honors. ESPN.com recently named him Prospect of the Year for 2012, and as fans in the United States moan about the lack of serious up and comers in the heavyweight ranks, Price is fighting in big domestic fights and making all the right moves at precisely the right time.
And that’s why a year from now, he’ll be ready for a shot at the men at the top – most likely the reigning Klitschko brothers – while the American contingent continues to flounder. According to Thompson, who was also on the conference call with Price, it isn’t a question of talent, it’s the fact that the fighters at the top now are just better.
“The Americans had been dominating the heavyweight division for so long and now that we’re on the bottom, we can’t fathom that another guy from another country could actually be the best in the world, which Wladimir is,” said Thompson. “So it’s not a knock on American heavyweights. We have some very good heavyweights which I wish would fight each other more. It just so happens that none of them is as good as the best guy in the world, who happens to be from the Ukraine. I think it’s just a little bit of American arrogance to think that he can’t be the best.”
It’s also a case of American heavyweights not being moved correctly. Here, the top prospects usually get fed 20-25 easy marks before getting put in with someone who actually has a chance to win the fight, and often, that prospect will then get exposed, or at the very least discouraged from being as gung ho toward the sport as he was when he was blasting opponents out in a round or two.
Price, while getting his share of overmatched foes early on, was jumped up to another level fairly quick. Fights against journeymen like Raphael Butler, unbeaten fellow prospects like Tom Dallas, and domestic rivals like John McDermott and Sam Sexton put him in the spotlight and fighting for British titles, and with his blast outs of big names Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton in the last two of four 2012 wins, it was clear that he was ready for a step up, and Price knew it.
“I was an Olympic medalist and there was a lot of pressure on me, but it was good to be under the radar, and Frank let the leash off when the time was right,” said Price of his development.
Is it too much too soon though? Not according to the six-foot-eight, 250 pounder, who did admit to a little mental burnout leading up to the Skelton fight.
“The trouble with the Skelton fight is I had a massive buildup to the fight previous against Audley Harrison and got a big result, and I didn’t get the required amount of time to enjoy the win and switch off mentally,” said the 29-year-old. “I had to get straight back into the gym and concentrate on Matt Skelton straight away. Physically it wasn’t a problem, but mentally, the Skelton fight was a little bit difficult to get up for. But I still had to get in and do a job.”
He did, becoming just the third man to stop Skelton. Then it was time to enjoy the holidays and recharge his batteries.
“I took a little bit of a break, three weeks off, a nice little holiday away with my family, and that was the turning point for me,” said Price. “I came back to find out that I’m fighting a good fighter in Tony Thompson and that was all the motivation I needed. I’m fresh, I’m enjoying my training, and I’m excited about the fight.”
Price may be most excited about testing himself against a fighter who, as he pointed out, isn’t tailor-made for him to look good against.
“I’m fighting a tall southpaw who’s a good defensive fighter,” he said. “It’s gonna be a fight where I have to answer a lot of questions, I think.”
At least someone is asking them though, and asking them of someone willing to answer. That’s the difference between Price and so many of his peers. They only get asked the tough questions when it’s a big fight, the bright lights are on, and people have paid good money to see something that very often doesn’t get delivered. David Price only has 15 pro fights, he has never gone more than seven rounds in any one of those bouts, yet he’s going in with a seasoned vet who will probably show him things he’s never seen in a ring before.
But that’s what real fighters do. More importantly, it’s what realistic fighters do. Guys like Price know that not every fight will be a first round knockout, and better to deal with that reality now than in a world title fight that you’re not prepared for because you’ve been coddled up to that point.
“The way I look at it, I’m only gonna get one shot at this game, and it would be a shame to waste it,” said Price. “I never cheat in training or anything like that, so I’m convinced I’ll be okay to do the rounds. I’m only human. At the end of the day it’s impossible for me to knock everyone out, so Tony could be the man who I can’t get out of there, so it will be up to me to use my boxing for 12 rounds.”
It’s impossible not to respect that attitude. As for Maloney, he’s well aware of the kind of fighter he’s working with.
“I hate to think who he’s gonna name after this fight if he’s successful,” he said with a chuckle.