By Nick Halling
It may have been a very small step against an undemanding opponent, but David Price has begun the process of rebuilding following his debut for Sauerland Promotions last month. Forget the result – a routine first round win over late and limited substitute Istvan Ruzsinszky– what matters most to the likeable Liverpool heavyweight is that, psychologically speaking, his career is back on the move after a truly dreadful 2013.
The bare bones of the story are well known. First the shocking loss to Tony Thompson in February, when he physically fell apart after being hit around the ear. The rematch in July was even worse, Price burning up nervous energy and seemingly running on empty before being stopped in five. From being hailed as a future successor to the Klitschko brothers, Price was ruthlessly dismissed as chinny, temperamentally suspect, washed-up, and the division appeared ready to move on without him.
But the one-time Olympic bronze medallist re-assessed his options, and made massive changes. Long-time trainer Franny Smith was relieved of his duties, promoter Frank Maloney opted for retirement, and Price was left with a clean slate.
“Parting with Franny was really tough,” he admitted. “We’re still very close, and I’ll always value his opinion. What happened wasn’t Franny’s fault: I will never say that. That was no-one’s fault but my own. But I knew I had to make changes, freshen things up. It was chaotic, inside and outside of the ring, but thankfully it is sorted now.”
The chaos wasn’t over that quickly, of course. The decision to move on from Smith, however difficult, was only the first step.
“I began doing a few sessions with some really good trainers in the UK, while Frank (Maloney) suggested bringing Tommy Brooks over. But I was still at the bottom of the ladder, not really sure of my future, and I was considering whether to stay with Frank or not. In the end, I think maybe he got wind of that, and decided it was time to retire. So that saved me a decision, but it also meant that Tommy Brooks was out of the equation.”
In came David Haye mentor Adam Booth, whom Price had worked with when he first turned professional.
“It was great being back with Adam, and I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed working with him,” said Price. “But let’s just say there was a business issue we couldn’t agree on and leave it at that. It became a short-term arrangement, just five weeks, and it ended up as another kick in the balls.
“I remembered what Frank had said about Tommy, and I also heard some good things about him from my old Olympic teammate Tony Jeffries, and Tony knows his onions. So Tommy came over and I was happy straightaway.
“Tommy’s old school. He doesn’t let you get away with anything in the gym. He has his own way of doing things. For example, if you make a mistake in sparring, he’ll stop it right there and correct you. At first I found that really frustrating, but now I just find I’m concentrating so much harder on not making mistakes, because I don’t want him to stop the spar. And I’m seeing the results. Tommy is the boss. I need someone to direct me and I haven’t got a problem with him.”
The current arrangement calls for Brooks to work directly with Price four or five weeks ahead of a fight. That timespan will increase as the fighter builds up to longer, more intensive training camps, but will probably not require much more than six weeks together at any given time. Foundation work is being done with Liverpool-based trainer Dave Tonks, who runs his own stable of boxers.
There is no place in the new regime for Lennox Lewis, who became a short-lived part of the team for the rematch with Tony Thompson. Again, there is no finger-pointing from Price.
“In hindsight, the timing was all wrong,” he admitted. “If anything he added to the pressure, and that wasn’t his fault, not at all. I’d been in awe of Lennox ever since I’d been a kid, and I wanted to do well to impress him as much as anything. It didn’t work out, but he gave me a lot of good advice, and there were certainly no hard feelings.”
With training sorted, the next piece of the jigsaw was getting the promotional side of the business back on track following Maloney’s retirement. That’s when Price threw his curveball and surprised everyone by signing with the Sauerland brothers.
“I spoke to all the usual suspects to see what they had to offer, and to be honest, I was very close to signing with Matchroom. But then at the last minute Kalle and Nisse (Sauerland) flew over to meet me. They had a plan for me they just completely won me over.
“The big thing was that I would be fighting abroad, in Germany or Scandinavia or wherever, rather than in Liverpool or the UK. That meant there would be a lot less pressure on me, and for the fight a couple of weeks ago, the buildup was totally different. It was night and day.
“Last month in Stuttgart, it was just great to be fighting abroad again for the first time since I turned professional. We all had a great time, everyone really enjoyed themselves. Franny (Smith) came over of his own accord just to support me, and that really meant a lot. We’re all looking forward to the next one.”
The brothers have every confidence in Price, while recognizing the need to rebuild slowly. The plan is for Price to be out again on March 8, with another fight in May.
Then, assuming all goes well, his fourth fight of 2014 will be in the autumn for a minor belt, to get him a world ranking once more.
“It’s about rebuilding, then taking off the leash. There are some big fights ahead for me, I hope,” said Price. “I want to get back up there, to have that pressure of a big fight, that expectation of fighting in front of a big crown in Liverpool.
“Even after I lost to Thompson for the second time, I never once thought it was time to finish. Again, with hindsight, it was a mistake to go for the rematch, but I said I wanted it, and that’s a fighter’s instinct for you. I didn’t feel like getting back into the gym for a long time afterwards, and yes, you do doubt yourself. But already, those days seem a long way away.”
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports. Tags: David Price