By Jake Donovan
Tempting fate has clearly never been an issue for Tony Thompson.
A rematch with David Price comes this Saturday at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England, the same hosting venue for his shocking 2nd round knockout of the unbeaten heavyweight prospect earlier this year. Another trip abroad is no big deal to the 41-year old southpaw, whose past three fights have taken place in Europe, as well as six of his past 11 dating back to 2007.
Two of the six trips were for separate fights with Wladimir Klitschko. Both occasions took place in July; both ended with Thompson suffering a stoppage loss, his only losses over the course of the past 13 years.
His lone other loss came way back in 2000, when Thompson was a “young” 28 and only five fights deep into his career. The rematch loss to Klitschko marked the 12-year anniversary to the day and also took place exactly 52 weeks ago come fight night.
Still, in 13 years nobody else has been able to do to Thompson what Klitschko was able to accomplish with relative ease. That statistic has him believing he still has plenty to offer the heavyweight division.
"I have lost three times - twice against Wladimir Klitschko and I think people forget that. That pisses me off,” Thompson points out. “Who has beaten Wladimir in ten years? Nobody. Who has test(ed) Wladimir the most in ten years? Me.”
The test to which Thompson refers came in their first fight, back in 2008. Klitshcko endured what remains arguably his most difficult night in office since reclaiming championships status more than seven years ago. The outcome was never in doubt, but Thompson actually made the best heavyweight in the world work for a win, rather than roll over like so many of Klitschko’s other foes during his current reign.
Thompson himself joined that list in the rematch, not putting up much of a challenge in last year’s lineal heavyweight championships contest before succumbing in six rounds. The night marked the second time in his career in which he was stopped, both times coming against Klitschko.
The second defeat was far more damaging to his career, given that it came three months shy of his 41st birthday. Thompson has always been regarded as young for his age and entered the rematch riding a five-fight knockout streak. He also entered on the heels of a 14-month period of inactivity, the longest of his career.
The latter wasn’t taken into consideration as much as his age and performance, both of which left most believing they’ve seen the best of Thompson. It was the line of thought heading into February’s showdown with Price; that an aged veteran was being served up to an up and coming prospect.
Thompson always remained confident in his own abilities, but wasn’t naïve enough to ignore the writing on the wall.
“This is my last chance saloon, but I don’t have to say that. It is clear and the only way I can change that is to win,” Thompson would say before the first fight. “I started boxing as a club fighter, but I am not going to finish my career that way. The fire is still there because I find it hard coming to grips knowing that if I lose to Price I have to quit. To stay on this big stage, I have to beat big time boxers like Price."
It took roughly five minutes of boxing time for that occasion to come, but a single right hand permanently changed the direction of the fight. Price barely made it to his feet, as he was deemed unfit to continue. Gone in an instant was his undefeated record and the lofty – if premature – expectations of the 6’8” prospect one day taking over the division.
The outcome is still discussed when conversation turns to the biggest upsets of 2013.
“I’m pretty desperate and desperate people do desperate things and I’m going to go out there and show that. My whole career has been a make or break fight. I hear David talk about being in a make-or-break fight and who needs it more," Thompson told the Liverpool Echo during the buildup to this weekend’s rematch, which airs live on Wealth TV in the United States.“I honestly feel like I need the fight more. That’s just how I feel.
“Yes David lost, but despite what I look like he didn’t lose to a guy with a losing record. He lost to somebody legitimate and he could use that loss, turn things around and still go on and do great things in boxing."
Despite the outcome of the first fight, the same is not necessarily said of Thompson.
A pair of convincing title fight losses to the current heavyweight king all but nullifies his chances of ever landing a third fight. He entered the February showdown with Price as a 12½-1 underdog. The odds for the rematch – closer to 3-1, though still in favor of Price - suggest the result of their first meet has been taken into consideration.
Thompson has no problem once again playing the role of underdog. What he has a problem with are those who feel as if the rematch is guaranteed to prove that the February result was a fluke and has no chance of a repeat.
“People who think I was lucky in our first fight (don’t) know s**t about fighting,” Thompson insits. “People want to make excuses about why people aren't successful, but people who tell David that aren't doing him any favors because I am a bad motherf***er and I am going to prove that.”
There’s no question that Price is well aware of his opponent’s status as a bad man. The Brit recognized something in his career needed fixing and has since turned to the wise words of retired former heavyweight king Lennox Lewis.
“It isn’t respect for me that he went to work with Lennox, but shows how seriously he takes his career,” Thompson acknowledges. “He will be getting great information from Lennox because he is an all time great and knows the game. Sometime you get you career to a certain level and you just can’t receive information and don’t even want to listen to a world champion.
“You think you know it all. You get beat and instead of changing things you go back with the same flaws. He is showing a willingness and that is a credit to David.”
While Thompson praises his opponent for recognizing the need for change, he too comes into the rematch a different fighter. Their first fight saw the D.C. native at a career heaviest 262 lb. Less disciplined heavyweights would accept the final outcome and believe that it could happen again with minimal effort put forth.
Instead, the aging southpaw whipped himself into physical shape for the sequel, and also mentally prepared for a completely different fighter standing opposite corner.
"He may count on my age factor and thinking I am still a little slow and out of shape. We have trained to walk straight to David and beat him up. We've also trained where he will be aggressive and we can capitalize on his mistakes. I will come to England still full of confidence, but it will take a lot longer than two rounds before I get the win.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.