By Jake Donovan
Tony Thompson knew better than to expect anything but the unexpected. It was how he was able to overcome a brief hailstorm before knocking out David Price in their first fight earlier this year.
It was how he was able to climb off the canvas to eventually repeat the trick Saturday evening.
"I would be a liar if I said I did not have butterflies before,” Thompson admitted after his 5th round knockout, once again in Price’s hometown of Liverpool, England. “David scares the hell out of me, he is a good strong boxer. But he brought out the f***ing best out of me. Can you say f*** (on TV)?"
It was probably what was going through Price’s mind after watching his career prospects go down the drain, as well as the minds of the rest of the top heavyweight contenders.
The Brit didn’t stick around for post-fight interviews, though Thompson’s candid commentary told the entire story. A 41-year old heavyweight emphatically shut down twice at the world title stage somehow still has every reason to gloat.
Meanwhile, a previously unbeaten prospect heading into 2013 now has to sit with his team and think long and hard about whatever future he may or may not have in the sport.
Price and his handlers didn’t necessarily have to opt for the immediate rematch, but chose to go that route to prove a point. The 6’8” slugger came in with high praise heading into this year, believed to be among a new breed of British heavyweights.
The knockout loss to Thompson earlier this year took some wind out of those sails. Saturday’s result simply clarified his role as Britain’s latest horizontal heavyweight, while lending further confirmation to the suggestion that Thompson warrants strong consideration as best of the rest – as in the best heavyweight not in the Klitschko family.
“I got beat by the best in the world, and as you’ve seen, if you take one step below the best, which I think David is, he’s just a step below, you’re not going to beat me,” Thompson insists, the first part of the statement a reference to last year’s 6th round knockout loss to Wladimir Klitschko.
The loss was his second in as many tries against the younger Klitschko, this time far more humbling than their first fight. The second attempt came in part due to a four-fight knockout streak which led to a mandatory ranking, and also due to the suggestion that he has given Klitschko his toughest challenge in his current title reign, which passed seven years this past April.
Thompson’s effort in last year’s rematch with Klitschko was far more one-sided than his first trip to Germany three years prior. But put him against any other heavyweight, and the American southpaw flourishes.
“I’m over that step,” Thompson says of the rest of the heavyweight competition. “I prove that time and time again.”
There exists a pack of fighters who may take exception to that claim, none of whom Thompson is averse to facing.
There is Alexander Povetkin, who challenges the younger Klitschko on October 5, a world title fight five years in the making. There is Kubrat Pulev, who can’t seem to get a top heavyweight in the ring with him while awaiting a shot at the winner of the aforementioned October 5 lineal heavyweight championship contest.
David Haye had his chance to make a statement against Klitschko and predictably choked, but like Thompson continues to dominate the rest of the field. Tyson Fury is making a lot of noise with his fists and his mouth, but pulling out of a Pulev fight wasn’t the best way to back up those claims.
The 6’9” heavyweight is coming off of a 7th round knockout of Steve Cunningham, climbing off the canvas to score the dramatic stoppage in his U.S. debut earlier this year. The dismal attendance and modest ratings suggest he’s better served to remain at home until building up a more extensive fan base.
Thompson has grown accustomed to traveling to his opponent’s backyard. His past three fights – two with Price and last year’s rematch with Klitschko – have taken place in Europe. Given the heavyweight landscape in the U.S., Thompson is well aware of where the money lies.
“This (win) leaves me looking for title shots, or if I don’t get title shots, fights for the title,” Thompson says of his immediate future. “I would love to fight Tyson Fury over here (in England), or in Vegas or anywhere that big pussy wants to fight. He’s been mouthing off about me, my age, whatever, Tyson Fury let’s get it on man!
“Or if I can’t get him in the ring, because I know he’s going to run, c’mon Vitali, you’re fighting guys you know ain’t got no shot to beat you. Fight some guys with height and experience like myself!”
The idea of facing the Klitschko who hasn’t yet beaten you sounds appealing, but comes with a major obstacle to overcome. The elder Klitschko remains in negotiations with another resurgent heavyweight for a mandatory title fight. Bermane Stiverne has come all the way back after falling far from earlier career accolades as a future heavyweight force. The Canadian boxer worked his way to a title shot after soundly outpointing Chris Arreola earlier this year.
His fight with Klitschko will eventually head to a purse bid, which means two more heavyweights the 41-year old can’t sink his teeth into in the foreseeable future. Until something else materializes, Thompson can take comfort in further evidence provided that he remains among the best of the rest.
The heavyweight division has reached a point where there exists the legitimate question of whether or not there’s anyone left capable of beating Wladimir Klitschko.
With a third fight unlikely and his continued success outside the very top, the other divisional question is whether or not there exists such a fighter capable of beating Tony Thompson.
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.