LONDON (Nov 15) - At the ripe old age of 32, Welsh enigma Bradley Pryce gets what will surely be a final bite at securing a title commensurate with his prodigious natural ability this weekend.
On Saturday evening, the one they call ‘Sugar Sweet’ challenges unbeaten Belarussian Sergey Rabchenko for the European light-middleweight crown in Vratsa, Bulgaria.
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A multiple British junior champion at the lauded Calzaghe gym in Newbridge, the father of three reigned for three years on the Commonwealth light-middle throne between 2006-09, successfully retaining his claim six times.
However, a world title opportunity proved elusive, his motivation started to wane and he gradually drifted into the role of a high class journeyman, losing eight of his last 15.
Belatedly, Lady Luck has chosen to shine on him. When French southpaw Cedric Vitu withdrew with a wrist injury last week, Pryce was sufficiently close to the 154lb division cut-off to step in as a late-notice replacement. He does not intend squandering his good fortune.
In search of the inside track, boxing writer Glynn Evans hunted down the challenger’s trainer Jamie Arthur – himself a Commonwealth champion in both the amateur and professional codes – to discuss Pryce’s condition, state of mind and prospects of success.
“I’ve known Bradley since I was a 13 or 14 year old amateur and I’d spar him and his brothers, Byron and Delroy, plus Gavin Rees up at Enzo Calzaghe’s gym in Newbridge. Since then, we’ve always been around the Welsh boxing scene together.
Even back then, you could see Bradley had stacks of natural ability; a beautiful jab and great movement. He could really box. The ‘Sugar Sweet’ nickname was really apt. However, he often neglected that talent because he didn’t always put the hard graft in and, instead of using his technical gifts, he’d just have ‘tear ups’ and try to wear his opponent out.
I’ve always followed his career pretty closely. Then, about six months ago, Brad got wind that I’d set up a gym and was breaking into managing and coaching. He contacted me, asking if I could give him a hand. We’ve since had two fights together; his win over (ex ABA champion) Michael Lomax and a ten round points defeat to Torben Keller, an unbeaten prospect over in Denmark.
I view boxing very much as a business. Above all, Bradley is my friend, a nice kid. He’s had to come through so pretty shit times so I want to help him get as much money as he can from the twilight of his career so that he can use that money, plus the local celebrity status he’s acquired, to flourish in life after his boxing career comes to an end. And I want him to achieve that by boxing the way that he should; being savvy and using the fantastic skills and boxing brain that he has.
We all know that, in the past, Bradley had a reputation for being lazy and difficult to motivate. He used to revel in playing the fool and mucking about at the gym but I think the penny’s finally dropped.
Today he’s a different person, conducts himself as a professional athlete. I’ve got him training three times a day; up to 15 rounds on the bags and pads in the morning, circuits in the afternoon, running in the evening. He understands he’s not got too long left and he’s become very dedicated.
As his own body is aging, he knows there’s younger fighters about with more in the tank than him. So he needs to fight smarter; do what he should’ve done all along. We all know that he’s got a massive heart, never gives up and will have a fight with anybody. But now it’s crucial he uses his skills, applies smart pressure, dictates the range and distance. Once he throws his combos, he has to get himself back into a safe position, ready to go again.
He does it effortlessly in the gym but, come fight night, he can switch off. Unfortunately, you can’t always take the fight out of the dog. Bradley’s a natural warrior. It’s my role to make sure that he stays focused and disciplined throughout the fight.
Though Bradley had been performing very capably and had shown his toughness by lasting the distance against top middleweights like Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jnr recently, we actually intended to drop him right down to welterweight for the final few chapters of his career. I think that’s where you’ll get the optimal performance from Bradley but then this opportunity arrived and it was too good to turn down.
I really care about Bradley so, naturally, I had reservations when the Rabchenko fight was offered, particularly given the short notice. I love his family and kids so I’m very mindful of him coming to harm. But this is a European title fight and Bradley’s old enough and wise enough to make his own decisions. I asked him ‘How much do you really want this?’ He had no hesitation in accepting.
Not many British prospects will risk themselves against Brad because he’s too big a danger. Win, lose or draw, this fight will put him in a better position financially to thrive in his life after boxing. And it’s not as if he’s going into the unknown. He’s taken Rabchenko 12 rounds before and only got beat because he was lazy.
I’ve studied tapes of Sergey, including Bradley’s previous fight with him (May 2011), and he’s a good European style fighter. He’s unbeaten, on the crest of a wave with a world title fight lined up next so he’ll be very confident.
Sergey’s nice and tight defensively, with good balance. He’s strong, works well behind his jab, can bang a bit with either hand and doesn’t waste much. He likes to trudge forward and get ‘in your face’. To have won a European title, he has to be a good fighter.
But regardless of what money we were offered, I’d not have advised Brad to have taken this fight if I thought he had no chance of winning. Brad’s fit and strong - mentally and physically – and together, we know boxing. There’s always ways to eliminate an opponent’s strengths and win a fight.
Earlier in his career, Bradley’s already beaten better fighters than Rabchenko and he’s also scored plenty of upsets - particularly against Eastern Europeans - when he was supposed to have no chance. I know from studying him in the gym that he’s got plenty left in the tank. It’s all about delivering on the night.”