by David P. Greisman
As an amateur, David Price tried to succeed as Audley Harrison had once succeeded. Price failed.
As a pro, Price tried to succeed where Harrison had failed. Price failed there as well.
Given that one heavyweight followed in the other’s footsteps, it’s fitting that their paths once crossed.
Harrison and Price fought in 2012. Harrison, the 2000 Olympic gold medalist representing Great Britain, had long since been a disappointment, alternately derided as “Fraudley” by some, while others changed his “A-Force” nickname to the more apt “A-Farce.”
He’d lost over the years to Danny Williams, Dominick Guinn, Michael Sprott and Martin Rogan, none of them ever resembling a top-level heavyweight. He’d also been taken out by titleholder David Haye.
Harrison was 40 and well on his way down. Price was 28 and on his way up. He’d captured bronze for Britain in 2008, not as superlative as Harrison but enough to bring Price into the paid ranks with high expectations for his future. Price was 13-0 going into the Harrison fight. Less than a round later, he was 14-0.
Price hurt Harrison with a single right hand and followed with a barrage until Harrison and his career were laid in a heap on the red canvas in Liverpool’s Echo Arena.
Four months later, however, Price joined him there.
For one night only, Price had surpassed Harrison. In the amateurs, Price could do no better than Harrison. In the pros, he did as badly. He was knocked out twice in 2013 and once more in 2015. The final nail in his coffin came this past Saturday in London, fittingly driven in by a fighter named Christian Hammer.
Most fighters’ careers are over before they realize. Most continue on, believing that they can do better, or that circumstances were not in their favor. After all, nearly every fighter loses at some point in his or her career. Many are able to learn from that defeat and then improve. That is what they did as amateurs. That is what they can still do as pros.
Almost all must ultimately confront reality, though. They will reach their limit. And then their limit will get even lower still as time passes.
Price’s limits came to light against Tony Thompson four years ago. Thompson was old at 42 but somewhere between capable and durable, someone who couldn’t last with heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, but was a step up for a prospect like Price who wanted to be considered a contender.
Price was left with plenty to consider. In the second round, Thompson landed a right to the side of Price’s head while on the inside, an equilibrium-stealing shot that Price never saw. Price’s legs went out beneath him. He rose but remained wobbly. Like that, the fight was over.
They had an immediate rematch months later. It started better but soon got worse. Price dropped Thompson in the second round this time. Thompson got up, battled back and then battered Price, who retreated into a corner in the fifth, taking shots until the referee jumped in.
Most wrote Price off at that point. Thompson was a tough, decent big man. He was not world-class. Neither, then, was Price. And the limitations he showed against Thompson — lack of chin, lack of stamina — didn’t seem like ones that could easily be overcome.
Price wanted to give himself another chance. He’d lost twice to one fighter. That, in his mind, didn’t make it a lost cause. He began a comeback, including bringing on another team member. Price already had trainers who could help him physically. Now he had someone for the psychological aspects of being a pro athlete in a hurt sport.
“He’s like a mind coach, and he put a lot of time into helping me develop new mental techniques going into fights,” Price told boxing reporter Shaun Brown, writing for The Fight City back in 2015. “He put me in a good place.”
Price, tall for his sport at 6-foot-8, resembled another big man, Klitschko, who many once believed was done after stoppage losses to Corrie Sanders in 2003 and Lamon Brewster in 2004. Price’s return also was somewhat reminiscent of Klitschko’s. In Klitschko’s first fight back after Brewster, he was put on the canvas by DaVarryl Williamson, rising and taking a cut-shortened technical decision victory.
Price had an easy win in his first fight back, then had to get up from a first-round knockdown in his next, dropped by a cuffing left hook. He soon stopped Ondrej Pala in three.
But while Klitschko steadied himself, gained confidence and found a style that would make him the long-reigning heavyweight champion, Price couldn’t come anywhere close to doing the same. In 2015, after a few wins over lesser opposition, he faced unbeaten prospect Erkan Teper.
In the second round, Teper landed a right hand and followed with a flush left hook. Price fell backward, out cold.
Once again, Price’s career should’ve been finished. But Price’s two negatives were overruled by two positives.
A couple of weeks after the Teper loss, Price learned that Thompson had tested positive two years prior for hydrochlorothiazide. Thompson argued that he had been using it for high blood pressure, a legitimate medical use. But the drug is also a banned diuretic — its use was something that American prospect J’Leon Love was punished for back in 2013. The revelation came only after the British anti-doping agency’s legal case against Thompson had reached its conclusion.
Then, at the end of 2015, Price found out that Teper, too, had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. The losses officially remained on Price’s record, but he convinced himself that they didn’t truly belong there — and that he still belonged in the ring.
“There are losses in every sport. Some of the greatest heavyweights in history, like [Jack] Dempsey and [Max] Schmeling, suffered losses early in their careers,” Price told Jeff Powell of The Daily Mail a year ago. “I’m still only 32, which is young for a heavyweight, and until I ran into opponents who failed drugs tests I was the one knocking people out.”
They losses still should’ve mattered. Alas, a fighter’s career is over before he realizes. Most continue on, believing that they can do better, or that circumstances were not in their favor. While Price had faced fighters with banned substances in their systems, Price still had significant trouble handling punches, a problem made all the worse by the fact that he had significant trouble avoiding punches.
Nevertheless, he fought twice last year and then called out Anthony Joshua — another Brit who won an Olympic medal with a gold in 2012 — though Joshua had easily surpassed Price and Harrison by going on to earn a pro heavyweight title. Price claimed he’d stopped Joshua while sparring years ago. Joshua acknowledged the knockdown and said he’d since gotten better.
Joshua went on to face a different opponent else instead. Price, meanwhile, signed to take on Christian Hammer this past Saturday at the Olympia in London, fighting underneath a Chris Eubank Jr. main event. The 33-year-old entered with a record of 21-3 with 18 KOs.
Hammer, 20-4 with 11 KOs coming in, had his own limits; he’d lost to Mariusz Wach and Taras Bidenko, no world conquerors, early in his career, and he’d been stopped by Tyson Fury in 2015. But he’d been able to outpoint Teper late last year, and his style and toughness would make for an interesting battle, however long or little it lasted, against Price.
It quickly became apparent that the end would come sooner rather than later.
Price came in heavy. A fighter who’d been fitter earlier in his career, weighing in the 240s most of the time, no higher than 253, had begun his 2016 comeback at 271 pounds, ballooned to nearly 279 pounds last October, and was 275 for Hammer. Despite his tall frame, the pounds visibly slowed him.
He was unable and unwilling to move much, which meant that Hammer was able to hit him more. Price would pull back to get away from punches, but he would not be able to get far enough away quickly enough. He’d back to the ropes to rest, but Hammer wouldn’t allow him to do so. In the third round, Hammer caught Price with an uppercut and two looping rights. Price survived and came back to land shots of his own. But his mouth was open. He was visibly tired. His trainer was clearly concerned.
“When you’ve done your work, go for a walk,” said Dave Coldwell after the third. “You’ve got big long arms. You’re 6-foot-9. Go for a walk. Use your size. Don’t just stand there where he can walk straight into you, because he will gas before you. Focus on what you need to do. You don’t need to load up on every shot.”
Price landed well in the fourth, though he still brought himself back to the ropes, where he took a good right from Hammer. Coldwell passed on another survival tip.
“Lock his arms up so he can’t work on the inside.”
Price was often too weary to hold Hammer tight. He wasn’t moving his head much either. Hammer fired away toward the end of the fifth. Price retaliated with a flurry that knocked Hammer down, a desperate move that only earned him a momentarily respite.
As the sixth began it was Hammer off his stool first, ready for a battle, while Price lingered longer. Price landed another decent blow in the round, bringing a smile from Hammer. It was a reaction that sometimes can be an acknowledgement that a punch hurt. In this case, Hammer’s grin was a taunt, which may have helped demoralize Price even further. Nothing Price was doing could put Hammer away. And Price didn’t have much left that he could do.
Price ended the sixth exhausted. He started the seventh the same. Hammer brought him back to the ropes and punched away at a heavy bag who was breathing heavily, winding up at someone who was winded. The referee separated the fighters and Price staggered across the ring. The referee saw, then, that the fight was over.
Price must see now that his career is as well.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide. Send questions/comments via email at email@example.com