PRICE COACH FRANNY SMITH: 'I DOUBT SKELTON WILL SEE PAST ROUND SIX.'
Liverpool’s David Price is quite possibly the hottest prospect in world heavyweight boxing right now.
On Friday evening, the monstrous hitting 6ft 8in, 17 ½ stone Scouser defends his British and Commonwealth heavyweight straps for a second time when he collides with Bedford’s former world title challenger Matt Skelton at the Aintree Equestrian Centre in his home city.
Watch the fight live and exclusive in the UK on BoxNation, The Channel of Champions, Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546.
Yesterday afternoon, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with Franny Smith who has schooled ‘Big Pricey’ since his days as a gangly junior at the Salisbury ABC. In his own words, the unassuming 46 year old father of two from Anfield, provided a fascinating insight into the champion’s meteoric rise to prominence.
“I first became interested in the boxing when I was about 11 or 12. A couple of friends boxed at the ‘Solly’ (Salisbury ABC) and I tagged along with them.
Like most kids, I drifted in and out of the gym and ended up having just five junior bouts between the ages of about 13 and 15; three wins and two losses. All three wins were by stoppage so I guess I must’ve been a bit of a scrapper.
I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time but I was probably a bit of a ‘know all’, always telling the other kids what they needed to do to win there bouts. When I went back to the gym at 18, there weren’t many coaches so Alan Lynch, who ran the club and identified my enthusiasm and interest in technique, asked me to help out with a group of young novices. One of them was (future Olympian and European lightweight champion) David Burke. I also had his brother Stephen, David Mulholland, Courtney Fry, Paul Edwards as a kid, Stephen Matthews, Paul and Carl Wright, Lee Rimmer, John Hayes.....All became national champions or internationals.
Big ‘Pricey’ joined our club from Long Lane ABC when he was about 17. He’d won a Junior ABA but, initially, though he was a lovely lad, I weren’t that impressed. Because he was so tall he tended to fight short fat kids.
But I soon realised he had three essential ingredients; bags of bottle, he could take a wallop and really punch himself. The rest you can develop. He was a very quick learner and still is today. Whenever you tried to instil different techniques to cater for a new opponent, he picked them up instantly. He made my job very easy, was intelligent, had a real appetite for the sport and never cut any corners.
Though he was always polite and respectful, David was a terrific club man, a real mixer who loved a laugh and the banter. Nathan Brough and Derry Mathews were also at the ‘Solly’ at that time. We had a great stable.
‘Pricey’ had been boxing at 91Kilos and under but, because he was so tall, we decided to build him into a super-heavy; increased his diet and got a strength coach on board. We took him around the local gyms to spar and he was really ‘giving it’ to all the local hard cases so, at 18, we gambled on chucking him into the senior ABAs, knowing that if there was a contest that appeared too much we could always withdraw him.
However, despite his youth, he showed real promise winning the regional ABAs then really came of age in the national quarter final against Repton’s ‘Mighty Joe’ Young at the Liverpool Olympia. ‘Mighty Joe’ was 12 kilos heavier and had pasted everybody but David boxed brilliant. At the end of the first round, he returned to our corner with blood splattered all over his face yet there wasn’t an ounce of quit in him. He survived some huge wallops but took Young to school. That was his arrival. Though he lost in the semis (to Martin Grainger of Woking), he cruised to the first of his three ABA titles the following year. The rest, as they say, is history.
Once David got involved in the international set-up, we’d only see him the odd Friday. I didn’t get involved but could see the England coaches turning him into a ‘sword fencer’. He began moving his feet before he’d landed and that caused him to lose power. Still, he got away with it cos he was so agile for a big fella.
If he had the style he has today, he’d have walked through them all at the (2008) Olympics. Despite returning from China with his bronze medal, I knew he had a lot more to give. Problem was he drew the world number one, the Russian Islam Timurziev, in the opening series. David chopped him in half with his right hand (WRSC2) but it did him no favours. That was his Olympic final already. It drained him mentally.
When he walked to the ring for his semi with the Italian (Roberto) Cammerelle, knowing he’d already got his medal, I could see he was flat, a bit fed up with it all. The coaches made him very fit but, I felt, at the expense of his strength. He’s 6ft 8in tall, yet only weighed 16stone something and his body capitulated. Still, his eyes were as clear as a bell when they stopped it.
I’d actually given the sport up for about two and a half years when David decided he wanted to go pro. I used to run a test tube alcoholic shots business but when David approached me to coach him as a pro, it took me about 30 seconds to accept! I’ve let the business go and now train him full-time.
Though he signed with Adam Booth and Hayemaker, I’ve been involved for all his pro fights. The only reason, I wasn’t in his corner for his debut was because my pro licence hadn’t come through but I still trained him.
Starting him off as a pro, I immediately identified the need to put greater strength and rigidity in him. All the fitness work on the international set-up had made him a bit too light and I had to get him planting his feet, utilising his advantages; snapping that fantastic jab and punching with authority again. I got him on a weight training program to build his legs strong. We got in (strength and conditioning coach) Joe Dunbar, who’d worked with Lennox Lewis, and later James Morton from Liverpool University.
His initial year in the pros was a very trying time for the lad. Setanta UK pulled out of boxing and, consequently, David split with Hayemaker. In the amateurs, he had the security of a job with the council plus lottery funding and suddenly he found himself with kids and a mortgage but no money coming in.
By necessity, he fought his first four fights with a cracked bone just above the wrist on his right hand. He was full of cortisone but had to fight because he needed money. Consequently, he had to pull his punches slightly and several times the finishes weren’t as tidy as we’d have liked; ‘cuff shots’ against mediocre opponents. Eventually Dr Mike Hayton operated on his elbow and hand. Basically, he saved David’s career.
It was a very tough baptism, a scary time but it helped develop mental strength. David never needs the stick, just the carrot. He’s a dream to train, always just gets on with what he’s asked. I worked a lot on the psychological side of his game, repeatedly telling him how good he can be. When I looked into his eyes and told him he was destined to be world champion before his pro debut in 2009, he looked at me all perplexed. He believes me now!
David’s a nice, genuine kid who has time for everybody but today, once he steps through those ropes, he’s a spiteful, nasty, horrible giant. He doesn’t go in for all the pre-fight slagging but the last few camps, now we’re paying for sparring, he’s really been dishing it out without mercy.
Since the surgery, he’s really got his confidence back and the recent chain of quick explosive knockouts has been no surprise to me. I always knew he had spectacular wins in him. I realised he could really whack from the very first time I took him on the pads. Back then, he carried his right hand very low but we brought it up, shortened it, and the results were immense.
Lately, he’s been facing opposition – guys like Raphael Butler, Tom Dallas, John McDermott, Sam Sexton and Audley Harrison - that have arrived with ambitions of their own, unlike the journeymen. They’ve come to have a fight not survive but, as a result, they leave gaps and David’s wiped the floor with ‘em.
Against Audley, Dave knew he was up against a potentially dangerous southpaw puncher. That put David right on edge. He was so sharp in the build-up and Audley paid the price. A challenge brings out the best in David and I’ve said several times that it’s only when he fights in top world class that we’ll see the very best of him.
He was always going to dominate the domestic guys after going away to spar the likes of David Haye, (ex world amateur champion and WBC challenger) Odlanier Solis and (reigning European king) Kubrat Pulev.
Coping with Solis over four minute rounds in Madrid was a big, big factor in raising David’s confidence levels. That Cuban was a chilling, brooding character, a beast of a man, who’s also a very clever fighter. Yet David mixed it with him and, at times, even controlled their spars. Looking back, he probably showed Solis a bit too much respect and could’ve been even more dominant.
For me, Pulev is in the top five heavyweights in the world. Only the Klitschkos, David Haye and Povetkin are better. He and Dave had five spars over in Germany. Dave probably edged the first two, wiped the floor with him in the third and probably just conceded the fourth and fifth. But they were all great spars, as close to a fight as you can get. One time when Pulev caught David, he really went for a finish but ‘Pricey’ dealt with it and went straight back at him. I’d strongly fancy David should they meet in a fight with the small gloves and no head guard.
Next up we’ve got big Matty Skelton from Bedford. This fight’s a bit different for us. Ordinarily, we’d have a 10-12 week camp but, because the Harrison fight was so short, took so little out of us, we were ready to go again almost immediately. Dave was already in great shape with regard to his strength and conditioning so it was just a matter of keeping the pan on simmer.
After taking a week off, we’ve been able to experiment with stuff like swimming, more running. We spent 12 days over in Portugal for a change of scenery, sparring John McDermott for toughness and Danny Price for sharpness.
Big Skelton presents a completely different challenge to Audley. Matt’s really courageous, will come to fight and be prepared to go out on his shield. It’s not in his nature to seek a back door entrance.
We expect he’ll try to rough ‘Pricey’ up, make things scrappy, then stretch us into the later rounds and apply some pressure. Though David hasn’t been past round seven and has wiped out his last eight by stoppage, trust me, he gets even better, hits even harder, as the rounds progress. He relaxes more and it all flows better. If Matt does make it to the later rounds he’ll take a sustained beating but I doubt he’ll see past round six.
Provided we come through on Friday, we need just one more defence to keep the Lonsdale Belt outright. But we must move quickly.
The only credible challengers would be Dereck Chisora, Tyson Fury or possibly Richard Towers who I understand is fighting an eliminator for the Commonwealth title. But Dereck’s on a losing streak and who knows if he’ll get his licence back whereas Tyson has already given the title up to get out of fighting us.
I wasn’t at David’s amateur win over Fury in the ABAs but I was one million per cent sure he’d beat Tyson easily when the fight went out to purse bids. At the time, Tyson was out of condition and kept getting dumped on his backside. It was a wise move on his part to vacate. I have to say he’s improved of late and seems to be taking the sport more seriously. It’s a harder fight now.
But David still wins because he’s better technically and punches a lot, lot harder. Tyson’s not a puncher and doesn’t like getting hit. He blinks and shies away whenever he’s backed against the ropes. I hear he does most of his sparring with K1 fighters. His choice, but it’s not what I’d do.
Right now, I’d say David’s at about 75 percent of his full potential. Over the last few months he’s really accelerated technically, developing for all the different styles he could face in the future. Though he’s had a string of quick wins, he’s getting used to the big occasions and he’s thriving in the atmosphere. It’s getting manic when Dave appears in Liverpool, at Aintree or the Echo Arena but, in that cauldron, David’s shown he can still operate very cold and calculated. That’s another important stage of his development.
He’s not too far off world level. I’d fancy the Povetkin fight if it was offered now. John McDermott has sparred both and assures me David punches too hard and is too strong already. For me Wladimir Klitschko is the true heavyweight champion of the world, the one to beat. He’s provided the template for success for tall heavyweights. Already David has certain advantages with regard to size, range and a more powerful jab. Wladimir has edges in experience and knowledge. We’ll be ready in 18 months....if he’s still around.”
FARNELL: 'HEFFRON HAS TOO MUCH IN EVERY DEPARTMENT AND WINS BY STOPPAGE'
The boxing grapevine is ripe with talk that Oldham welterweight Ronnie ‘Razor’ Heffron is about to become the next ‘Big Thing’ to emerge from England’s north-west.
The multi-talented 22 year old has earned rave reviews cruising to 11 straight wins (five quick) and on Friday evening, at the Manchester Arena, he makes an audacious championship debut when he challenges Commonwealth king Denton Vassell over 12 rounds on the show that also features the professional debut of Freddie Flintoff.
Watch live and exclusive in the UK on BoxNation, The Channel of Champions, Sky Ch.437/ Virgin Ch.546. Join at www.boxnation.com
Ahead of the potentially combustible local derby, boxing writer Glynn Evans quizzed Heffron’s coach Anthony ‘Arnie’ Farnell, once a WBU World Middleweight champion, about ‘Razor’s’ seemingly limitless potential.
When did Ronnie first come to your attention? What were your initial impressions of him as a fighter and as a person?
Ronnie’s amateur coach Ben Lancaster first brought him to my gym when he was still only 14. He’d already won a couple of national junior titles and wanted to spar the likes of Stevie Bell and Anthony Crolla who were pros with me at the time.
From the moment I first saw Ronnie I knew he was a very special fighter. He was unreal. Honestly, at 15 he was making it very, very hard work for these top, mature pros. He just never stopped coming. After that, I did some pads with him which he loved so I started training him a couple of times a week for the ABAs, European Unions and World Juniors. He beat loads of really good lads, including Callum Smith twice. Thankfully for me, we hit it off and, as soon as he was 18, he turned pro with me.
Despite all his ability, it took about three years before he really started to talk to me. He was a real shy, quiet lad. Now I can’t shut him up!
Ronnie won six national junior titles, three national senior titles and was an England regular from the age of 13. How quickly was he able to convert his obvious talent from the amateur code to the pros?
Very quickly. The moment I saw him, I knew he’d make a very good pro. He had all the qualities.
But in the amateurs, he tended to throw a million punches, always flat out, so we had to slow him down a bit, teach him to turn his punches over and really follow through. The pro journeymen are very clever so we had to emphasise the importance of picking his shots.
Heffron’s still just 22 and has only had 11 pro fights. What have you seen that makes you confident he’s ready for a Commonwealth title fight?
It’s not just what he’s shown on fight night but the improvements I notice in the gym. It’s the way he conducts himself sparring quality guys. Ronnie loves to spar very, very hard – because of that it’s become difficult to get him work locally – but lately in sparring, he’s really thinking about what he’s doing.
Now Ronnie needs a big challenge. Sometimes, he’s been flat because he doesn’t relax, becomes too intense. When he knows he’s going to beat the opponent cos they’re levels beneath him, he finds it really hard to get up for the fight. But when he’s nervous, a bit scared, he’ll deliver and this fight with Denton has really got his back up. He’s looking better, learning new stuff, every day and he’s desperate to show everybody exactly how good he is, come Friday night.
You work with him daily. What specific attributes make him stand out?
Some mistakenly view Heffron as a strong brawler - and he does love a fight - but he’s far more technical than he’s given credit for. He’s got amazing speed, very clever footwork and a real good boxing brain. He’s a class, class operator. He fought some very tough fighters at European and World amateur championships yet he’s never been knocked down so we know he’s very tough.
Also, he trains harder than any fighter I’ve ever seen. He’s an absolute animal who wants success so bad. I have to tell him to ‘Chill out!’
How has your preparation gone?
Amazing. We’ve had plenty of notice and, seriously, Ronnie could do 15 rounds if he needed to. He’s had plenty of quality sparring with the likes of Matty Hall and Joe Hughes who, style wise, are very similar to Denton Vassell.
For me, Matty Hall is miles better than Denton Vassell; stronger, hits harder and has more experience. Matty would walk right through Denton yet Ronnie holds his own with Matty.
What’s your assessment of champion Vassell? What problems do you see him posing?
Denton’s amateur club Fox ABC used to train at my gym and, while I didn’t train him, I took Denton on the pads a few times. He’s very, very strong, can bang a bit but tends to telegraph his shots. He did well to beat Lee Purdy but that was two and a half years ago and he’s not really come on since.
For me, he was more of a handful as an amateur because the welter ‘cut-off’ is 69 kilos which gives you a few more pounds to play with. Denton’s a big, big lad who used to do the bodybuilding and in my opinion getting down to 10.7 takes too much out of his body. Consequently, because he drains all the water from his body, he tends to bust up when he’s hit. At 147, he’s not as strong as he could be. He’d be better suited to light-middle, I believe.
What type of fight are you anticipating?
A very tough, hard one. Ronnie knows that he’s going to have to come through some hard times and answer a lot of questions but I know he can do it.
My one concern is that he loves a fight, can get drawn in and have a row if it’s so easy he gets bored. That’s a worry cos that’s basically all Denton can do. Friday’s about Ronnie keeping his nerve on the biggest night of his life and transferring his gym form into the ring. He mustn’t try too hard; just let everything flow naturally.
Why does your man win?
If the best possible Ronnie Heffron and the best possible Denton Vassell both show up, Ronnie has too much in every department and wins by stoppage. He’s a far better all round fighter and wants it so bad. I’m really looking forward to it.
Ultimately, how far do you expect Ronnie to advance in the game?
Right to the top. Beating a strong, dangerous fighter like Vassell will make his confidence shoot through the roof.
Eventually, I expect him to be a massive star at world level. He’s already got the speed, ability, strength and stamina. It’s now just about developing the maturity.
ORONTO – North American Boxing Association Super Featherweight Champion Logan Cotton McGuiness (18-0-1) defends his title December 14th at Montréal's Famous Bell Centre in a 10-round Special attraction bout against challenger Carlos Manuel Reyes (23-1-1) Of the Dominican Republic.
The 25-year-old Ontario resident will be fighting for the sixth time in "La Bell Province" and looks to impress on the biggest stage of his career thus far.
“(Bell Centre) usually gets 10,000 people,” he said. “This is a stacked card…each one of us could be the headliner of our own cards, I’m very excited to beon it,” McGuinness said.
McGuinness who is rated No. 7 by the World Boxing Association (“WBA) and was the2012 NABA Fighter of the Year, has strong support in Montreal's large Irish Canadian Community.
Joining McGuinness is former World Boxing Council (WBC) light heavyweight champion, Jean Pascal, Aleksy Kuziemski, David Lemieux, Eleider Alvarez, who will meet with Edison Miranda in the squared circle, and Kevin Bizier.
This event will be available for viewing by fans in the comfort of their homes via Canal Indigo, Bell TV, Shaw TV in Canada, as well as on WealthTV in theUnited States.
Tickets are on sale now for the Dec. 14 event at the Bell Centre, as well as the entire GYM boxing series, the innovative and popular "Fast and Furious.”
Tickets, starting at $36.00, are available to purchase at the Bell Centre, or at visit www.evenko.ca