David Price was riding the fast track to heavyweight glory a little over twelve months ago. The 6’8” Olympic bronze medallist had vanquished all fifteen of his professional foes in impressive fashion – thirteen of them inside the distance – and was the UK’s most touted rising talent, who had also earned acclaim across the pond as ESPN’s prospect of the year. An impending step up in class against American veteran Tony Thompson was expected to be a walk-in the park for the Scouse behemoth. After all, the heavyweight division was anaemically weak, and at domestic level Price had shown the ability to flatten pretty much anyone with his booming right hand.
The rest, as they say, is history.
It seemed as though Price’s career might be resigned to history after Thompson replicated his shock stoppage win in their July rematch, rising from the canvas to once again stop a shaken Price in front of his home fans at Liverpool’s Echo Arena. Such is the value placed on a loss these days, a pair of back-of-back stoppage defeats is incredibly damaging to the stock a rising young fighter. In the fickle world of modern boxing, many believed Price to be finished.
A split with long-time trainer Franny Smith followed and the Liverpudlian’s promoter and chief cheerleader Frank Maloney retired from the sport. A nightmare 2013 ended with Price right back at the drawing board. A fresh start and new surroundings were needed if he was ever going realise his potential. But prospects have bounced back from similar situations in the past and have gone on to do great things in this sport.
Look no further than the current heavyweight ruler Wladimir Klitschko, who before he reached the summit suffered knockout losses to Ross Purity, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster and was written off by fans and media alike. Ten years on, he’s the standout heavyweight of his area and bonefide hall-of-famer with the second longest title reign in heavyweight history and viewed as untouchable amongst the current crop of pretenders to his throne.
Not to say that David Price will ever be another Wladimir Klitschko, but the now 30-year-old prospect can surely find solace in the case of the heavyweight champion. Now with the beauty of hindsight, it’s clear that Price wasn’t ready for a test like Thompson; going in against a two-time world title challenger as a fifteen-bout novice averaging less than three rounds a contest at domestic level.
Price returned to the ring on January 25th with a first-round knockout of Istvan Ruzsinszky, a 12-9 Hungarian journeyman who served his purpose as a confidence booster for the big man’s comeback. The level of opposition will have to be stepped up drastically for Price to climb the ladder again but as his defeats to Thompson proved there’s no need to throw him in too deep, too quickly. If he remains active against steadily increasing levels of opponent this year that may be the best medicine and this time next year he could back amongst the crop of heavyweight contenders.
That’s exactly what new promoters Sauerland aim to do with Price and the German-based outfit have taken him away from the pressures and spotlight of fighting at home to re-launch their new charge in continental Europe. After returning to winning ways against Ruzsinszky in Stuttgart, Price was scheduled to meet Ondrej Pala in the same city on March 29th, however the entire fight card was cancelled when headliner Marco Huck fractured his thumb.
But the date with Pala has now been rescheduled to April 12th in Denmark as part of Sauerland’s “Nordic Fight Night” promotion in Esbjerg, meaning just a two-week postponement and providing he comes through unscathed, the chance of another outing before the summer.
Pala boasts a respectable looking if maybe a little inflated 32-4 record and last November gave Dereck Chisora two difficult sessions before succumbing to a third-round stoppage in a European title challenge. It’s good matchmaking by Sauerland, a decent test and a live opponent yet one who shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to Price if he his on his game, yet may extend him some rounds and is a familiar name to British fans having recently given Chisora a scare.
It’s clear that Price needs professional rounds under his belt. The second loss to Thompson highlighted a worrying lack of stamina and an inability to remain defensively proficient under pressure. The first loss to Thompson raised question marks over his chin. While that’s clearly something that can’t be trained, Wladimir Klitschko provides an example of how better conditioning and improved defensive adeptness can go a long way to protecting a seemingly vulnerable fighter.
Klitschko of course enlisted the help of the legendary Emanuel Steward to shore up his defence and make the most of his considerable attributes and Steward had previous in resurrecting the career of another athletically gifted yet vulnerable heavyweight in Lennox Lewis. Steward was a one-off but after a stint working with the highly respected Adam Booth late last year, Price has hooked up with a new trainer with whom he hopes to forge a longstanding a fruitful relationship.
Tommy Brooks worked with Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and both of the Klitschko brothers and has been guiding Price through a second training camp ahead of the bout with Pala; the pair’s first considerable challenge after they were fed a gimme. It’s going to be a long, hard road but if he can keep winning whilst making the necessary improvements to his game, Price can get back into the position he was one year ago but this time equipped with the tools to go much further.