A David Price defeat feels different to other defeats. Aside from its unmatched drama and emphatic climax, a David Price defeat feels different to the rest because it always seems so unfair.
Unfair because David Price, in losing, proves correct the theory that nice guys finish last. Unfair most of all, though, because David Price folds in rigged games and, in doing so, disproves the theory that cheaters never prosper.
If David Price loses again on March 31, this time to Alexander Povetkin, the feeling will be as familiar as it is painful. There will be an element of expectancy – Price is a heavy underdog – but the theme of a good man being misled by dark forces will continue all the same.
“When I was asked to fight him, I was just training and had no opportunities,” Price tells Boxing News, when pressed to explain why he has agreed to fight someone who failed two performance-enhancing drug tests (for meldonium and ostarine) in 2016.
“I got offered the fight with Dereck Chisora but I wanted another one before that. If I lose to Dereck, it’s game over for me.
“With Povetkin, I’m expected to lose. So it’s win-win for me. If I win, great. But if I don’t win, I wasn’t expected to win. I can carry on and fight the likes of Dereck Chisora.
“The one thing I’m hanging on to in all this is that upsets do happen in sport on a regular basis. I’ve been on the wrong end of them four times; I’ve been the betting favourite in each of my defeats. I know more than anyone it can go wrong for the favourite. So I’m going in there with nothing to lose and I have a good feeling about it.”
The idea of Price fighting a drug cheat, albeit one who might now be clean, will never sit right. He has history, after all.
In 2013, he was stopped by Tony Thompson in five rounds only for the American to fail a PED test for hydrochlorothiazide, and then, two years later, Price experienced a harsher lesson when Erkan Teper knocked him out in two rounds only to fail a test for clenbuterol, testosterone, growth hormone and methandrostenolone.
As for Povetkin, the latest villain of the piece, Price feels there’s no better time to fight him. He believes he has been clean for his last two fights and now, as mandatory challenger to IBF and WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, reckons the controversial Russian will be on his best behaviour.
“It looks, on the face of it, really bad,” Price says of the current PED situation in boxing. “But it’s probably even worse than we think. There’s probably an underlying problem: most are doing it without getting caught or tested.
“I still think anyone who does it is weak mentally. I don’t know the ins and outs of Povetkin’s drug tests but he has definitely failed a couple. He has knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs, which means he’s been trying to find an answer to a question he couldn’t answer naturally.
“Whatever the question was, whether it was to do with fitness or power, he had to turn to something that would give him an unfair advantage – if he knowingly took them. That gives me positivity.
“I’ve had plenty of questions I’ve wanted to answer but I’ve never thought about turning to performance-enhancing drugs to find the answers. It just isn’t in my nature to do that.
“I’m expecting to get drug tested for this fight. But will Povetkin? Will he get tested out in Sochi? I can’t see it. Also, I’m not the ‘house fighter’. Eddie Hearn (the event promoter) won’t be sending VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) anywhere on my behalf.
“You’ve just got to take it on face value. Where you’ve been naïve in the past to think people have too much to lose to do it, you need to realise people think, f**k it, we’ll get away with it. But, in this situation, Povetkin really does have too much to lose. He’s mandatory challenger to Anthony Joshua. He has a lot of money to lose. I’m hoping this means he is clean.”
Price knows what it’s like to lose. Five years ago, he was seen by some as the heavyweight heir apparent, but Tony Thompson duly p***ed on his parade and then p***ed dirty. He then dusted himself down and got back on the horse, only for Erkan Teper, fuelled by illegal substances, to crush the dream altogether with a vicious left hook.
Still it went on. Eighteen months after Teper, when seriously, truly, finally on his last life, Price was outlasted by Christian Hammer, stopped in seven rounds, and crumbled to defeat this time not because he was cheated but because, on the night, he just wasn’t good enough.
Looking back, it could be argued the Hammer blow was the worst. It was a clean loss, one without an asterisk, and revealed the good, the bad and the ugly. Price boxed well in spurts, even had Hammer down in the fifth round, but still wasn’t able to win the fight.
Now, with four stoppage defeats on his record, Price, 22-4 (18), is less of a heavyweight danger man – though remains one of the hardest one-shot punchers in the division – and more of a large man with a target on his back.
“The great thing about this is I hope he sees me as a walk in the park,” says the honest Liverpudlian. “He had the choice between me and Dereck Chisora and I think he’d sparred with Chisora in the past and thought he would be a bit more awkward. So he’s picked me because I’m tall like Joshua and because he thinks he’s going to get a showreel knockout in the UK.
“I hope he has taken me lightly. If he’s as professional as he should be, given the level he’s fought at, he probably won’t. But I’m just going to go in there and give it my all one way or the other.”
When David Price speaks in these terms – giving it his all, one way or another – it’s tough to resist the temptation to give him a shake and remind him of what he once was; remind him of the power he still possesses; remind him of the fact he’s six-foot-eight and weighs 260lbs.
Ultimately, though, Price, 34, knows what he is just as he knows what he isn’t, and this grounded outlook, while hardly a promoter’s dream or a trainer’s dream, gives him a quiet confidence that could serve him well ahead of a fight few expect him to win.
“[Wladimir] Klitschko had Povetkin down a few times,” says Price. “Before Luis Ortiz had beaten Tony Thompson, I think it was only me and Klitschko who’d had Thompson on the floor. I had him down for a long count, too.
“So the punch power is there. I know that. I just need to put it all together. I’ve always got the power in the locker. But I need to now turn back the clock and produce when it matters. I have to be the best I have ever been in this fight.
“The fact there’s no pressure on me might mean I will be the best I have ever been. I can just go in there and enjoy it.”
That’s better. Price sounds on top; confident, positive, in control. He’s putting his shots together well, on the verge of victory, about to add the finishing touch.
But then it happens: reality hits and uncertainty wins out.
“I have to admit it’s a big ask for me to win this fight,” he concedes. “I know what the deal is.”
This time he’s fighting back, though. He has no choice.
“Povetkin,” he continues, “is more of a thinker than a front-foot, come-forward, pressure-fighter. He’s pretty conventional. He’s well-schooled amateur-wise. People like that suit me more than someone who is a bit rough and ready.
“Because he’s technically well-schooled, I believe it will be more of a boxing match and I can use my size advantage, which is huge [Povetkin is 6’2 and 225lbs]. It’s about making that advantage count. I looked at his last fight against Christian Hammer and there are things I think I can capitalise on.
“This game is all about risk and reward and the reward versus the risk in this is massive. If I win this fight, I know what it could lead to.
“In boxing, you’re fighting for your next fight’s purse. When you weigh in, you get paid win, lose or draw. You’re getting your purse whatever happens. But the incentive to win is the next fight’s purse.
“The upside to March 31 is crazy compared to where I am right now. It’s another world. It’s simple enough: if I beat Povetkin, I’m right in line for the biggest fight in the division.”
The moment if becomes when is the moment David Price drops the unlucky loser tag, shakes the slump from his shoulders, fulfils his potential and stands the way a man of six-foot-eight and 260lbs should stand. Proud. Resolute. Victorious.
It’s then, if only fleetingly, all will seem right in the world.