THE road to heavyweight glory is one of sport’s most dangerous, and David Price knows the trail well.
When exploring the highs and lows that can occur for boxing’s big men, Liverpool’s Olympic bronze medallist has experienced more than most. His rise to domestic king was achieved with a brutal simplicity, but complications soon became apparent.
With his once-impressive ledger now tarnished by controversial and, in some cases, scandalous KO losses, Price searches his soul once again as he joins a new trainer and puts into action his latest plan to hit the summit that many prophesised for him, and eliminate the dark memories that still exist.
“Being honest, the jump to Tony Thompson was probably a little bit too far,” Price reflects to Boxing News about his first loss, a two-round stoppage, in February 2013. “Seven months earlier he was fighting Wladimir Klitschko for the world title and now I had to go in there against him. There was no doubt I was getting moved quick and I was okay with it at the time because the momentum I’d built up made me feel like I could beat anyone, but I was caught and that was that. I’d done the same [when getting halted by Roberto Cammarelle in the semi-finals] in the Olympics after beating the Russian [Islam Timurziev] in the first series and let myself get a bit carried away, so I was annoyed with myself for making the same mistake twice.”
Promoter Kellie Maloney, back then still known as Frank and guiding Price’s career, took advantage of a rematch clause and Thompson, confidence boosted, returned to Liverpool in the summer.
This time, he was forced to climb off the floor to earn his victory in the fifth session. Price, with former world champion Lennox Lewis now having a major say regarding his preparations, was unable to sustain his early success and was stopped on his feet. Previous achievements appeared a distant memory as Price’s world title aspirations received a thunderous blow.
“Watch the second fight with Thompson and you’ll see me blowing from the get-go,” Price points out. “I’d overtrained and had nothing from early on. When Thompson went down, the count went to ‘nine’ and I was hoping the ref would stop it. The build-up was overshadowed by having Lennox there, and there was no way I was going to take on board what he was trying to teach me in just one camp. The night of the fight, Lennox was sitting ringside in his suit and was hardly in my dressing room during the warm-up. It was a great experience spending time with him, but ultimately it did nothing for me against Thompson.”
Huge losses led to huge changes and the core of Price’s team altered radically. American Tommy Brooks was installed as head trainer and promotional duties shifted from Maloney to German-based brothers, Kalle and Nisse Sauerland. Despite the losses to Thompson, Price was still very much in demand. Thunderous power combined with the ability to draw huge crowds in Liverpool appealed to British promoters, but the long-term strategy plotted by his eventual handlers convinced him to make a bold move.
“Frank told me he was retiring, so I had to look elsewhere,” Price recalls. “We swapped a couple of emails where I thanked him for everything and that was pretty much that. Discussions were held with both Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, and both had good ideas about getting me straight back into big fights, but after speaking with the Sauerlands it was clear they had good plans for me. They spoke about building me back up and getting me the right fights so I could get some rounds in, so I’d be better prepared for taking on the bigger names in the division – and making sure there was no chance I’d be making the same mistakes I made against Thompson.”
Four wins from four between 2014-15 restored some of Price’s stolen confidence and paved the way for continental opportunities, but more changes were applied as Brooks made way for the reinstatement of Franny Smith, a mainstay through Price’s career, both amateur and pro, and the man who had tutored Price for the majority of his paid crusade.
“Tommy was a businessman and I think a lot of his motivation is money-based, and that’s absolutely fine with me, but we weren’t in the position to be having big fights and I think that might have gotten to Tommy a little,” Price opines. “He was going from America to Liverpool quite a bit so the travelling wasn’t ideal, and the last I heard he was doing something with the WSB in China. Franny hadn’t done anything wrong in my career and he knows me well, so I brought him back.”
Almost immediately, Smith had to pick his man up again – literally and figuratively – as Price suffered a second-round KO loss to German-based Turk Erkan Teper in July of last year, with the vacant European strap at stake. Although a disastrous spectacle, it was the aftermath of the fight that would become the talking point as Teper tested positive for an illegal substance. This angered Price, who previously had to cope with news that Thompson had tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide – a diuretic and masking agent – following their rematch. That revelation had been delayed due to Thompson’s ultimately fruitless appeal against an 18-month ban, enforced only in the UK. Two of the darkest nights of Price’s career had been inflicted unjustly.
“It makes you angry as there’s not a thing that can be done about it,” Price laments. “Teper was on drugs and he flew at me and had no caution for my power whatsoever. He was like a bull and the first thing that I noticed was his strength. The result has been changed to a No Contest [by Germany’s BDB group which sanctioned the fight, but the EBU have maintained the original result] but that doesn’t really change anything as people have still seen me get knocked out. There’s a tiny bit of hope at the back of my mind that allows me to believe that he couldn’t beat me if he wasn’t on drugs, but that’s the only thing I can really take from it at this moment.”
On Thompson, Price is equally scathing: “His doctors will not give us a single explanation and I find that shocking because of the seriousness of what we’re talking about. He tested positive for a masking agent but no more details have been given to us at this point. I’ll admit that I can’t prove he was taking steroids, but he’s not able to prove he wasn’t and the silence from his team is a big concern.”
Although still a nuisance to a pensive Price, the scandals and setbacks must now be put to one side as he focuses on the next stage of his career, with Sheffield’s Dave Coldwell now taking over training duties. Coldwell looks to rejuvenate the Merseyside man and bring him the same success as his other students, including Price’s close friend, Tony Bellew.
“This is it for me now, it’s possibly my last chance at making something out of the talent I’ve got and I’m hoping Dave can get me to where I know I need to be,” Price enthuses. “Franny has been a great help in my career and he supports my decision and I know he’ll want me to do well. Bellew speaks so highly of Dave’s methods and he’s gone well so far. It’s still early days with him and he’s very big on basics and that’s what I think I need at the moment to get me back to winning ways. Get back to using the jab and setting traps because when I lost to Thompson I think I went too far in the other direction and became too cautious. I need to get that old ‘Pricey’ back.”
With his new team firmly in place, Price’s latest assault on the heavyweight division is one he simply cannot afford to get wrong. With former amateur victim and current unified world champion Tyson Fury occupying the most privileged spot in all of boxing, and Anthony Joshua about to challenge for the IBF championship, the 32-year-old Scouser is well aware of the level he has to reach if he is to deliver on the prophecies that were once forecast about him.
“Joshua hasn’t done much wrong since turning professional… Against Dillian Whyte there was definitely a few things I picked up on,” Price explains. “If he would’ve blew Dillian away in a round then I would’ve held my hands up and said he’s the real deal because Dillian is a winner and he’s very tough and durable. It’s definitely a fight I’d be interested in but I’ve got to be honest and say I need to deserve the opportunity first. He’s human and he’s making mistakes. If he makes them same mistakes against me then I’m confident that I could make him pay.”
On Fury, Price revisits the Manchester fighter’s decision to relinquish the British crown in early 2012 instead of defending it against his North West nemesis. Fury’s promoter, Mick Hennessy, claimed Price’s camp rejected £100,000 to fight his man. Price is insistent that Fury’s decision to ditch the Lonsdale Belt was beneficial to the Wilmslow man’s soaring form since.
“It was a brilliant business decision because the fight came too early for him,” Price states. “He had an awful struggle with John McDermott, which most people thought he lost [in their first fight in 2009, though Fury stopped him in the 2010 rematch] and I knocked John out in a round so I think if we would’ve fought back then I would’ve been successful. That means nothing now because he’s moved forward brilliantly whereas I’ve stood still or maybe even gone backwards. The division owes him a huge favour for beating Klitschko, and I was rooting for him because he deserved it. I still believe there’s not much between us in terms of talent and what we do in the gym, but he’s proven it more when it matters and I’ve got to go out and do that as well.
“There’s not going to be any predictions on what I’m going to do because that’s made me look silly in the past. This is going to be done one day at a time, so we can make sure that I’m fully prepared to be the absolute best that I can be. I’ve felt awful at times in this sport and I’ve had great support to help me back up. I’m so hungry to get back to where I think I belong. If I get to 40 or 50 years of age knowing that I didn’t fulfil my potential, then I won’t be able to sleep at night.”