British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion David Price was enjoying a comfortable second round against quality American Tony Thompson, when suddenly he was robbed of both his equilibrium and his undefeated record.
Thompson, known as “The Tiger,” closed the gap quickly, changed his angle of attack and dropped Price with a right hook to the side of the head. The 6-foot-8 colossus beat the count but he was hurt and the referee smartly called a halt to proceedings.
In the aftermath, the popular Liverpool star was confronted with harsh criticism and two choices: he could dust himself off and look for revenge against the 41-year-old veteran or return ignominiously to the domestic scene.
“I evaluated the whole situation and decided to exercise the rematch clause,” said Price. “For me it’s the quickest and most direct route to make up for what went wrong that night and get myself back to where I want to be.”
“I wasn’t willing to drop down a level because I know I’m ready to face Tony Thompson and beat him. The only obstacle was money and I left that issue down to Frank Maloney and thankfully he delivered.”
Given the decisiveness of Thompson’s single-punch knockout one wondered if a direct rematch was an easy decision to make, and the affable 29-year-old was extremely honest in his evaluation.
“There were times when I have questioned my decision (for an immediate rematch) but I’m one hundred percent confident now. Early on, in light training, that wasn’t always the case but once I reminded myself of what I’m capable of and hard sparring commenced I became convinced.”
Changes were required, however, and Price has set about this mission in earnest by assembling a very imposing team.
“Before the Thompson fight, myself and Franny Smith (Price’s long-time trainer) discussed bringing someone else on board,” said Price. “Lennox Lewis contacted me, after I lost, to lend some moral support, then he offered to help me and that was exactly what Franny and I were looking for.”
Price and Smith put plans in motion and ventured to Toronto for quality training with one of the greatest heavyweight champions who has ever lived.
“It was just fantastic,” Price told RingTV.com. “We all agreed on what we need to do to win this fight. That is the priority, but going forward there’s a lot of changes we want to make. Lennox introduced a few new things but we all worked well together and that was paramount.”
The physical approach to a fight is always important but, for this engagement, Price’s mental strength will be tested like never before. That battle started the instant this rematch was signed and the Olympic bronze medalist was more than willing to make vital adjustments.
“I realize that you can’t blast people out all the time,” acknowledged Price. “In February I was punished for being complacent so my mental approach has been vastly different. I need to be patient, in terms of waiting for openings, and take my time.”
“When I first met Thompson he didn’t look in the best of shape and that, combined with his age, led me to believe I was in for an easy night’s work. That was the worst thing I could have done because at the end of the day he is an established world class opponent – that is a fact.”
“This time I have been tuned in mentally and the physical side takes care of itself. Tactically a few things will change and my team has been more than useful in that regard. I’m coming in with a very good outlook and I can’t wait to get it on.”
One senses that a new fighter will appear at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on July 6th, but will Price be the same exciting force he once was? Will he still chase the clean knockout or will he impose his physical advantages and take fewer risks?
When Lennox Lewis was in the process of eliminating an entire era of heavyweights there were still detractors who urged him to take more chances. Ten years into his retirement Lewis is a three-time heavyweight champion of the world who defeated every man he ever faced as a professional.
Sometimes it’s best to ignore detractors.
“I’m not Lennox Lewis by any stretch of the imagination,” stated Price. “But if I can draw on some of the positive things he did then that can only make me a better fighter. Just having him around was inspirational because he was one of my favorite fighters and patience was something Lennox was known for.”
Still, Lewis didn’t always have things his own way and revenge assignments are nothing new for the legendary ex-champion. His only two losses on his suberb resume, to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman, were both avenged inside the distance.
“It’s a little different for me,” said Price. “I’m getting an immediate rematch and Lennox told me he would have given his right arm to go straight back in with McCall but he was forced to wait. We discussed the mental side of coming back from a defeat but a lot of that has come naturally to me as the fight draws nearer.”
As Price wraps up preparation back in Liverpool another huge fight involving two potential opponents, David Haye and Tyson Fury, is being discussed for September. The mention of that matchup lights a fire under the powerful Brit.
“Haye versus Fury is a massive fight but it has pissed me off,” said Price. “If I’d beat Thompson then I would have been fighting Fury this summer and now I’ll have to wait. Still, it’s a no-brainer for those two. Haye versus (Manuel) Charr was a no-win situation for David and I would have advised Fury to stay clear of (Kubrat) Pulev, who would have likely beaten him.”
Still, if the Thompson rematch goes according to plan then Price acknowledges a significant upside.
“A good win on July 6th erases the loss in my mind and then I can move forward. It will put me right back in the mix because fans are taking Thompson a lot more seriously than they did last time, so a win will be all the more impressive.”
There is no disputing that fact, and coming back from adversity is a quality that many astute observers of the sweet science are keen to recognize. So, years from now, will the stunning setback against Thompson be looked upon as a blessing in disguise?
“I think it will,” said Price immediately. “A knockout loss would have happened further down the road if it didn’t happen in February. The way I was approaching fights was wrong and it was just a case of turning up.”
“It was going to happen sooner or later and I’m already a better fighter because of it.”
When pushed for a prediction, Price recalled our chat prior to the first Thompson fight and was far more cerebral with his retort.
“When I spoke to you last time I said I wanted to get Thompson out of there quicker than Klitschko did and all the rest of it. That was the hype surrounding me and it was difficult not to get caught up in that.”
“This time I’m going to let my actions do the talking and, if I’m the fighter I think I am, then I’ll come away with the win. Ultimately I predict that I am going to avenge my defeat and redeem myself.”
“I don’t care how I win as long as I get that W next to my name.”
Tickets for David Price vs. Tony Thompson II – “Redemption” can be purchased from www.frankmaloney.com. British fight fans can tune into BoxNation via Sky Channel 437 or Virgin Channel 546. Visit www.boxnation.com to subscribe.
Photos: Alex Livesay-Gettyimages; Scott Heavey-Gettyimages
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing