If Liverpool’s hard hitting, 6ft 8” heavy David Price (15-2) had come out of nowhere to win the British and Commonwealth titles before losing twice on the bounce to a veteran American contender, people would perhaps be more prepared to give him another chance.
As things stand, the Olympic bronze medallist goes into Saturday’s match-up with Konstantin Airich (19-7-2) having been written off by all and sundry as a world force. He is suffering, like many before him, under the weight of punctured expectation.
Rewind twelve months and Price was still surfing the hype wave created when he turned pro, off the back of easy demolitions of Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton. Up until his first meeting with Tony Thompson last February, he was roundly tipped as the most likely successor to the Klitschkos by pundits both here and in the states. Lucrative, championship contests appeared to be just around the corner. It may be true that those with their ears to the ground heard whispers that he sometimes folded under pressure in his amateur days, that he didn’t hold a shot too well etc, but the way he blasted out competent, domestic level operators in the paid ranks meant that his supporters shouted down the doubters.
Thompson represented a step up, though at 41 and not looking to be in the best of shape, there were few who seriously gave him a chance. Yet in their first contest, ‘The Tiger’ withstood Price’s onslaught to land a shock punch that many laughed off as lucky. There was no humour in David’s reaction to the hook which perforated his eardrum though - the big man was gone, long legs like cooked spaghetti. The myth had been exploded.
We can all understand why David opted for the immediate rematch. The manner of the stoppage, coming so suddenly and with Thompson in reverse gear for the most part beforehand, provided scope for optimism.
“This is heavyweight boxing” Price said, in interviews. “Anything can happen.”
He is right, of course and if he had avenged the loss in July, promoter Frank Maloney would still be beating the drum and Price would probably be looking at a fight with Wladimir this year. But he didn’t. The second defeat to Tony the Tiger was far worse than the first. An apprehensive looking Price put Thompson down in the second, then badly gassed out, his energy eaten up by nervous tension. By the time he was stopped in the fifth he was exhausted, taking punch after punch. It was a horrible, horrible defeat, the type of defeat that stays with you. Maloney was so distraught he retired.
Faced with career meltdown, Price did what fighters do these days and sacked his trainer, Franny Smith, teaming up first with mystic guru Adam Booth, before a dispute with his new promotional team at Sauerland saw the dark lord pack his bags. Tommy Brooks, carrying a CV as impressive as anyone’s, will be flying in from America to train Price, trying to capitalise on those strengths (power and size) while finding new ways of protecting his fragile whiskers and psychology. It won’t be easy.
Price’s opponent on Saturday, a Kazakh born German, looks a safe dance partner for someone whose last tango ended in tears. He stands at 19-7-2, hasn’t won in his last three and was knocked out in the first by Tye Fields in Prizefighter in 2011. He has some power and in early 2012 stopped recent Chisora victim Ondrej Pala in the ninth, but at 6ft 1 will struggle to get inside Price’s jab to land anything of note. David should be able to use his left as a range finder, to tee off with the big rights that once had everyone talking of glory.
Assuming it all goes to plan though and Price comes out of the contest with an early rounds KO, what will we have learnt? We have seen him blow away second and third tier opposition in quick time on many occasions. The questions will still remain over what happens when he gets in with another live, top ten ranked heavyweight contender - someone who can stand their ground and return fire. Using a fight against someone like Airich as a confidence booster may serve the purpose, but Price’s psychological issues are only likely to return once he is placed in a high pressure situation. That, for obvious reasons, is not something we are likely to see this year. If the unthinkable happens and he doesn’t dispose of Airich quickly, there are those who wonder how he may react. Disaster on Saturday could only mean retirement.
Price himself seems humble and reflective enough to know that he has a great deal to prove from this point. Konstantin Airich is just the beginning, a baby step compared to the hurdles of the future. His many fans should appreciate that, regardless of whether or not he ever reaches true elite class, he can always be an attraction.
A fighter who either destroys or gets destroyed will never have a problem selling tickets. But for now, talk of world titles is rightly finished. Instead he must work so very hard to rebuild a reputation that once was made for him.