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For the first round-and-a-half or so, everything was going perfectly for heavyweight David Price, viewed by many as a future player in boxing's glamour division.
It was Feb. 23 and Price, fighting in his hometown of Liverpool, England, was in total control against 41-year-old Tony Thompson, the well-respected two-time world title challenger. Thompson was coming off his second defeat to heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, a sixth-round knockout last July, and the point of the bout from the Price perspective was to give fans and media the chance to compare his performance against Thompson to that of Klitschko, who had openly mentioned Price as a possible future title challenger.
Price's brain trust -- promoter Frank Maloney, trusted Maloney adviser Don Majeski and trainer Franny Smith -- viewed Thompson as an experienced veteran with a good name who would make a solid fight, but one who was long enough in the tooth to allow Price to shine.
Early on, Price did just that as the 8,000 who packed the Echo Arena cheered him on. He was having his way with Thompson and had hurt him with his calling-card right hand in the second round. He had forced Thompson into a corner and was nailing him. As Thompson sagged into the corner and took some brutal body shots, it appeared as though the fight might be only a few seconds away from being over.
But the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Thompson, a wily old veteran, survived the onslaught and worked his way out of trouble. And then it happened: Price, with his left hand dangling dangerously at his side, left himself wide open, and Thompson took a step to the side and came inside with a short right hand that caught Price on a delicate area between his ear and neck. Price immediately went down to his backside, with his right leg folding underneath him.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Price beat the count, but he was extremely wobbly. His balance was gone, and as he staggered around to try to regain his footing, referee Steve Gray had no choice but to stop the fight.
|David Price was controlling his February fight with Tony Thompson and seemed close to ending it when he was stunned by a right hand that sent him to his first pro defeat.|
This was a big, big upset as Price, a 2008 British Olympic bronze medalist and 2012 ESPN.com prospect of the year, was supposed to win in style and move on to a bigger fight.
Rather than ease back into things with a soft confidence-builder, Price's brain trust made the decision to go for an immediate rematch, even knowing that a second straight loss to Thompson would cripple Price's career.
So the storyline is clear: Can Price avenge the loss and put it behind him, or will Thompson ruin him when the rematch goes down on Saturday (WealthTV, 4 p.m. ET) back at Echo Arena?
"I am not surprised he took the rematch right away," Thompson said. "He is a competitor, but I am in great shape and I believe I will win."
The 29-year-old Price (15-1, 13 KOs) is a calm sort, cerebral even. Maybe he will turn out to be right when he says that in the long run the loss to Thompson (37-3, 25 KOs), a southpaw from Washington, D.C., may turn out to be a positive for his career.
"There will be heavyweights who saw me get beat and thought, 'Thank God,' because they wouldn't have to fight me in the next one or two fights," Price said. "A year down the line, when I have won two or three fights, I will be able to say, 'I'm glad that happened then.' I can't say that now because I am yet to avenge the defeat, but I do believe if I'd carried on the way I was going, it was a formality I would lose.
"You get complacent and it is a lesson learnt. Once this fight is won, I am right back in the mix and no one can deny that. It is about winning. I don't care how I get it, because I can move on. Because of the way I was going, people expected me to batter Tony, but he only fought Wladimir Klitschko six months previously. The last thing a heavyweight loses is his punch, and I got caught with a heavy shot. It didn't look like a heavy shot, but it was. He could try 2,000 times again and it wouldn't happen again, but it is done."
Thompson, of course, is aiming to repeat his victory and launch himself into a third word title opportunity.
"People who think I was lucky in our first fight know s--- about fighting," Thompson said. "I have lost three times, twice against Wladimir Klitschko, and I think people forget that. That pisses me off. Who has beaten Wladimir in 10 years? Nobody. Who has tested Wladimir the most in 10 years? Me."
Thompson did give Klitschko some problems in their first bout, an 11th-round knockout loss in July 2008.
|David Price says he'll be right back in the mix of heavyweight contenders if he can even the score with Tony Thompson on Saturday.|
"Anybody can get knocked out in the heavyweight division, and I don't want to say David will be overly cautious," Thompson said. "But I can see him changing the game plan where he is going to box a little more and use his God-given abilities. He may count on my age factor and thinking I am still a little slow and out of shape. We have trained to walk straight to David and beat him up. We've also trained where he will be aggressive and we can capitalize on his mistakes.
"I have to beat Price. Losing puts me right back in the same spot that it did before the first fight, and at my age I am not looking to start over."
Maloney knows a thing or two about heavyweights trying to rebound from knockout losses. He guided Hall of Famer Lennox Lewis for many years and was with him when he suffered a stunning second-round knockout defeat to lose a world title to Oliver McCall in 1994. Lewis went on to avenge the defeat and became one of the best heavyweights in history.
To assist Price in preparing for the rematch, Maloney enlisted Lewis, a former Olympian (gold in 1988) who is also from England. Lewis spent about 10 days in a training camp in Canada working with Price and was with him the past few weeks in England finishing up training camp, although Smith remains the head trainer.
"There are parallels there between us, but at this stage, the difference is Lennox Lewis went and got back on the horse," Price said. "I've yet to do that, but I'm confident that come Saturday, I will climb back on that horse and put myself right back in the heavyweight title mix. It's been a breath of fresh air working with him."
Said Maloney: "Lennox Lewis working with David is a blessing. If he can take in just 25 percent of what Lennox has instilled in him over the last four or five weeks, David will be a new fighter."
Thompson said he believes that bringing Lewis into Price's camp shows just how seriously he is taking the rematch.
"It isn't respect for me that he went to work with Lennox, but shows how seriously he takes his career," Thompson said. "He will be getting great information from Lennox because he is an all-time great and knows the game. Sometimes you get your career to a certain level and you just can't receive information and don't even want to listen to a world champion.
"You think you know it all. You get beat, and instead of changing things you go back with the same flaws. He is showing a willingness, and that is a credit to David. I will [be] full of confidence, but it will take a lot longer than two rounds before I get the win."
Lewis would beg to differ.
"He has made a wise move looking for more stuff to learn, and the opportunity is with me," Lewis said. "As a past heavyweight champion, I know a lot of things he needs to do, and working with me he has upped his game a lot more."