Boxing: On Saturday night at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, David Price, his team and his army of home fans were reminded of a simple truth when it comes to boxing — skills pay bills.
Price, to his immense credit, did not try to make any excuses for his crushing defeat by KO against Tony “The Tiger” Thompson.
But there’s no escaping the fact that he and his team had expected to roll over a US opponent who, despite having been in with Wladimir Klitschko twice in his career, was 41 years old and had been deemed a good name for the big Liverpudlian to have on his record going forward.
When both fighters met in the centre of the ring to receive their pre-fight instructions, hardly a sentient being in the crowd — at ringside or watching on TV — would have given Thompson a prayer.
Price’s frame bristled with the lean musculature of a trained athlete, while Thompson looked as if he’d come to the fight straight from the pub.
The difference in the conditioning of both men could not have been more stark and yet, less than five minutes later, Price was staggering around the ring after being floored, the partisan crowd reduced to stunned silence.
Boxing is not bodybuilding. For all the prominence that strength and conditioning currently enjoys in the sport — a prominence measured in the fact that some strength and conditioning coaches now have almost as high a profile as the top trainers — boxing remains a sport of skill, intelligence and the kind of physical attributes which no amount of plyometrics can replace in a fighter’s arsenal.
Price was exposed by a fighter who wasn’t just going to stand still in front of him all night. Thompson’s superior craft and guile were apparent from the opening bell.
He used his southpaw stance to good effect, keeping Price busy with the jab while looking for angles, all the while on his toes. Even when Price had him against the ropes early in the second and began teeing off on him, Thompson never looked in any discomfort and was always able to counter.
The knockout came after Thompson turned his opponent with a right uppercut before landing the short right hook behind the ear that put him away.
The Liverpudlian didn’t see it, as he was too slow in adjusting after Thompson had changed the angle.
In just two rounds of boxing, Price’s deficiencies were evident. Chief among them is a jab that needs urgent work if he is to make his height and size the advantage they should be.
He paws with the left rather than jabs with it, and never at full extension. The Englishman should be spearing opponents with his jab, both to the head and body, as the Klitschkos do, and as Lennox Lewis began to after teaming up with trainer Emmanuel Steward.
Too much reliance on the right hand over recent fights against less than stellar opposition has led to the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion mistaking the second month of pregnancy for the ninth when it comes to his progress.
Either of the Klitschkos would dispatch him at present and, as he was honest enough to admit during his post-fight interview, it’s back to the drawing board.
Speaking of Lewis, Price’s fight against Thompson brought back memories of a sparring session I witnessed in 1995.
It took place in Freddie Roach’s then Outlaws Gym in Hollywood and involved his then heavyweight prospect Justin Fortune against former world champion Tony Tubbs.
Fortune was just two weeks away from the biggest fight of his career against Lewis in Dublin and Freddie had brought Tubbs in to give him some work. Fortune, a former powerlifting champion in Australia before switching over to boxing, trained like a demon.
He was all aggression, power, and intensity in the gym, and Freddie, I recall, was struggling to find him decent sparring as Fortune was going through everyone that was being put in with him.
So in comes Tubbs, 20 minutes late, looking like he’d never trained in his life, much less fought at the elite level.
His belly was hanging over his pants and he was all smiles and laughs as he walked around the gym, shaking hands and slapping backs, his wife and trainer in tow.
Fortune, meanwhile, was gloved up and angry at being made to wait. He was pacing back and forth in the ring mumbling obscenities under his breath. I was certain I was about to witness a public execution unfold, with Tubbs on the receiving end of the beating of his life.
But instead Tubbs proceeded to dominate Fortune to such an extent that Roach stopped it after just three rounds.
By then Fortune’s confidence had drained away like water down a plughole, with Tubbs comfortably tying him up on the ropes when he wasn’t giving him a lesson in the art of defence and angles.
As Thompson said in his postfight interview, “I’ll never have a body like David Price.”
No, but he doesn’t have to. Boxing is and will always be a sport of skill, not biceps.
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