(David Price, left; Tony Thompson, right)
Briton David Price returns to redesign the heavyweight skyline this weekend in a 10-round non-title bout against Washington D.C.’s condemned chimney stack Tony Thompson in Liverpool. The TNT-fisted Price has cantered through his first 15 starts as a professional; if his whiskers have felt a retaliatory punch in the three years or so he has punched for money, then it can be looked upon as an isolated incident. 41-year-old Thompson, 36-3 (24), can alter that on Saturday for as long as it takes Price to sink his demolition plunger.
Thompson is routinely referred to as a good, world class heavyweight, which tells you everything you need to know about the plight of this once iconic division. After starting out his career as a 28-year-old ham and egger, even he must have been astounded at the lengths his 6ft 5in frame and narrow skill-set could carry him in the 21st century. The gangling portsider’s win column reads like a lost generation of heavyweight journeymen; Chazz Witherspoon, Dominick Guinn, Vaughn Bean, Owen Beck, Maurice Harris, Timur Ibragimov and Luan Krasniqi, bunglers rather than wastrels, could all have been reliable losers with a smidge more talent and instruction. In this day and age, though, besting a roll call even as flaky as that rabble is sufficient to earn repeated world title shots.
Opportunity knocked twice for Thompson — in the summers of 2008 and 2012 –against the imposing but timid Wladimir Klitschko. Thompson capitulated on both occasions, after he had spooked the Ukrainian initially by having the temerity to hit him back. After a protracted mauling ran him out of gas first time around, one that came care of the customary Klitschko Bolero, Thompson, clear-eyed but spent, rolled over and took a full count after absorbing a hard right hand in the penultimate round.
The American had a tad more pep in his step in the re-run and he kept the champ, whose inability to commit explains both the dreariness of his sovereignty along with his ongoing bachelorhood, in his box, lest he risked being grazed with a counter shot returned with only moderate oomph. Once Wladimir clicked onto the fact that he could land his pet punch more readily through circling left, around the outside of Thompson’s lead right boot, he offered his challenger the chance to resit his previous flunked paper when he dumped him onto his butt in round 5. That he stuck around for another three minutes or so owed more to Klitschko’s ongoing homage to Roman pontificator Quintus Fabius Maximus than any resilience shown on his own part. He would eventually be manhandled in his own corner and then cuffed, rather than punched, to the canvas. There, Thompson took his demise into his own hands and curled up for a 10 count, using his right arm as a cushion, as he had done four years prior.
West Derby’s Price, 15-0 (13), faces a quandary that is familiar to kayo artists. The impulse to maximise violence and minimise ring time increases marketability while reducing wear and tear, but it comes at a cost. A lack of rounds inhibits both ring craft and endurance, perhaps punch resistance also, or more precisely, a familiarisation and therefore tolerance for pain. Sage indeed is the slugger that can control their killer instinct and opt instead for a more arduous shift in a bid to invest in experience — know-how that could prove critical in their darkest hour.
The Merseyside mangler, grounded and introspective when not gloved-up, is unlikely to stand off Thompson. For despite being 29-years old, these are his salad days; when his judgement is green and his blood runs cold. Sooner rather than later, Price will discharge a hard right hand that offers Thompson a seat to consider a hegira away from the hurly burly of prize fighting. It is unlikely to take him longer than six rounds in which to do so. Quizzed on morning news programme BBC Breakfast, Thursday, over when his courteous demeanour was likely to change, Thompson gaffed: “When David punches me in the face…it’s all downhill from there.”