• Steve Bunce

Professor Lewis has Price ready for biggest test

Steve Bunce July 2, 2013
David Price was left stunned and staggering by Tony Thompson in February, his first professional defeat © PA Photos
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People always talk about there being a lot at stake in big fights, but I'll be honest with you - David Price's rematch with Tony Thompson is one of those rare showdowns where everything is at stake. This is the fight that puts Price back in the world title shake-up, or the fight that says he will never be a contender. I cannot see how you rebuild David Price if he gets beaten again. Thompson, by the way, gets another world title fight if he wins.

I was with Thompson on Friday night in Liverpool and he looked sensational, in the best shape I'd ever seen him - and focused. But he's facing a different prospect when he steps back into the ring with Price at the Echo Arena on Saturday. He's facing a fighter who has worked like he's never worked before, a fighter preparing like a champion - with a world heavyweight champion helping him.

It's really interesting, the collaboration between Price and Lennox Lewis - which he talks about on this week's Podcast. After the Thompson defeat Price went over to Canada to spend some time with Lewis. He wanted it to be hands-on, not just a conversation in a restaurant or a few token sessions with him - and I'm telling you, he got exactly what he was looking for.

I've seen footage from the gym and spoken to both Pricey and Lennox about it, and it is clear to me that the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world was putting the Big Lad from Liverpool on trial. Lewis wanted to make sure that he was not wasting his time. We know David Price is committed, we know David Price lost a bit of concentration and got hit on the chin (well, the ear) by Tony Thompson. We know David Price has got all the physical attributes of a modern heavyweight - those are all facts, they're common knowledge.

But that's not what Lewis wanted to see. He wanted to see what David Price was made of. So he got him in the gym, behind closed doors, and - not to put too fine a point on it - Lewis's team smashed Price to bits. "It was hell," confirmed Price.

They really put him through his paces. Lennox knew he could fight, but he wanted to see how he reacted to a bit of pressure - and Lennox was in the ring with him, sweating, taking him on the pads and pushing him. Now when you think about Price's size, he's a big old boy - even a big guy, say 16st and 6'0" or 5'10" and 15 ½st, doesn't look all that big when you are standing in Pricey's shoes and looking at the world from your 6.8 tower. But when he's suddenly facing Lennox Lewis, hitting pads held up by the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world - and Lennox would have been swatting those punches down like they were nothing - it will have forced Pricey to think. Also, Pricey's pride meant that he wanted to impress.

Price tweeted during the carnage to say that these were the hardest sessions he'd ever had. "I'm exhausted - I can't believe there's one more round to go!" he admitted. "I've never been this tired!" But he did survive it. What people seemed to have missed is this: as hard as it was for Price, he was on trial - and he passed.

It's worth remembering that this all happened because Lewis contacted Price - he knew what needed to happen next in the 29-year-old's career. Lewis had to deal with his own shock second-round defeat, when he lost the WBC title to Oliver McCall at Wembley in 1994.At that point he split from his trainer Pepe Correa and hired Manny Steward, who had been in McCall's corner that fight. It was a partnership that would last until his retirement.

"It's the same around the world," Lewis said when talking about his reasons for working with Price. "A lot of trainers can only take their boxers so far. It's like your school teacher is trying to take you to university. You should really have a professor teaching you when you have reached university and you could say I am the professor, because I've been there and done that."

There is a progression for trainers as well as boxers. David is still working with Frannie Smith, who has been his trainer for most of his pro career - excluding his start with Adam Booth - and he is also someone he knows from his amateur days on the Liverpool circuit. Frannie has brought him to this fight and will carry on with him, but it looks like Lennox is involved now, adding a new dimension to the set-up.

It remains to be seen how involved Lewis gets. He had a great career in the ring and has had a fantastic life since he left the ring exactly a decade ago, and has a family now. Does he need to commit 20 weeks of the year to training camps with a fighter? I don't know if he does. The money on offer is not going to change Lewis's life - he is one of the wealthiest fighters in history from ring earnings alone, because he kept such a huge percentage of it. Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard - they all seemed to lose most of their money on crazy nights. Lennox's idea of a crazy night was to get the pizzas in when they were in training camps and playing chess - and he didn't even like to pay for the pizza! Even if David Price was in a massive fight with Vitali Klitschko at Wembley next year, Lennox's percentage as a trainer wouldn't be much in the way of cash motivation.

But Lennox fancies it. That's why I keep coming back to this point - he put him on trial in Canada. And he is right on that professor quote. Fighters progress, and they need their support team to progress as well. Whether the original trainer stays, who knows - talking to Price, it doesn't sound like he's ready to split from Smith and move on. Nobody can be blamed for what happened against Thompson the first time - it was a momentary lapse, nothing more.

Would Lennox be involved with Price had Thompson not knocked him out? I think there's a possibility. David was already looking for something different. He'd talked to Tim Witherspoon about it - Tim's a lovely guy and a great old pro - and knew he needed a bit of heavyweight guidance, not someone just to organise his training and talk over tactics. It was probably time for Price to get a little bit of heavyweight influence - someone like an Angelo Dundee or Manny Steward, if they were still around, to come in for the last few weeks of camp, which is a tradition in boxing.

Lewis has fulfilled that role, and will be in Liverpool on the night of the fight. We know he will not be in Price's corner but he will be with him in the changing room, and his experience will be vital. So when David Price walks out to You'll Never Walk Alone and there's about 7,000 Liverpudlians out there united as boxing fans - as they do in Liverpool; like Belfast, boxing is in the city's blood - and they're singing, crying, screaming for their man, Price will have this 6'5" giant, this regal former world champion in his ear, telling him to focus, to calm down. And as David gets into that ring and looks up to drink it all in and sees Lennox Lewis give him a thumbs-up from ringside, that, if you'll excuse the pun, is Priceless - and it will give Price the calm he will need before the storm. It will be a heavyweight night, trust me.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.