• Steve Bunce

Patience a rare virtue in modern boxing

Steve Bunce July 9, 2013
Back-to-back defeats against Tony Thompson have left David Price at the crossroads © PA Photos
Enlarge

If a young Frank Bruno turned pro tomorrow, you would never, ever, see him in a world title fight. You'd hear that he wobbles, that he gets stopped, that he doesn't look great when he digs in and wins over 10 rounds. He would never get out of the traps! The business has changed and he would never get the chance to develop.

Modern fans - and broadcasters and promoters, I suppose - put too much stress and emphasis on new professionals when what they need is time to develop. We've seen it with David Price: looking back on the whole situation, back to last December when the first fight with Tony Thompson was announced - which I said all along in this column was a hard fight, even though I thought Price would win - in the cold light of day, analysed seriously, it was far too early in his career. I know, we are all genuises the next day!

Having now lost to Thompson for a second time, David Price finds himself at a crossroads. There's nobody who can talk about what David Price is doing until David Price has decided for himself; anything else is pure speculation. But modern British boxing fans lack patience. And it's not just a case of demanding wins - the fighters simply can't afford to lose a round, let alone a fight! Price needs some time now.

Let's not beat around the bush: If Pricey had beaten Thompson back in February and had come through another fight on Saturday, we'd all be screaming for him to fight a Klitschko now! We'd all be nuts, but that's what we would be calling for.

In contrast, Thompson has put himself in a great position. His first win against Price was called a fluke - he wasn't happy with that. So he returned in good condition, looking younger and stronger than ever before, survived a knockdown and won in the fifth. Nobody is screaming for Tony Thompson to fight Wladimir Klitschko - it's already been done twice. Nobody was screaming for him to fight Vitali after he beat David Price the first time, either.

But now Thompson has beaten Price again, and shown resilience and knowledge, guile and power to do so, he will get a call. He's a bit of a measuring stick - people want to get him out of the way to prove they deserve their shot at a heavyweight title. There are not many heavyweights at 41 years of age who have been stopped twice in world title fights who find themselves in demand, but that's where Thompson finds himself. All power to him.

For Kell Brook, who returns to the ring for a rematch with Carson Jones at the MS3 Craven Park Stadium in Hull on Saturday, this is less of a crossroads than a crisis. Two years ago he was the leading contender for the welterweight title of the world. He won eliminators - plural. He fought Carson Jones and didn't look great - some people thought he lost, I thought he won, but it was a fight of two halves and he managed to nick the decision.

But the bottom line is this: Carson Jones wasn't one of the top 30 welterweights in the world - and still isn't. Kell was, in theory, one of the top five. The modern business of boxing gives golden opportunities to thousands, a far cry from the sparse opportunities for fighters of the old business. Was it better in the 1940s or 1950s? I don't think so. If you were black, or you weren't with the right promoter or outfit, you struggled to get a title fight.

Is it better now? Again, I don't know. There are ways that It could certainly be made better now - if it were, you could look at Kell Brook's record and you'd be able to point to the top-10 welterweights he's faced. But you can't, to be brutally honest. You can't do that with most world champions now, unless they're among the best. The rest got to the top by being unbeaten, not by beating the best in the world - that is the modern business.

So Kell's now got Jones again - not at welterweight, but at 150lbs. Jones's camp insist Brook wanted to fight at 152lbs - that's just inside the light-middleweight limit! So the first thing Brook has to do is settle on a weight. He will beat Jones this time and look better doing so, because he's still young and he has to, but winning on points won't be good enough. Carson Jones is not a world title contender. He's a terrific pro - the type of pro the British boxers fed on in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s at the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley. Alan Minter beat them, Kevin Finnegan beat them…all of our fighters back then, whether it's Maurice Hope, John H Stracey, Jim Watt, all of them beat guys like Carson Jones at the top of the bill, and they beat them in style.

Kell Brook is a great fighter who needs to get his head right. It's his head that is the problem, because the injuries that have prevented him from taking on Devon Alexander for the IBF welterweight belt were only part of the problem.

Luke Campbell has taken the long and hard road through the amateur ranks © PA Photos
Enlarge

Brook shares top billing in Hull with Olympic bantamweight champion Luke Campbell, making his professional debut against Andy Harris. What I like about Campbell is the shift in shape and size. Every time he made bantamweight, we wonder how he'd done it. He looks like he's going to go up in weight comfortably, and as Barry Jones said on the podcast, he could keep going. He'll start pro life as a lightweight, but who's to say he could step up to light-welterweight? He wouldn't even be a small welterweight - it's just a case of filling out.

Campbell's not a baby, in the sense that he's not a 19-year-old turning pro - he's seasoned. But this is the bit that people forget: Luke Campbell hasn't had four or five years of uninterrupted funding and glory. After he won the European Championships in 2008, ending a drought for English boxers that started in 1961, he went in the domestic championships and lost before the final; it has been a hard road to glory for the kid.

Luke didn't win his first major title and survive on £60,000 in funding, live in a lovely house in Sheffield and train twice a day while getting the best massages and sports therapy and waiting for the Olympics. He was back on the outside, because his face didn't fit with the system. There were a lot of fighters whose faces didn't fit when the new coach Robert McCracken came in. One was Anthony Joshua, another was Bradley Saunders - who turned pro - but the one who really stuck out was Luke Campbell. He was, trust me, a gifted outsider.

It's been all glory and rah-rah since the Olympics, but two and a half years before London 2012 Luke was training in London with the former GB coach Terry Edwards and looking at going pro. He persevered - and I like to think I played a bit of a role in that, because I kept on pushing for that on my now defunct and much-missed BBC London show. I kept saying that he was the guy that the selectors were looking for. They looked at lots of other fighters before Luke Campbell. He was not part of the London 2012 plan.

So Luke Campbell starts his pro career, and will continue to develop. The problem is - and it is a problem in this country at the moment - how fast do we fast-track these fighters? The fans would like him fighting for a British title in his first fight and a world title by the end of the year. Luke needs four, five, six fights to get up to eight rounds, then maybe in 18 months he can fight for an English title in his 10th or 12th fight.

It's that lack of patience that's going to be the tricky thing when Olympic super-heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua finally decides to turn pro - people will want him fighting great fights first time up, not allowing him two years to learn and grow in the professional ranks.

That's what we've come to expect, both in America and here. That's not how they do it in Germany - they develop their fighters gradually. Look at the Klitschkos' development. They can do it so slowly in Germany because the fans will take it. They don't have websites over there proclaiming that every single German fighter is rubbish. That seems to be all we have over here. As I said, Frank Bruno would not stand a chance in modern British boxing. I hope Campbell and Joshua get the time to develop before the fans hound them.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Feeds Feeds: Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce Close
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.