Simply put, 2012 was a massive year for heavyweight prospect David Price. Within the calendar year, Price went 4-0 with each win coming via spectacular or brutal knockout, and he effectively ascended the ranks of boxing’s glamour division in eight total rounds.
ESPN boxing scribe Dan Rafael named Price his 2012 Prospect of the Year: “At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds -- and with a thunderous right hand -- the 29-year-old Price (15-0, 13 KOs) is built like a 21st-century heavyweight and has tremendous upside in a division in need of new blood.”
It’s hard to disagree with Rafael, especially when one considers the nature of Price’s four stoppages in 2012. In destroying the likes of John McDermott, Sam Sexton, Audley Harrison and Matt Skelton, Price has parlayed defeating some of Britain’s most recognizable heavyweights into burgeoning stardom.
Price will take another crucial step in his development as a legitimate title challenger when he faces veteran contender Tony Thompson on February 23 in Liverpool. Despite his advanced age, the 41-year-old Thompson (36-3, 24 KO) represents Price’s best opponent to date. And there’s also the interesting caveat that Thompson has twice lost to Wladimir Klitschko in championship fights.
So, if Price defeats Thompson—especially if he does so via emphatic stoppage—will he be ready to challenge Klitschko for heavyweight supremacy?
While the Thompson fight certainly represents an important step and reasonable challenge for Price, it should hardly qualify as a de facto title eliminator. Without considering Price in relation to any potential opponent, the Liverpool fighter naturally possesses skills, power, a quality amateur pedigree and the size to provide Klitschko with an intriguing challenge.
However, there is much Price has yet to experience as a professional. Detractors will point to the fact that Price has never proven he can genuinely take a punch as a professional and that he has yet to overcome significant in-ring adversity. And there’s also the fact that Price has never had to go even eight full rounds (per BoxRec.com).
In many respects, of course, this is not Price’s fault. Oddly enough, the short and spectacular nature of Price’s high-profile victories has given dissenters ammunition to use against him. For those who point to Price’s truly awesome power and classy pedigree, others will counter by saying that he has feasted on limited or ancient opposition.
Rather than overanalyze Price’s accomplishments, it is more important to recognize that he is simply in the midst of growing as a fighter. As opposed to clamoring for Price to challenge Klitschko—which is somewhat understandable because of the dearth of exciting heavyweights—fans and pundits should allow his fight against Thompson to simply be part of his developmental process.
In Thompson, Price is facing in opponent of reasonably similar physical stature with decent skills. Thompson has also fought 17 total rounds against Klitschko over two fights (both knockout losses) and has otherwise defeated a notable cross section of heavyweight contenders. For all these reasons, Thompson is an important opponent for Price to face.
However, Thompson is eroding as a fighter. While he would have been an intriguing opponent for Price circa 2008, he is presently more of a litmus test to see if Price can stop him more quickly than Klitschko did last year.
Luckily, Price seems to understand his place in the heavyweight landscape (per the BBC):
"By the time I've had another two fights after Thompson, the only people left to fight will be whoever holds the world titles," Price told BBC Sport.
"Without a doubt I'll be fighting for a world title in the next five fights."
Price’s plan of steadily working toward a title shot might seem laborious to some. While the heavyweight division lacks marquee names, fighters like Chris Arreola, Johnathon Banks, Kubrat Pulev, Robert Helenius and Tomasz Adamek are just a few of the types of fighters Price should realistically face before Klitschko.
And then there’s the seemingly inevitable prospect of a massive fight against domestic rival and rising contender Tyson Fury.
The subject of Price-Fury is perhaps best left for another article. Price has done the necessary domestic work to confidently tackle world-level opposition. At this point, seeing Price defeat other genuine contenders remains the next step in his pursuit of a world title. This is not an indictment; it is simply the next logical and necessary step.
Considering that Price has only 15 professional fights, there is no need to rush him. If Price is part of the next wave of potential heavyweight champions, the prospect of pitting him against Klitschko as both an intriguing challenge and means to settle hypothetical debates is natural.
A premature title shot, however, can be damaging for any developing fighter. Should Price’s career arc not coincide with Klitschko’s, it will not be a tragedy. If Price ever challenges Klitschko, it should be only because he is genuinely ready—not because he promises to be.