“I don’t like this myth that I’m a fucking head case!”
Wisdom oft proves an elusive asset. Remaining invisible to subjects unwilling or unable to recognise and embrace the lessons life uses to swaddle it in. These lessons are typically more conspicuous, more tangible, in the loneliness of failure, when your senses are exposed, when life, or, in a heavyweight prizefighter’s case, a seventeen stone opponent, has knocked you down and stripped you of much of what you thought you were. If you pause long enough in that stillness, when the roar of the crowd fades and the platitudes and sycophants dissolve in to the night, wisdom can come flooding forth.
In conversation with former British and Commonwealth Heavyweight champion David Price, I was struck by how much more content and at ease he sounded following a period of soul searching in the aftermath of his stoppage defeat to Christian Hammer in February. He confesses, he contemplated retirement.“Oh, yeh, straight after the fight, I said, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m done, if I can’t beat somebody like him….’, but in a way that was what helped me get over that defeat, thinking that I wouldn’t fight again, it helped me deal with the disappointment of losing. Telling myself I didn’t care. And it definitely did help, it didn’t hurt as much that fight. What I do know is I left everything I could in that ring, it just wasn’t enough on the night.”
Despite this sentiment, the darkness of the days and weeks that followed his fourth career defeat were difficult to contend with. His trainer over the preceding year or so of his activity, Dave Coldwell, spoke during the summer of the energy pre-fight and in-fight nerves sapped from the big Liverpudlian and his belief that David wouldn’t continue fighting. David was swift to dismiss the implied conclusion that he lacks the mentality to succeed in boxing.
“Every fighter gets nervous before a fight, and if a fighter says he doesn’t; he’s lying. In the end you draw all your confidence from your conditioning. Any athlete will tell you that. But you can, like I did, kid yourself, block it out and convince yourself ‘no, I’m actually alright’. You can call that what you want, you can call it strength of mind or people might say ‘you’re in denial, you’re deluded’. It all comes down to whether you win or not. I just don’t like this myth that I’m a fucking head case. Its not true, I’d have long walked away from this sport, I would never have achieved half what I’ve achieved at any level. Its a myth.”
“I didn’t see any of Dave Coldwell’s interviews at the time but he seems to have conveniently forgotten that he tried to pull me out three weeks before the fight because I was sick, but I refused, or that he told me after the last spar that ‘if I boxed the way I’d just sparred, I’d get fucking steamrolled’. That’s how bad training was going. The whole ‘its in his head’ thing just sounded like a convenient excuse for him. The one thing I’m guilty of as far as the mentality is concerned is; when I’m in a fight, and I do get caught, my instinct is to try and equalise and eliminate the threat with my own power. I’ve been guilty of getting it wrong during the fight but as far as losing fights before I get in the ring, shit like that, thats a load of bollacks. I wouldn’t even be considering putting the gloves on again if that was the case. If thats what people’s opinions are, I don’t know what it will take to change them.”
In the aftermath of defeat to Hammer, the fourth of his career and all by stoppage, things changed. Some shifts were obvious; the partnership with Coldwell, unsurprisingly, reached a natural and mutual conclusion and the experiment with weighing more, which David concedes was his idea, came to an end too. Other changes were more subtle, although to David, no less significant – people around him acted different too.
“A lot of people think I’m finished, people close to me even think I’m finished, without telling me. I can tell, by the way they are with me over boxing compared to how they used to be. What they used to be like. Boxing is like a by product of my life now. It used to be ‘Pricey the boxer’, now its like shelved and thats fine because, I’d probably be the same with some people over different things. But I do really think that the way things are going I can still have a say in things. I’m in a positive position at the minute. It [Boxing] just doesn’t get mentioned as much as anymore, you know, not as much of an interest in it. You do notice it. I’m not offended but it does give you a bit of extra motivation, to go, you know, ‘I’ll fucking show you’, and prove people wrong.”
The circumstances of those losses are widely known to those with an interest in the sport but for those less enraptured, the first three defeats were to men who would fail drug tests subsequent to their fights with David. This theft of momentum, his self-confidence and status could still prove irreversible and it would be understandable had David crumbled beneath the burden of regret or sense of injustice he wrestled with this past two or three years. As an Olympic Bronze medalist, widely tipped for professional honours at world level, he remains short of the trajectory anticipated when leaving the vest and headguard behind in 2008. I was happy to learn that belatedly, and painfully, he has managed to resist the demons those events could’ve created and is eager to prove there is still scope to fulfil that potential.
“When I look back over the past couple of years, its the same as the couple of years before that, I think about 2013. Which is four years, things haven’t really gone great but….the fact that I’m still persevering and still having a go and trying, shows resilience because a lot of people have called for me to retire. I’ve had to let it go, I have let it go, ’cause it would drive you mad. I read somewhere last week that Hammer might get the Povetkin fight and I’m looking at that, and he’d get big money for that fight, and I’m thinking ‘if only’. Even if I’d postponed that fight, just for a month, got myself in better nick. Beat him….. it is frustrating, but I can’t afford to compare things to other people, that would drive you insane.”
The past week has brought David back into the consciousness of boxing fans via the power of social media and a certain Tyson Fury, himself looking to return from a long ‘sabbatical’, name checking him as a potential future opponent. Emboldened by his own positivity and with the wisdom to know that he may need to gamble to get the opportunity he is ultimately seeking, David would happily embrace the challenge were it to materialise.
“I have to be realistic, I may have to take some chances, take a leap of faith, go in as the away fighter, if that is the case, so be it. I do feel good at the minute, me training, I know its a cliche everyone says it, but it’s good. I’ll just get in and have a go and see what people think. If people think it looks like the David Price of old, then great, maybe even look better, then great. They say things happen for reason and the situation I’m in now may end up being the place for me to be. We will see how it goes.”
The first round knockout of Audley Harrison, a fight David felt was the best shape he was ever in.
Throughout our conversation there is an echo of self-awareness in all of David’s responses, a willingness to be honest and pragmatic about his path to this point, but with a desire not to appear melancholic or bitter. As though revealing either would confirm the anxiety or weaknesses Coldwell, and thousands of the anonymous Twittersphere, point to when undermining or dismissing his capabilities. He’s become wise enough to tune out to the negativity, without ignoring the lessons of the past.
“I’m quite private as a person, I don’t tweet much, people don’t get to see what I’m really like as a person because thats just not how I am. The worst part is when someone tells you ‘Oh Dave, you get a right fuckin slagging off on Twitter!’ ‘Yeh, thanks mate! Thats why I don’t fucking go on it, but now I know!’ [Laughs] Every now and then its nice to know there are supportive people, rational people you know who say ‘Okay, you’ve lost, you’re having it at world level, doesn’t mean it has to end’. If everyone packed in because they didn’t get to where they wanted to be; there’d be no boxing. There has to be people like me. If there wasn’t, there would be no fights.”
As we all get older, as the individual years represent ever smaller percentages of the life we’ve led, time seems to speed up. In the blink of an eye, almost a decade has passed since David won that Bronze medal. Thankfully, given the lows he has experienced, heavyweight boxing offers participants a chance or two more than the other divisions and the old maxims of ‘it only takes one punch’ and ‘the last thing you lose is your power’ are ever more prevalent among the big men. In short, even in his mid-thirties, David still has time to fulfil his dreams.
“I remember it like it was yesterday, its been, what, nearly nine years. I said to the wife today, ‘the Olympics were 10 years ago next year’. Life’s just flashing by before your eyes. You know I’m 34 now but I feel young. It maybe that I’ve lost that weight, I dunno. I feel better now than I would’ve felt if I’d just been 18 and half and not put all that weight on. Its served a purpose in a way, its been like taking a fucking 10 kilo weight vest off me back. I feel fresh, I feel like I’m 28 again and long may that continue. I’m feeling good. I don’t want to put a time scale on it but things can change quickly in boxing. Thats what gives you something to hold out hope for. Even if I went on and won a British Title again, that to me would be a success considering the disappointments I’ve had, the lows I’ve had. To persevere and show that resilience and win another title, I’d be proud of myself.”
Despite his victory over Tyson Fury in the Amateurs, any prospect of a cross roads clash between the two in the Spring, ahead of the richer bouts Fury assumes to exploit in the summer, David needs to start winning again. On December 2nd he faces a circuit European over six rounds on an MTK Global show in Brentwood that IFL TV will broadcast on the internet. It may be a long way from the shows he topped in the past, but as he points out himself, David remains, for better or worse, a ‘TV fighter’.
“The thing is, whichever way you look at it, I’m TV friendly; whether I’m knocking someone out, or getting knocked out, whether I’m gassing out, fucking putting someone down or then getting beat. It’s still drama, and thats what people wanna see. Just next time, I wanna be on the positive side of it and not the losing side of it. [Laughs] There should be room for me somewhere.”
Critics, both the credible and the anonymous, will wonder what, at 34, can possibly be different – other than avoiding encounters with a drug cheat in the opposite corner – in this, surely, his last run. David points to his return to a more athletic physique and a sense of being at peace with the past and at peace in his place in the here and now as the reasons we should believe.
“I tried the added weight but it didn’t work out. You’re just carrying an excess amount of shyte around, the majority of it was fat. You could say, ‘well you’ve already failed at the lower weight’ or ‘Its not all about weight.’, but it is about the lessons I’ve learned along the way and how close I’ve come in the past. I still don’t feel I’ve faced someone better than me, as far as ability is concerned, you know? I’m bombing round the running track like an athlete again, I’m not like the big, plodding, fat fella anymore. I’ve got my athleticism back. The longer I’ve been in the sport, the more I’ve begun to accept that I’m not perfect. Trying to be a perfectionist in any sport is a massive burden to put on yourself, you’re demanding too much of yourself. I was like that up until, I suppose, about this time last year when I decided to just let it go, what had happened in the past, and just be a bit freer as a fighter and as a person and just try and enjoy it a bit more.”
As I’ve suggested more than once in the years in which David has encountered misfortune and lurched into the wilderness, a period in which the modesty of Charles Martin, Bermane Stiverne and Lucas Browne as well as the luminaries of Joshua, Fury and co, have held or contested world title belts; a fit, focussed and confident David Price surely remains a very serious contender.
The quest to prove it begins in Brentwood on December 2nd.
Tickets for the event are on sale and available from David directly or via MTK London.