26th November 2012
Liverpool’s David Price is quite possibly the hottest prospect in world heavyweight boxing right now. On Friday evening, the monstrous hitting 6ft 8in, 17 ½ stone Scouser defends his British and Commonwealth heavyweight straps for a second time when he collides with Bedford’s former world title challenger Matt Skelton at the Aintree Equestrian Centre in his home city.
Watch the fight live and exclusive in the UK on BoxNation, The Channel of Champions, Sky Ch. 437/Virgin Ch. 546.
Yesterday afternoon, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with Franny Smith who has schooled ‘Big Pricey’ since his days as a gangly junior at the Salisbury ABC. In his own words, the unassuming 46 year old father of two from Anfield, provided a fascinating insight into the champion’s meteoric rise to prominence.
“I first became interested in the boxing when I was about 11 or 12. A couple of friends boxed at the ‘Solly’ (Salisbury ABC) and I tagged along with them.
Like most kids, I drifted in and out of the gym and ended up having just five junior bouts between the ages of about 13 and 15; three wins and two losses. All three wins were by stoppage so I guess I must’ve been a bit of a scrapper.
I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time but I was probably a bit of a ‘know all’, always telling the other kids what they needed to do to win there bouts. When I went back to the gym at 18, there weren’t many coaches so Alan Lynch, who ran the club and identified my enthusiasm and interest in technique, asked me to help out with a group of young novices. One of them was (future Olympian and European lightweight champion) David Burke. I also had his brother Stephen, David Mulholland, Courtney Fry, Paul Edwards as a kid, Stephen Matthews, Paul and Carl Wright, Lee Rimmer, John Hayes…..All became national champions or internationals.
Big ‘Pricey’ joined our club from Long Lane ABC when he was about 17. He’d won a Junior ABA but, initially, though he was a lovely lad, I weren’t that impressed. Because he was so tall he tended to fight short fat kids.
But I soon realised he had three essential ingredients; bags of bottle, he could take a wallop and really punch himself. The rest you can develop. He was a very quick learner and still is today. Whenever you tried to instil different techniques to cater for a new opponent, he picked them up instantly. He made my job very easy, was intelligent, had a real appetite for the sport and never cut any corners.
Though he was always polite and respectful, David was a terrific club man, a real mixer who loved a laugh and the banter. Nathan Brough and Derry Mathews were also at the ‘Solly’ at that time. We had a great stable.
‘Pricey’ had been boxing at 91Kilos and under but, because he was so tall, we decided to build him into a super-heavy; increased his diet and got a strength coach on board. We took him around the local gyms to spar and he was really ‘giving it’ to all the local hard cases so, at 18, we gambled on chucking him into the senior ABAs, knowing that if there was a contest that appeared too much we could always withdraw him.
However, despite his youth, he showed real promise winning the regional ABAs then really came of age in the national quarter final against Repton’s ‘Mighty Joe’ Young at the Liverpool Olympia. ‘Mighty Joe’ was 12 kilos heavier and had pasted everybody but David boxed brilliant. At the end of the first round, he returned to our corner with blood splattered all over his face yet there wasn’t an ounce of quit in him. He survived some huge wallops but took Young to school. That was his arrival. Though he lost in the semis (to Martin Grainger of Woking), he cruised to the first of his three ABA titles the following year. The rest, as they say, is history.
Once David got involved in the international set-up, we’d only see him the odd Friday. I didn’t get involved but could see the England coaches turning him into a ‘sword fencer’. He began moving his feet before he’d landed and that caused him to lose power. Still, he got away with it cos he was so agile for a big fella.
If he had the style he has today, he’d have walked through them all at the (2008) Olympics. Despite returning from China with his bronze medal, I knew he had a lot more to give. Problem was he drew the world number one, the Russian Islam Timurziev, in the opening series. David chopped him in half with his right hand (WRSC2) but it did him no favours. That was his Olympic final already. It drained him mentally.
When he walked to the ring for his semi with the Italian (Roberto) Cammerelle, knowing he’d already got his medal, I could see he was flat, a bit fed up with it all. The coaches made him very fit but, I felt, at the expense of his strength. He’s 6ft 8in tall, yet only weighed 16stone something and his body capitulated. Still, his eyes were as clear as a bell when they stopped it.
I’d actually given the sport up for about two and a half years when David decided he wanted to go pro. I used to run a test tube alcoholic shots business but when David approached me to coach him as a pro, it took me about 30 seconds to accept! I’ve let the business go and now train him full-time.
Though he signed with Adam Booth and Hayemaker, I’ve been involved for all his pro fights. The only reason, I wasn’t in his corner for his debut was because my pro licence hadn’t come through but I still trained him.
Starting him off as a pro, I immediately identified the need to put greater strength and rigidity in him. All the fitness work on the international set-up had made him a bit too light and I had to get him planting his feet, utilising his advantages; snapping that fantastic jab and punching with authority again. I got him on a weight training program to build his legs strong. We got in (strength and conditioning coach) Joe Dunbar, who’d worked with Lennox Lewis, and later James Morton from Liverpool University.
His initial year in the pros was a very trying time for the lad. Setanta UK pulled out of boxing and, consequently, David split with Hayemaker. In the amateurs, he had the security of a job with the council plus lottery funding and suddenly he found himself with kids and a mortgage but no money coming in.
By necessity, he fought his first four fights with a cracked bone just above the wrist on his right hand. He was full of cortisone but had to fight because he needed money. Consequently, he had to pull his punches slightly and several times the finishes weren’t as tidy as we’d have liked; ‘cuff shots’ against mediocre opponents. Eventually Dr Mike Hayton operated on his elbow and hand. Basically, he saved David’s career.
It was a very tough baptism, a scary time but it helped develop mental strength. David never needs the stick, just the carrot. He’s a dream to train, always just gets on with what he’s asked. I worked a lot on the psychological side of his game, repeatedly telling him how good he can be. When I looked into his eyes and told him he was destined to be world champion before his pro debut in 2009, he looked at me all perplexed. He believes me now!
David’s a nice, genuine kid who has time for everybody but today, once he steps through those ropes, he’s a spiteful, nasty, horrible giant. He doesn’t go in for all the pre-fight slagging but the last few camps, now we’re paying for sparring, he’s really been dishing it out without mercy.
Since the surgery, he’s really got his confidence back and the recent chain of quick explosive knockouts has been no surprise to me. I always knew he had spectacular wins in him. I realised he could really whack from the very first time I took him on the pads. Back then, he carried his right hand very low but we brought it up, shortened it, and the results were immense.
Lately, he’s been facing opposition – guys like Raphael Butler, Tom Dallas, John McDermott, Sam Sexton and Audley Harrison – that have arrived with ambitions of their own, unlike the journeymen. They’ve come to have a fight not survive but, as a result, they leave gaps and David’s wiped the floor with ‘em.
Against Audley, Dave knew he was up against a potentially dangerous southpaw puncher. That put David right on edge. He was so sharp in the build-up and Audley paid the price. A challenge brings out the best in David and I’ve said several times that it’s only when he fights in top world class that we’ll see the very best of him.
He was always going to dominate the domestic guys after going away to spar the likes of David Haye, (ex world amateur champion and WBC challenger) Odlanier Solis and (reigning European king) Kubrat Pulev.
Coping with Solis over four minute rounds in Madrid was a big, big factor in raising David’s confidence levels. That Cuban was a chilling, brooding character, a beast of a man, who’s also a very clever fighter. Yet David mixed it with him and, at times, even controlled their spars. Looking back, he probably showed Solis a bit too much respect and could’ve been even more dominant.
For me, Pulev is in the top five heavyweights in the world. Only the Klitschkos, David Haye and Povetkin are better. He and Dave had five spars over in Germany. Dave probably edged the first two, wiped the floor with him in the third and probably just conceded the fourth and fifth. But they were all great spars, as close to a fight as you can get. One time when Pulev caught David, he really went for a finish but ‘Pricey’ dealt with it and went straight back at him. I’d strongly fancy David should they meet in a fight with the small gloves and no head guard.
Next up we’ve got big Matty Skelton from Bedford. This fight’s a bit different for us. Ordinarily, we’d have a 10-12 week camp but, because the Harrison fight was so short, took so little out of us, we were ready to go again almost immediately. Dave was already in great shape with regard to his strength and conditioning so it was just a matter of keeping the pan on simmer.
After taking a week off, we’ve been able to experiment with stuff like swimming, more running. We spent 12 days over in Portugal for a change of scenery, sparring John McDermott for toughness and Danny Price for sharpness.
Big Skelton presents a completely different challenge to Audley. Matt’s really courageous, will come to fight and be prepared to go out on his shield. It’s not in his nature to seek a back door entrance.
We expect he’ll try to rough ‘Pricey’ up, make things scrappy, then stretch us into the later rounds and apply some pressure. Though David hasn’t been past round seven and has wiped out his last eight by stoppage, trust me, he gets even better, hits even harder, as the rounds progress. He relaxes more and it all flows better. If Matt does make it to the later rounds he’ll take a sustained beating but I doubt he’ll see past round six.
Provided we come through on Friday, we need just one more defence to keep the Lonsdale Belt outright. But we must move quickly.
The only credible challengers would be Dereck Chisora, Tyson Fury or possibly Richard Towers who I understand is fighting an eliminator for the Commonwealth title. But Dereck’s on a losing streak and who knows if he’ll get his licence back whereas Tyson has already given the title up to get out of fighting us.
I wasn’t at David’s amateur win over Fury in the ABAs but I was one million per cent sure he’d beat Tyson easily when the fight went out to purse bids. At the time, Tyson was out of condition and kept getting dumped on his backside. It was a wise move on his part to vacate. I have to say he’s improved of late and seems to be taking the sport more seriously. It’s a harder fight now.
But David still wins because he’s better technically and punches a lot, lot harder. Tyson’s not a puncher and doesn’t like getting hit. He blinks and shies away whenever he’s backed against the ropes. I hear he does most of his sparring with K1 fighters. His choice, but it’s not what I’d do.
Right now, I’d say David’s at about 75 percent of his full potential. Over the last few months he’s really accelerated technically, developing for all the different styles he could face in the future. Though he’s had a string of quick wins, he’s getting used to the big occasions and he’s thriving in the atmosphere. It’s getting manic when Dave appears in Liverpool, at Aintree or the Echo Arena but, in that cauldron, David’s shown he can still operate very cold and calculated. That’s another important stage of his development.