David Price may not be as big a name on Merseyside as Peter Crouch, but he has a better strike rate – and an inch on the footballer in height. At 6ft 8in, the England super-heavyweight heads the squad of British boxers flying to Chicago this weekend for the World Amateur Championships intent on demonstrating that there is life after Amir Khan.
The towering Scouser, more Goliath than David, is a dyed-in-the-red Liverpool fan and might even have been a forerunner to Crouch at Anfield had boxing not seduced him nine years ago when he was a useful footballer who had trialsfor Liverpool Schoolboys.
Now he is among those for whom the term amateur is a misnomer, a product of the revolution that has seen the sport punching its weight following the reorganisation of its governing body and an infusion of Government funding which has helped keep the professionalwolves away from the door.
After the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England lost eight of their 12-strong team to the pros. Now the haemorrhaging has stopped. Following Melbourne in 2006, where England won eight medals, including five gold, only two have hung up the headguard.
The new funding package can be worth up to £80,000 a year for each of these elite pro-ams, and as the national coach, Terry Edwards, says: "Unless you are a really big name like Amir Khan this can be more attractive than turning pro. It puts us on a level playing field with countries like Cuba and Russia."
Moreover, it means that Edwards can take with him to Chicago "one of the best squads I have ever worked with", which he has had together since January. England's team of 11 will be joined by three Welshmen and a Scot on a mission that will act as a barometer for boxing's prospects in 2008 – and potentially the London Games in 2012.
No British boxer has ever won world gold, just one silver and three bronze, but the incentive is Olympic qualification for Beijing. Britain took only Khan to Athens, where he won a silver medal at 17. "Amir was a one-off," says Edwards. "He rewrote the history books but showed what can be achieved." A quarter-final place in Chicago earns qualification for Beijing, though in the case of the heavies it is the semis.
Price, 24, who says his Commonwealth Games victory was the turning point of his career, is spurred on by his increased punching power in a year in which he has won two golds and a silver in European tournaments, stopping his last six opponents. "I don't fear anyone," he says.
His cause will be enhanced by the absence of Cuba's reigning champion, Odlanier Solis, whose defection – along with two Olympic champions – has caused Fidel Castro to pull the entire squad out of the tournament, fearing that more might vanish into the back streets of the Windy City, to reappear in the rings of Las Vegas. "They say they won't turn up but I'll believeit when I see it," says Edwards. "Cuba worries about defections but until recently we've had the same problem, with our boys defecting to the pros."
He picks out middleweight James DeGale, Frankie Gavin (who fills Khan's lightweight berth) and Price as the big medal hopes. "These days David is a more confident, co-ordinated boxer. These championships are coming at the right time for him. He should be on top of his game." The 17st Price, who dreams of following Audley Harrison as an Olympic super-heavyweight champion, says: "People have this misconception that it is easy fighting shorter fellas when you are tall because you have the reach, but it is not always that way. But I do like being taller than my opponents. I've never fought anyone who is actually bigger, though a couple have been the same size.
"What appeals to me about boxing is the respect you get off people and the way it makes you feel about yourself. Getting your hand raised when you win is the best feeling in the world. And there's always the hope at the back of your mind that one day you'll be a world champion."
By that he means both amateur and professional For he admits to pro ambitions, having knocked back a couple of big-money deals after Melbourne. Did he make the right decision? "Well, we'll find out in a couple of weeks, but after Beijing, if I make it, I will certainly turn pro. I'll be 29 by 2012, and I think that would be too late to start a pro career. I have the power to adapt to the pro game and obviously there's potentially a lot of money to be made as a heavyweight. Also I've a little girl of 17 months now and we have to think of the future as a family."
With eyes on that future, England are grooming another giant youngster eager to step into Price's size 12 boxing boots. The wonderfully named Tyson Fury, 19, is just an inch shorter but a stone heavier than Price and has won 23 of his 26 bouts, one of them against the likely US super-heavyweight in Chicago, Michael Hunter. Price himself has a good record of spanking Yanks, having stopped three of the four Americans he has met. It is the dozen Eastern Europeans ranked above him he has to worry about. But he is bound for the city of skyscrapers with head held high.
"I do believe if I just get that little bit of luck with the draw I can come back with a medal," he says. "I'm going out there walking tall." Very tall.
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