Boxing: Lennox Lewis says David Price is right to be heavyweight heir

Liverpudlian slugger can unify title of what was once sport's richest prize

There's a big lad on Merseyside who can boast a strike-rate better than most of the six-foot-plus sharpshooters Liverpool have employed up front in recent years. David Price might even have been a forerunner to Crouch, Torres, Carroll and Co at Anfield had boxing not seduced him as a teenager when he was a useful footballer with Liverpool Schoolboys.

Instead the towering Scouser, at 6ft 8in more Goliath than David, has emerged as the man most likely to unite the fractured world heavyweight championship. Who says so? The last one to do so, Lennox Lewis, who reckons the 29-year-old unbeaten holder of the British and Commonwealth titles is poised to become his heir apparent.

"I don't see any faults in David now," Lewis observes from his home in Jamaica. "He is potentially the best of the current heavyweight crop. I like his style, his approach to the sport, the calm way he goes in there and gets the job done. Just as I did. The sort of punch he has can take him right to the top. It's taking a long time to find another undisputed champion [Lewis, now 46, retired in February 2004] but David could be the one."

Such praise from boxing's one-time Caesar is unlikely to turn Price's head. Of all Britain's current boxing prospects I like Price the most. There is no hint of arrogance about the dyed-in-the-red Liverpool fan, a former plumber who admits he blubbed the first time he got hit in the ring, as a 10-year-old.

"I really didn't like getting punched," he admits. "It was only about four years later when football didn't work out that I went back to the gym. This time there were no tears. I still didn't enjoy getting hit but I learned how to take it – and hit back. Now I love boxing."

Here is one heavyweight with more than hype and hope in his corner, plus a genuinely concussive, venomous punch. Next Saturday night at Liverpool's Echo Arena, in his 16th pro fight, he will attempt to add the seasoned American Tony Thompson to a string of quickfire conquests, the briefest of which was his brutal, 82-second despatch of Audley Harrison.

Like Harrison, Thompson is a tall southpaw, but there the resemblance ends. Thompson has, after all, gone 17 rounds with Wladimir Klitschko in two world title fights. Victory would propel Price closer to his own encounter with one of the Ukrainian brothers who have dominated the division since Lewis's departure following a controversial cut-eye win over the elder sibling, Vitali.

Lewis and Price have much in common, including Olympic medals: Lewis a gold at Seoul in 1988 and Price a bronze 20 years later in Beijing. Frank Maloney, who steered Lewis through the murky world of what the fighter called "boxing's politricks" to the world title, now promotes Price. And though both are happily settled family men they have had to laugh off "gay" jibes: Price from the incorrigibly irritating Tyson Fury. Lewis, when questioned once about his sexuality, retorted: "Listen, I'm 100 per cent a women's man. If you're worried about that, bring your sister by."

Both, too, share a mutual idolatry of Muhammad Ali, and concerns over conflicting reports of the great man's rapid deterioration. It is exactly 49 years ago next week that Ali won the world heavyweight title against Sonny Liston, and there are serious worries that he may not live to see the golden anniversary of an event that, in his words, "shook up the world".

"Seeing Ali as he is now is the greatest sadness of my life," sighs Lewis, who was one of only three heavyweight champions, along with Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano, in history to quit while still champion and stay retired, instead of returning to the ring to take a beating.

"Ali was more than my idol, he was my inspiration," Lewis adds. "I just wish we could all remember him as he was, a pioneer and the boxer who had it all. What he's done outside the ring – the bravery, the poise, the feeling, the sacrifice – he should get the Nobel Peace Prize for what he has achieved."

Another sad aspect is that when Ali goes, there will be no legacy left for American heavyweight boxing. There is not one currently who has a hope of winning what once was regarded as the richest prize in sport. Which is why the Americans are now ardently wooing the British Olympic champion Anthony Joshua and, like Lewis, are beginning to believe that the more immediate future has a Price label on it.

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