Bunce on Boxing: Finally, a British title fight worth the billing
David Price has been a patient observer of the British heavyweight scene since he stood at Audley Harrison's knee and held the Sydney gold medal-winner's gleaming trophy.
Price was 17, Harrison was an instant millionaire but his words moved faster than his fists and, sadly, his rise was delayed by his instant decline. That was in early October 2000 and here we are 12 years later with the pair about to take part, hopefully, in the biggest British heavyweight title fight for more than 20 years.
"Audley was a hero of mine when he came back with that gold medal," Price said. "I watched in amazement with the rest of the country when he failed to win a world title."
The pair fight for Price's British heavyweight championship at the Echo Arena, Liverpool, on Saturday in front of an anticipated crowd of just under 8,000, which in modern terms is exceptional. I think that Lennox Lewis against Gary Mason in 1991 had 12,000 at Wembley and it was about 20 years earlier, at the start of the Seventies, when crowds of a similar size last came out to watch British heavyweights.
Since Henry Cooper lost to Joe Bugner at Wembley's Empire Pool in 1971, a night when the ring was buried in cigar smoke and an uncertain baton changed fists, the British heavyweight title has become little more than a travelling sideshow for far too many one and two-fight champions to fill local leisure centres.
The last decade has been the busiest in the history of the once-glorious belt, with 16 championship fights so far, compared to 11 or fewer in all previous decades. However, nights at the Afan Lido watching bouncers from south Wales scrap with bouncers from south London for the prestigious title have reduced its currency. Lewis was a champion, Bugner was a champion and Cooper ruled for years, but obscure men like Gordon Ferris, Neville Meade and Scott Gammer have staged tiny smash-and-grab raids during the last 40 years.
On Saturday, Harrison, who is now 40, will get one more chance finally to deliver on all of his promises in a fight that he has helped turn into an event. "I remember David as a little boy and it will not be easy for me to take him out, but it is what I have to do," promised Harrison, who has hired an impressive and costly trio of unbeaten and world-ranked American heavyweights to help him prepare.
Price is an exceptional athlete at 6ft 8in, just under 18 stone and, like the towering Klitschko brothers, who have delivered an uneasy mix of tyranny and calm to the world heavyweight scene for 10 years, his body has started to show the signs of relentless training. Price has lost the "gangly" giant tag since winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics and is now a serious specimen in a business where too many fat or thin or old flops are getting millions for failed world title tilts. The heavyweight championship of the world has never been busier and it has never meant less.
However, if Harrison wins on Saturday then he gets the next available dance with a Klitschko because there are fewer and fewer men left on the conveyor belt. Price, meanwhile, has not ruled out answering a phone call from the world championship brothers but knows that he needs a few more fights.
On Saturday, he will do his bit both to get closer to a world title and remind boxing fans why British heavyweight title fights were once essential dates in the calendar. Harrison has done his bit by talking up his usual storm, putting in a guest appearance on Strictly Come Dancing and predicting a knockout.
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