British boxing has a long history of the underdog coming good. David Price may have seen his dreams of a fast track world title shot go up in smoke following a single punch from Tony Thompson but he’s not the only man earmarked for success to see his dreams at least postponed…
What Happened Before?
Life was looking great for Olympic silver medallist Amir Khan. 18-0 (with 14 stoppages) Commonwealth champion, being positioned for a title shot. Already a household name in the UK he’d just signed with Sky and executives were busy predicting how many PPV buys they could squeeze out of his seemingly inevitable run to a world title. The first step was for Khan to face virtually unknown Columbian Breidis Prescott. Sure he had a pretty record… 19-0 with 17 stoppages… but those stoppages came against abject Columbian opposition and in his lone bout outside his home country he’d struggled immensely in winning a split decision over Richard Abril. Surely nothing for Khan to worry about?
54 seconds after the opening bell Khan was slumped over semi-conscious in the corner, one of the definitive images of his career. There had been concerns about Khan’s chin previously… notably when the light punching Willie Limond had put him down hard… but here they were on display for the whole world to see. Dropped in virtually the first exchange Khan never recovered and was finished as soon as Prescott landed his next clean shot.
What happened next?
Many people proclaimed Khan’s career over but a combination of smart matchmaking and Khan’s own skill meant he rebuilt well. After a soft touch comeback and a controversial cut stoppage win over the legendary but faded Marco Antonio Barrera he moved up to 140lbs and won a world title with a clinical boxing display against Andriy Kotelnyk. Five successful defences followed and there was real talk of Khan facing US superstar Floyd Mayweather before a disputed loss to Lamont Peterson saw Khan lose his belts. His return against Danny Garcia brought him full circle… knocked down and badly hurt with real questions about his future career hanging over him.
Prescott was never really able to make anything from the Khan win. His record is a pedestrian 6-4 and those four losses have seen him drop out of title contention. He’s still a contender and the Khan win certainly gave him name value (as well as the truly awful nickname “The Khanqueror”) so he’ll likely continue to get high profile bouts.
What Happened Before?
At 10-0 the 24 year old David Haye was being fast tracked to success. He had the look, he had the mouth, he had the charisma, he had the skill and he certainly had the power. 10 stoppages, all within the first four rounds and all seemingly without breaking a sweat. Carl Thompson was 40 years old and despite his reputation as one of the toughest men in boxing it was assumed age had caught up with him. He was meant to be a speedbump on Haye’s road to a world title, a nice name to have on his record and a guy who might make Haye box for a few more rounds then he was used to… but little more.
For four rounds Haye threw the kitchen sink at Thompson and always seemed a mere moment from a stoppage, that just one more punch would be enough to give him the win. But that punch never landed. Thompson bit down on his gumshied and took everything Haye could offer until the younger man had punched himself to exhaustion. By the 5th round Haye was utterly drained by his efforts and virtually helpless when Thompson began his own attacks. Thompson dropped him twice and while Haye never stopped trying his corner took mercy and threw in the towel.
What Happened Next?
Haye learnt a lesson from this bout and focused on his conditioning and style. He was still explosive and aggressive but he was less reckless with his shots and showed the ability to go deep into bouts. Three months later he returned and over the next three years moved through the rankings, ending with a world title shot against the consensus best in the division Jean Marc Mormeck, where he pulled himself off the canvas to knock out the Frenchman in seven rounds. He destroyed fellow cruiserweight champ Enzo Macrinelli in two rounds and then moved to heavyweight where he found relative success despite his bite being worse than his bite and a tendency for tasteless antics and brawls.
Thompson only fought one more time, winning a comfortable decision over Frederic Serrat. The Haye bout was a fitting penultimate bout, showcasing Thompson’s combination of power, toughness and determination which had previously brought his the WBO belt.
What happened before?
Hackney based Paul “Scrap Iron” Ryan was one of British boxing’s leading lights in the mid-90’s. 22-0 with 20 stoppages he was simply smashing his way to success. He’d destroyed British and Commonwealth champion Ross Hale (then 26-1) in a single round and won a couple of lesser WBO belts which meant he was highly ranked by the organisation. A world title shot was virtually a guarantee and his bout with the 10-3 Jon Thaxton was basically a keep busy bout. This was especially true when you considered that Thaxton was a last-minute replacement, brought in when original opponent American Gene Reed went missing.
Ryan came in like he always did, stalking Thaxton down with a stiff jab, looking for a big punch to finish the bout.
He found it.
Unfortunately he found it landing on his chin.
With 50 seconds left in the first round Ryan appeared to be going through the gears, upping the pace and throwing combinations. Thaxton slipped most of them and then landed a near perfect counter hook which knocked Ryan unconscious.
What happened next?
Ryan never recovered. He was knocked out in the first round of his next bout, losing his titles and after knocking over a few soft touch opponents he was stopped in two rounds in an attempt to win the British title and retired afterwards.
Thaxton went on to be a great servant of domestic British boxing having a bloody war with Ricky Hatton (which you can see here) and facing a who’s who of prospects and contenders. He briefly retired after a car accident but returned and finally completed his dream of winning a British title. He spent a few years chasing a bout with Amir Khan which never materialised and briefly held the European belt. After losing it he went back to domestic level and generally struggled, losing his last bout to John Murray before retiring.
4) Randy Turpin v Sugar Ray Robinson
What happened before?
Sugar Ray Robinson is almost without dispute regarded as the greatest boxer ever and he was at his absolute pomp here. 128-1-2, eight years since his loss to LaMotta (a loss he had avenged multiple times), the welterweight and middleweight champion of the world. He was… and remains… perhaps the most perfect example of the sweet science that anyone has ever seen; technically near perfect, athletically gifted, a record studded with victories over all-time great boxers. In the days before PPV boxers had to travel to the fans and the bout with Turpin was the end of Robinson’s European tour. Hed toured in some style, beating up Italien, German, Swiss and Belgian opposition while barely breaking having to get out of second gear and travelling the continent in a pink Cadillac.
Turpin was not a bad boxer himself: 40-2-1 and a European and British champion when both belts really meant something. He was a good all-round boxer and noted for his defence, using his shoulders defensively and his arms to cover his chest and head. He could move, he could punch, he could box and he could fight but despite that he was the understandably huge underdog.
As far as I’m aware there’s no footage of the first bout but the newspaper reports indicate that Turpin took the bout to Robinson. He aggressively closed in on the champion, avoiding Robinson’s own shots and pressuring him. By all accounts there was a sense of disbelief in the crowd, a thought that at some stage Robinson would have to take over… but that stage never came. Turpin continued his assault, eventually winning a decision.
What happened next?
Turpin was catapulted into the mainstream with the win and its fair to say he enjoyed it. His moment in the sun didn’t last long… in the rematch in America Robinson knocked out Turpin, giving rise to claims he was simply tired and distracted from his European tour during the first bout. Robinson continued his legendary career although as age caught up with him he started to fade… not enough that he wouldn’t continue to be the dominant force at middleweight for a decade to come.
Turpin in contrast never got back to that level. He continued to be an effective British and European level boxer for a while but his lone attempt to regain the middleweight title ended with a decision loss to Bobo Olson and he found himself losing to boxers he would have once beaten with ease. His retirement was not a happy one. He craved the attention he once had but his attempts at running a pub failed and his name value fell further and further. Declared bankrupt in 1966 he committed suicide by shooting himself after possibly shooting his four year old daughter twice.
What happened before?
Ricky Hatton was a popular boxer but not an incredibly well regarded one. He was 38-0 and had held the lightly regarded World Boxing Union world title for 15 bouts and four years but his opposition was generally on the soft side, consisting of poorly respected Americans and distinctly average Europeans. His rough and tumble style disguised some solid boxing fundamentals but to the boxing world at large he was a protected boxer coasting through a career.
Kostya Tszyu was anything but protected. A supremely talented boxer-puncher with power, skill and technique. He’d held some version of a world title for nearly a decade, dominated the likes of Shamba Mitchell, Zab Judah, Julio Cesar Chavez and Jesse James Leija and was generally regarded as one of the better boxers pound for pound in the world. He may have been out of the ring for a while but in general he was considered a far superior boxer to the crude Hatton.
For 11 rounds the pair went to war. Not the sort of glorious war boxing highlights on youtube like to hype but the sort of down and dirty trench warfare that saps a boxers will and strength. Hatton would leaps back and forth, riding the lightning of Tszyu’s punches, getting to the inside where the pair would wrestle, grind, hit, hold and generally rely on the dark arts of boxing. Both fighters bent the rules, both fighters paid the price but in the 10th round Hatton started to take over, to break down the unbreakable man. By the end of the 11th Tszyu was done, his trainer throwing in the towel between rounds.
What happened next?
Tszyu didn’t officially retire but the fact he hasn’t boxed to this day means the Hatton bout was almost certainly his last. Hatton used the win as a spring board to move from a folk hero to boxing fans in the UK to a genuine boxing superstar, one of the biggest draws in boxing on either side of the Atlantic, and to superfights with Mayweather and Pacquiao. His recent comeback may have ended in failure but he appears to have put the demons that haunted his first retirement behind him.
What happened before?
Price was a leading light of the new wave of British heavyweights, along with rival Tyson Fury, Derrick Chisora, Richard Towers and previous victims Sam Sexton and Tom Dallas. An Olympic bronze medallist the 6’8” heavyweight had looked near perfect as a professional, using a jab to dictate bouts and backing it up with crushing one-shot power in either hand. He may have limited his opposition to domestic level opponents… often of the more elderly variety… but he looked pretty good in dispatching them.
Thompson was a veteran contender, a man who had only lost in recent years to Wladimir Klitchko, arguably the best heavyweight on the planet. His last seven wins, dating back to mid 2007, had all been stoppages. That said, the level of his opposition in those bouts hadn’t been spectacular, he’d looked fairly awful against Wladamir and it appeared his best days were long behind him. He was brought in as a name value opponent for Price and a slight step up in competition but a boxer Price was expected to beat and beat well, especially when Thompson came in flabby.
The bout was relatively quiet right to the end. Price slowly stalked Thompson, trying to establish his jab and time the veteran well enough to bring his more powerful right into play. Thompson moved around on the outside, probing and prodding but rarely engaging or committing to any shots. In the second round Price glanced Thompson with his right hand and landed some nice follow up shots… but when his next punch missed Thompson countered with a chopping shot that caught Price awkwardly and dropped him to the mat. While he made it to his feet it was clear that the Liverpool boxer was in no condition to continue and the bout was waved off.
What happens next?
This is a big win for Thompson. At 41 and with his recent losses to Wladimir his future career appeared to be little more than nights like this; a name opponent flown across the world to likely be beaten by the local contender/prospect who wanted some depth on his record. This win puts him up a level. It’s unlikely anyone would care to see him in there with either Klitschko brother but he’s now a viable opponent for the likes of title holder Alexander Povetkin or any of the slew of contenders circling around the top of the division… and he can get more money than he would. He already seems to be setting up a bout with Tyson Fury. Assuming Fury wins his US debut against Steve Cunningham (which he should) it’s a match I like and one that seems practical to put together.
For Price this may not quite be a disaster but it’s not far off. Some succour can be taken from Thompson’s record and experience but the real issue is what it says about Price’s chin. With the size of modern heavyweights a single punch can likely drop anyone but there have been questions hanging over Price’s chin for his entire career. As an amateur he was chinny… stopped in the Olympics and infamously dropped by Tyson Fury as amateurs when Fury was 18. As a pro none of his opponents had really been able to test his chin although there were warning signs; an old and overweight Matt Skelton buzzed him early on in their bout before Price’s power told. The biggest concern for Price and his handlers is whether this was just one of those punches, something that says little about Price’s chin overall, or whether it shows a real weakness that will always haunt Price. I fear it may be the latter and in that case Price may find himself hitting the ceiling of his pro career… towards the world level a boxer will get hit however good his defence.
For now I’d expect Price to rebuild for a bout or two, likely against either domestic opposition or weak European opponents, likely those who lack a punch. A single loss doesn’t end a career but there is no doubt that this was a big setback for Price… both in terms of his immediate future and his whole career.