Oleksandr Usyk’s first Brit rival Danny Price recalls their high-stakes fight: ‘It was gutting – he is unbelievable’ | Boxing News

Thirteen years have passed but as Oleksandr Usyk gets set to return to the UK, his first British opponent is still ruing his own dreadful luck.

Danny Price felt Olympic heartbreak at the time when “the tournament of his life”, a qualifier for Beijing 2008, ended in the unthinkable. Only later would he realise quite how cruelly he had been treated.

Usyk has since outpointed Joe Joyce, knocked out Tony Bellew, battled past Derek Chisora and will challenge for Anthony Joshua’s IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight championships on September 25, live on Sky Sports Box Office.

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But his first fight with a Brit came in Pescara, Italy, on the picturesque Adriatic Coast, hardly the expected location for boxing disaster to strike.

“I beat a Moldovan. Then I beat Tervel Pulev [the brother of Joshua’s former challenger Kubrat], who eventually won a world silver,” remembers Price about what was slowly becoming his greatest week of accomplishment.

Danny Price
Danny Price was one win away from qualifying for the Olympic Games

“Then I beat a Greek guy who was European champion.

“I beat them in three consecutive days.”

Qualification for the Olympics was one fight away for Price. In his way stood a Ukrainian heavyweight, just 21 years old.

Price recalls an awkward battle of styles with the southpaw Usyk: “He was a counter-puncher back in the day, and so was I. I was better suited to being on the back foot.

“I was one point down going into the last round.

“I had to chase the fight in the last round and he beat me. That was his game.

“I always think – if I was one point up going into the final round, he would have to have chased me. I could have been on the back foot.

“It would have been in my hands. It was gutting.”

Oleksandr Usyk
Usyk inflicted a heartbreaking defeat on Price

Usyk won 15-6 in the four-round bout to guarantee himself a spot at the Olympics.

“Technically he is just unbelievable,” Price says.

“In the first three rounds, there wasn’t much in it. He didn’t give much away and neither did I.

“Then any time I threw, I missed and he threw back. His reflexes were so good.

“In the last round when I chased it, he boxed my head off. He caught me coming in. He was so good at that style of fighting.

“He is the best technical boxer that I’ve been in the ring with.”

Price, who owned an amateur win over Bellew, fell short in three qualifiers for Beijing 2008.

Team GB instead comprised Kal Yafai, Joe Murray, Frankie Gavin, Bradley Saunders, Billy Joe Saunders, James DeGale (who won gold), Tony Jeffries and David Price (both bronze).

Only as time dragged on did Price come to understand the severity of his disappointment.

He had bumped into Clemente Russo at his first qualifier in Chicago and lost to the Italian who he thought “didn’t hit hard – he was just awkward and threw shots from different angles”.

But Russo eventually eliminated Usyk and Deontay Wilder at the Olympics en route to winning silver.

Oleksandr Usyk
Usyk was eliminated in the quarter-finals at the Beijing Games

Price’s final attempt to qualify ended with “an awful decision” in defeat to Hungary’s Jozsef Darmos. Sickeningly, that tournament was won by Greece’s Elias Pavlidis.

“The guy I beat before I faced Usyk,” sighed Price.

“Don’t, mate,” he says when thinking about his fight in Italy against Usyk which represented his best chance of going to an Olympics.

Even being forced to face Usyk in the crunch fight, rather than an easier opponent, added to Price’s misfortune.

“My side of the draw was so bad!

“Artur Szpilka [who was later knocked out by Wilder and Chisora] wasn’t very good. It’s ifs and buts. But if I got Szpilka, I would have been comfortable.”

Usyk’s first Olympics in Beijing ended in defeat but, four years later in London, he won gold.

Joshua, in the division above, also took gold.

At the time it could never have been predicted that they would eventually meet at a stadium which didn’t exist yet in a world heavyweight championship fight of such magnitude.

“It’s an intriguing fight,” Price says. “If Usyk can keep him at bay, he will win.

“Obviously if Joshua connects, it’s lights out.

“Usyk would struggle more with a style like Chisora’s or Dillian Whyte’s. He would be forced to be on his toes for 12 rounds.

“But Joshua is more of a boxer, more orthodox, he tries to pick his shots more.

“That might play into Usyk’s hands. I think a pressure fighter is more effective against Usyk.”

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Joshua vs Usyk could be a ‘Fight of the Year’, says promoter Eddie Hearn

Usyk now stands as a former undisputed cruiserweight champion aiming to become just the third boxer ever (after Evander Holyfield and David Haye) to also win a heavyweight title. He hasn’t lost as a professional and it has been a decade since he tasted defeat as an amateur.

Perhaps his greatest success, the 2012 Olympics, came in Britain and he has convincingly beaten every Brit rival put before him.

Joshua will be an altogether different test.

From his home in Scarborough, the long since retired Price will watch with interest and ponder what might have been different.

Watch Joshua v Usyk on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, from 6pm. Book it via your Sky remote or book it online here. Non-Sky TV subscribers can book and watch it here.

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