British heavyweight David Price first set foot in a boxing gym at age 11, but he didn't like it.
"I tagged along with some older lads," he said. "I was big for my age, so I sparred with the older lads. I didn't like it and I went back and played football -- what you call soccer. That was my big passion."
But when Price realized he wasn't good enough to play his chosen sport professionally, he gave boxing another chance at age 14, when a friend asked him to come along to the gym.
"When I went back, I liked everything about it," Price said. "I liked the smell of leather and the gloves. I was training and they put me in some sparring. I loved it. From there, I carried on. I was obsessed."
That obsession led the Liverpool native to an amateur record of about 75-15, including a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Four years later, he's one of boxing's hottest rising stars and the 2012 ESPN.com prospect of the year.
At 6-foot-8, 250 pounds -- and with a thunderous right hand -- the 29-year-old Price (15-0, 13 KOs) is built like a 21st-century heavyweight and has tremendous upside in a division in need of new blood. He is on the verge of major fights after going 4-0 in 2012 and requiring fewer than eight full rounds to crush his opponents.
He buzzed through some of Britain's best-known heavyweights: John McDermott (first-round knockout), Sam Sexton (KO4, to win the vacant British and Commonwealth titles), 2000 Olympic gold medalist and former world title challenger Audley Harrison (KO1) and ex-world title challenger Matt Skelton (KO2).
Price is taking a significant step up in competition on Feb. 23 (WealthTV) in Liverpool against American Tony Thompson, the longtime contender whose two world title shots ended in knockout losses to champ Wladimir Klitschko, the man many expect Price to face eventually.
But Price, who is trained by Franny Smith, is in no hurry.
"I have got expectations of myself, but with 15 fights, I'm still gaining experience," said Price, who lives with his girlfriend and their two children. "It's a compliment to me at an early stage of my career that people think I can challenge Klitschko. But I've only been a pro four years. I could be knocking on the door by the end of . If I can do a better job on Thompson than Klitschko did, that can propel me. That's massive motivation for me.
"I do want to move on to world level. When I get there I want to stay there, not just be a guy who fought for the world title and put up a good showing. I want to win it and stay there. I think it'd be foolish to think I could beat Wladimir or [older brother and fellow titlist] Vitali [Klitschko] right now. They've been at the top for so long. Ability-wise, I could probably match them, but experience comes into it. I have to get stronger and get rounds under my belt. That will come. It's not that I lack self-belief. It's being realistic."
Promoter Frank Maloney knows a thing or two about developing heavyweights. He was the guiding force behind Lennox Lewis' ascent to the championship. He believes Price can follow in those large footsteps.
"I see a lot of Lennox Lewis in David Price," said Maloney, who was so eager to sign Price that he did so just after being hospitalized for a heart attack. "I was on the verge of walking away from boxing, but he signed with me the day before my heart operation.
"David is a clinical finisher. When David gets you in trouble, he will not take a backward step. He will finish you, and that's what excites you. The right hand is unbelievable and he's learned to deliver it like a bolt. I'm beginning to believe that David has improved so much that if he doesn't win a world title, I will count myself as a failure and I'll walk away from boxing. It will be the biggest disappointment of my life."
Price said Maloney shouldn't worry.
"I do really believe if I fulfill my potential, I can achieve the heavyweight championship," he said. "I will do everything in my power to make it happen."
The rest of the Super 20 (in alphabetical order with age, division and record)
Magomed Abdusalamov (31; heavyweight; 16-0, 16 KOs): A 6-foot-3, 229-pound Russian southpaw based in Oxnard, Calif., he's older than your usual prospect but turned pro only in 2008 after a standout amateur career. As a pro, he has shown great power, stopping every opponent inside four rounds. In going 4-0 in 2012, Abdusalamov scored solid wins against faded contender Jameel McCline (TKO2) and Maurice Byarm (TKO2).
Demetrius Andrade (24; junior middleweight; 18-0, 13 KOs): The southpaw from Providence, R.I., was a star amateur whose accolades include a world amateur title and a 2008 Olympic berth. He needed just five rounds to win three fights in 2012, but fought extremely weak opposition that was a step down from a 2011 win over former "Contender" champion Grady Brewer. Andrade has all the tools, but he needs his handlers to step him up.
Jose Benavidez Jr. (20; junior welterweight; 17-0, 13 KOs): Phoenix's Benavidez has been boxing since he was 6, turned pro at 17 on a special waiver from Nevada and is viewed by many as a sure-fire future champion after going 120-5 as an amateur. He won a 2009 Golden Gloves national title at 16, the youngest to accomplish that. Even though he was 3-0 in 2012, the year was a little shaky. Besides ongoing hand problems, he was badly hurt late in an October fight he was winning easily against Pavel Miranda.
Randy Caballero (22; junior featherweight; 17-0, 9 KOs): The Coachella, Calif., native has become a good draw in his home region. He went 4-0 in 2012 and had plenty of TV time as he continued to improve. As an amateur, he was 167-10, including a 2008 U.S. national championship and a bronze medal at the 2008 world amateur championships, but was too young to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. His boxing skills are solid, but promoter Golden Boy would like to see him gain strength and improve his conditioning.
Jermell Charlo (22; junior middleweight; 19-0, 9 KOs): Trained by Ronnie Shields, Houston's Charlo was just 17 when he turned pro in 2007. He hadn't distinguished himself, but Charlo began to turn the corner in 2012. He has gained power with physical maturity and begun to let his hands go. His 1-2 jab-right hand combination is quick as a whip. He was 3-0 in 2012, including back-to-back wins against the best opponents of his career, Chris Chatman (TKO3) and Denis Douglin (KO5).
Javier Fortuna (23; featherweight; 21-0, 15 KOs):A southpaw from the Dominican Republic, Fortuna has tremendous hand and foot speed and has scored some eye-catching knockouts. He fights out of the same gym as middleweight champ Sergio Martinez and often imitates his unorthodox style. He was 3-0 in 2012, culminating with a unanimous decision against Patrick Hyland to claim an interim belt.
Carl Frampton (25; junior featherweight; 15-0, 10 KOs): Northern Ireland's Frampton had an excellent amateur career before going pro under the guidance of manager Barry McGuigan, the Hall of Fame former featherweight champion. Frampton, who is moving quickly toward a world title shot, is a relentless crowd-pleaser with good skills and power. Already the Commonwealth champion, "The Jackal" scored his best win in September, a sixth-round knockout of former world titlist Steve Molitor to set up a Feb. 9 shot at European champion Kiko Martinez.
Bryant Jennings (28; heavyweight; 16-0, 8 KOs): Philadelphia's Jennings went from unknown to hot prospect thanks to going 5-0 in 2012 and becoming a TV staple. He's not a huge heavyweight (6-2, 225) and not a big puncher, but he's busy with his hands and a hard worker. He scored his best win in March, a ninth-round knockout of ex-titleholder Sergei Liakhovich.
Sergey Kovalev (29; light heavyweight; 19-0-1, 17 KOs): Born in Russia and based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Kovalev could be a diamond in the rough who was initially passed over. He's physically strong and aggressive. He went 2-0 (both KOs inside three rounds) in 2012, so he needs to fight more often. But he says he's willing to fight anyone and will back it up by taking a risky step-up fight against ex-titlist Gabriel Campillo on Jan. 19.
Jessie Magdaleno (21; junior featherweight; 13-0, 9 KOs): Las Vegas' Magdaleno, younger brother of junior lightweight contender Diego Magdaleno, has massive potential for stardom. The southpaw has a strong foundation and an exciting style. As an amateur, he went 120-16 and won six major titles, including the 2009 U.S. nationals and national Golden Gloves. He would have been a 2012 Olympic medal favorite but elected to turn pro in late 2010. He went 6-0 in 2012, including a first-round knockout of former Puerto Rican Olympian Carlos Valcarcel, who was expected to test him.
Antonio Orozco (25; junior welterweight; 16-0, 12 KOs): Orozco, who grew up in Garden City, Kan., spent time living in Mexico and now lives in San Diego, has flown a bit under the radar, but he's a stud. "Simple Man" is a pressure fighter with good power and a fan-friendly style. He works the body very well, is relentless with his combinations and simply wears opponents down. He was 4-0 (all KOs) in 2012 and just needs experience.
Jose Pedraza (23; lightweight; 11-0, 7 KOs): A 2008 Olympian and 2009 silver medalist at the amateur world championships, "The Sniper" is one of Puerto Rico's top prospects. He was 5-0 in 2012, and although he hasn't been tested yet, Pedraza displays a strong jab, an excellent body attack and poise beyond his years.
Scott Quigg (24; junior featherweight; 25-0-1, 18 KOs): England's Quigg joined elite company as the winner of the 2012 Best Young Boxer of the Year, given by the British Writers Club. Quigg, who has fast hands and a crowd-pleasing style, was 2-0-1 in 2012. In a November rematch with Rendall Munroe -- their first fight ended in a technical draw -- Quigg was outstanding, dismantling Munroe with a withering body attack for a sixth-round knockout to win an interim belt.
Ivan Redkach (26; lightweight; 13-0, 11 KOs): Redkach, a 2008 Ukrainian Olympic alternate who lives in Los Angeles, was 260-40 as an amateur. As a pro, he's developing a reputation as a beast among hard-core fans and insiders. He's a southpaw with big power, a stellar body attack and a relentless, crowd-pleasing style. Although he faced limited opposition in going 4-0 in 2012, he scored some scary stoppages. He could move quickly.
Edwin Rodriguez (27; super middleweight; 22-0, 15 KOs): Rodriguez fought just twice in 2012, outpointing Donovan George and stopping Jason Escalera. But the Worcester, Mass., resident can box and punch, and he has gained invaluable experience sparring with super middleweight titlist Carl Froch, ex-light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal and middleweight titlist Daniel Geale. A former U.S. national amateur champion, Rodriguez is on the verge of a significant fight.
Gary Russell Jr. (24; featherweight; 21-0, 13 KOs): Russell is an ultra-quick-fisted southpaw from Washington, D.C., who had a monster amateur career culminating in a berth on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team. He was the 2011 prospect of the year but is the first winner to repeat on this list because his career hasn't advanced -- not for lack of talent, but inactivity caused by injuries and his team's unwillingness to step up his opposition. When he fights, he's a special talent. He blitzed both of his hopelessly overmatched 2012 opponents for third-round knockouts and figures to fight for a world title in 2013.
Angelo Santana (24; lightweight; 14-0, 11 KOs): "La Cobra" was a two-time Cuban amateur national champion who defected in 2007 and now lives in Miami. The southpaw has a strong skill set and good power, especially in his left hand, as evidenced by his highlight-reel fifth-round knockout of Juan Garcia on Nov. 16 in his television debut. The only thing holding Santana (2-0 in 2012) back is promoter Don King, who doesn't keep him busy.
Keith Thurman (24; junior middleweight; 19-0, 18 KOs):A puncher out of Clearwater, Fla., Thurman is aggressive and crowd pleasing. As an amateur, he was a silver medalist at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials. Trained by two-time trainer of the year Dan Birmingham, Thurman has gained great experience sparring with Chad Dawson, Winky Wright and Jeff Lacy. Thurman was 4-0 (all KOs) in 2012, taking advantage of two TV appearances with impressive stoppages of Orlando Lora (TKO6) and ex-welterweight titlist Carlos Quintana (TKO4).
Deontay Wilder (27; heavyweight; 26-0, 26 KOs): The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native needed only 14 rounds to blast through six opponents in 2012. The 2008 U.S. Olympian won a bronze medal at the Beijing Games. Wilder carries huge power in his right hand and, at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, possesses tremendous physicality. The power is there. Now he has to sharpen his other skills and face better opposition.