David Payne reports from Ringside
Veteran cruiserweight Carl Thompson tore up the script last night, knocking out British boxing pin-up David Haye in the fifth round of a tumultuous, absorbing and often punishing contest at Wembley Arena, London.
The Wembley crowd loved every second of the most eagerly awaited all-British encounter of the year. Imaginatively billed as ‘Don’t Blink,’ the contest pitted two of boxing’s biggest punchers together for the IBO belt Thompson secured with his characteristic last gasp, fight saving knockout of Sebastian Rothmann in February.
But the fight meant much more than the peripheral belt. This was a battle of generations, of styles, of pride. A crossroads bout, the gnarled old champion, the photogenic young buck. Name the cliché and you could hang it on the fight.
Following a year of postponement, cancellation and the impending departure of terrestrial television coverage, the sport needed this elixir. It needed the movers, the shakers, the casual fan to see boxing at its pulsating, heart on its sleeve best. Wizened hacks, the pros of days gone by were animated, as if renewed by the excitement and anticipation only big fights provide.
And for once, the fight didn’t disappoint.
Starting fast, Haye loaded every shot with power and menace. Throwing thunderous right crosses, hooks and uppercuts, the full repertoire with perhaps the telling exception of the left jab. Haye looked tremendous and Thompson, notorious for his slow starts, was close to being overwhelmed in the opener.
The young challenger landed one enormous left uppercut that drew a gasp from the crowd and a stagger from Thompson. Haye followed up with a four-punch combination and Thompson lurched back to the ropes. Another right hand snapped Thompson’s head back, referee Terry O’Connell already poised for intervention. Thompson, backside seemingly riveted to the second rope, desperately threw back, seemingly for the referee’s benefit more than his own. As the round drew to a close Haye landed another sickening left-hook—Thompson, looking every minute of his 40 years, staggered back once more. The bell rang and he, along with 3000 watching fans, drew breath.
David Haye continued his assault in the second session. A beautifully timed straight right forced Thompson to the ropes, and Haye unloaded with a barrage of heavy shots. Thompson enjoyed his first fleeting success, landing a jolting jab and cross. Haye absorbed the shots, destroying the pre-fight notion that the first taste of Thompson’s power would be the end for the 10-fight novice. But as the round progressed Haye was slowing. Less movement, less aggression. Had Thompson survived?
The ascendancy changed hands in the third, Haye clearly ‘spent’ heavily on his first round charge and for a fighter who’d never travelled past the fourth the vacuum in his experience became all too evident. Now throwing just single shots, Haye was standing in front of Thompson, suddenly Thompson’s clumsy footwork wasn’t a factor, he didn’t have to reach for his elusive opponent anymore. The fight was moving into the champion’s territory. In any potential battle of wills there would be only one winner.
Thompson finished the third with a big right. Haye slumped back to his stool. The old man had won a round.
Entering the fourth and it became increasingly clear Haye was in trouble, he still tried to punch with Thompson but he’d conceded authority and his mouth gaped open. Thompson landed a stiff left, prompting Haye to counter and he tried hard to lift himself, pushing himself back on to his toes. But it couldn’t last. Staying in punching range was Thompson’s fight and Thompson, with his years of experience, knew Haye was fading.
Two more huge rights landed, Thompson was already in control and he was only just warming up. Haye was in above his head. The gamble of fighting even a 40 year-old version of Carl Thompson wasn’t paying off. You could only see one way out for the former amateur star. The writers, the old pros exchanged knowing glances, a wink here, pursed lips there. Haye was spent.
Into the fifth and the pattern continued, Thompson landing more frequently as Haye’s legs no longer carried him out of danger. A left hook stiffened Haye and what appeared a partial push forced an off-balance Haye to the canvas. The crowd gasped. Giant Terry O’Connell took up the count. Thompson was on him again, clubbing shots, mauling, pushing the exhausted Haye around. Another looping right forced Haye back, his legs reluctant.
And then the finisher. Thompson found a booming uppercut and the last traces of resistance departed leaving David Haye a prone, defenceless figure on the ropes. Thompson smelt the finish and strode in, just as the white towel of defeat landed on O’Connell’s shoulder.
The fight was over. Haye protested, but it’s hard to when you can’t stand still. It may not have been the result the ‘suits’ wanted, it may not have even be the result, long-term, British boxing needed and it creates as many questions as it answered, but if David Haye has the humility to learn, ultimately it may prove a valuable experience.
It was certainly richly deserved by one of the country’s greatest warriors. He may be 40, he may have poor footwork and he may look on the brink of defeat in every contest, but you can’t keep a good man down and in boxing there are few better, more deserving men than Carl Thompson.
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