• Rewind to 2004

Cocky Haye silenced by veteran Thompson

Josh Williams October 28, 2010
David Haye went hard at Carl Thompson in the early stages © Getty Images
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Ahead of George Groves' 11th professional bout at the weekend, we look back to when David Haye reached the same landmark against Carl Thompson...

At Wembley in 2004, there was an all-British battle that had a classic sporting narrative underpinning it. The cocksure youngster David Haye was going into combat against veteran champion Carl Thompson for the IBO cruiserweight title, and it seemed that the division was set to witness a changing of the guard.

The 40-year-old Thompson was renowned for his durability - but no-one expected him to be resilient enough to handle the explosive power of Haye, who already had the look of a future heavyweight champion.

The strapline - "Don't blink" - attached to posters promoting the fight hinted at what was expected to play out. Haye had a reputation for turning the lights out on his opponents at an early stage, with five first-round stoppages in his ten fights prior to taking on Thompson.

But "Don't blink" was loaded with a casual disrespect towards Thompson, who was renowned for grinding down opponents and winning in the later rounds. The experienced pro, clearly angered to be portrayed as the underdog, knew that his tried-and-tested tactic was potent enough to overcome Haye.

"How you fight David is you let him steam at you, try to blast you out, and then you've got to attack him straightaway, so that you're forcing him to work when he doesn't want to work," he said.

But first Thompson had to withstand the early onslaught - and that hadn't always been his strong suit. Against Ezra Sellers in 2001, he was knocked down four times in four rounds before eventually being put out of his misery.

Haye, clearly aware of Thompson's perceived vulnerability early on in fights, had confidence coursing through his veins. "I was thinking, 'I'm going to knock him out'," he later recalled.

After the first three rounds, pretty much everyone watching the bout concurred with Haye. It had been a vicious battering, an explosive start unleashed with alarming ferocity. Most opponents would have been out of there already, but Thompson wasn't prepared to surrender.

Haye fell to a first defeat © Getty Images
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Soon after, the momentum shifted decisively. Haye, going beyond three rounds for the first time, found himself prisoner to his lack of experience. After the initial barrage of punches failed to overcome Thompson, he didn't have the physical reserves - or the tactical acumen - to put Plan B into place.

Thompson, who later admitted that he had been caught cold in the early stages, noticed that Haye was beginning to tire. "I was on the receiving for the most of it," he said. "He rocked me and got me hurt. I felt David was getting tired, but I hung in there."

Thompson, no longer a helpless recipient of Haye's punches, stamped his authority on the bout in the fourth. At first it was tentative - but, as he sensed that Haye was just looking to survive in order to replenish his depleted stamina, he fought with greater vigour.

As the bell rang to mark the beginning of the fifth, Thompson knew that now was his chance. If he allowed Haye to take it easy for a couple more, the danger was that the hammering fists would once again rein down on him in the late stages.

The champion trained his sights on the challenger as if hunting prey - a left hook stiffened Haye and what appeared a partial push sent him crashing down to the canvas. The ref took up the count, but Haye wasn't done yet - although he would soon be.

Thompson hit the mark with a booming uppercut - an unequivocal statement of menacing intent - and the last traces of resistance departed, leaving Haye a prone, defenceless figure on the ropes. In came the towel, signalling the end of the youngster's unbeaten record.

Haye used the loss as a salutary lesson, finding the disappointment of defeat enough to spur him on to eventually become the WBA heavyweight champion in November 2009. Thompson would fight once more - beating Frederic Serrat on points - before pulling the curtain down on his career, finishing with a record of 34-6.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk