On September 28th at the Manchester Arena, Tyson Fury will attempt to do what Carl Thompson did nine years ago and stop David Haye.
Close to a decade later, the Hayemaker has unified cruiserweight titles and bagged world honours in boxing’s flagship division. The Cat retired after one more fight in 2005 and remembers well the last big win of his career away at Wembley.
As a still-amazingly-fit Thompson relaxes after back-to back training sessions at his Round 1 Boxing gym in Horwich, the memories of his final stunning upset come flooding back.
“What people always forgot was that I loved fighting away from home. I love the crowd cheering for my opponent. And when they came to lay me out I put up resistance and broke their hearts. I took their best shots and wouldn’t go”
“He thought I was going to be a walk over, wrong! They didn’t know what kind of person I was. You couldn’t box me. You had to fight me and then it’s either you or me.”
Carl Thompson’s career had it all. Losses that should have been wins, wins that should have been losses, refereeing controversies, debilitating injuries, dramatic one punch turnarounds and even a split decision win over in Germany. He was recently mentioned as being Britain’s most exciting fighter of the last 25 years.
But his story started as a Muay Thai fighter at the Master Sken Academy.
“I used to love Bruce Lee films. We used to go the Cinema and watch them then start kicking each other about. So we went to the gym and it toughens you up”
Carl would fight as a Thai Boxer for at least seven years. His biggest nights came against Croatian-born Dutch star Branco Cickatic.
“In the first fight I was a little out of my depth and he stopped me in the third. And I take it as I won the second one. It was a split decision loss in his back yard but that was a good result over there.”
He fought in Holland and Yugoslavia eventually becoming a 'World' Champion. But frustration over a confusing mess of governing bodies lead him to boxing’s conventional code.
“There were just too many champions. Boxing’s got a bit like that now. But back then in Muay Thai there were way too many governing bodies. So to me the title was meaningless. So that’s why I started to box. Being a champion in boxing meant something.”
But after starting his pro boxing career with Master Sken in his corner, he realised that if he was to progress he needed a change after his first defeat at the hands of Crawford Ashley following eight unbeaten starts.
“Master Sken is a Thai boxer. That’s what he loved. He didn’t want to move over to boxing and couldn’t take me where I needed to go.
“Crawford Ashley was a hard fight and he schooled me to a certain degree after I had him down in the first. He was sharp as a fish and had a solid jab. It was a good learning fight.
“The fight ended when I got blurred. I don’t know what it was, but after he hit me, I couldn’t see so I stopped. Then after you lose. people start to use you.”
The ensuing period was very unfruitful in terms of wins. In April 1990, six months after getting stopped by Ashley, Carl was shipped out to Belgium as an opponent for Franco Wanyama where he and the judges didn’t exactly see the fight eye-to-eye.
“I thought I won that fight. And when the decision was announced I lost all six rounds! But I almost took that guy out. I was catching him ‘boom’ ‘boom’ over again. But that’s what happens when you are fighting in the other guy’s back yard.”
After nicking a fight by a round against Tibbs fighter Terry Dixon in Basildon having had roughly a week to prepare, Carl took yet another short notice assignment away in Monaco against the world class Ugandan Puncher Yawe Davis on the undercard of the Mike McCallum-Sambu Kalambay fight. He was decisively stopped in two.
“I reckon I had around two weeks for that possibly. He was a world class southpaw. I can’t say anymore. He was a better fighter and I got caught”.
Then having lost three of his last four, Carl dismisses that suggestion that he ever got disheartened.
“Those fights made me. Those fights made my heart and my mind strong. I didn’t quit and pack it in. I didn’t moan, I just dusted myself off and got on with it and that’s when Nicky Piper came along on short notice.
“I didn’t want to take the fight because he’d fought Maurice, and Maurice told me: don't take it. whatever you do. And after I took the fight I went out and bought a pair of sun glasses. Nicky was unbeaten in ten all by knockout and I thought I was in for a good beating.”
And what followed was the first of many stunning upsets that Thompson provided in his career. Piper was torn to pieces in three and was either a super-middle or a light-heavy for the rest of his career.
“Of course, after the fight they gave the excuse that I was too big for him. But it was their own fault. They picked me out thinking he could walk through me. They didn’t think that I had ambition. I had a goal and I wanted to become world champion. I didn’t pack my day job in for someone just to push me aside.”
The reward for the Piper upset was a British title fight against Steve Lewsham in Cleethorpes, back in June 1992.
“I remember punishing his body and sticking to hurting his side and he couldn’t take it anymore in the eighth.”
Nat Basso, the renowned northern manager and MC who was guiding Carl’s career along with Phil Martin, said it was his proudest moment in boxing.
After capturing the WBC International title via convincing stoppage against American Arthur Weathers, Carl scored two more quick wins before contesting the European title in Italy against Masimiliano Duran in 94. Duran had stopped classy Briton Derek Angol in June 93 and was a skilled operator.
“The guy could really jab. The thing about him was he used to get cut. But come the eighth round, he still hadn’t cut. So I started putting pressure on him. I pressed him and pressured him and broke his heart and stopped him. I was European champion."
Carl then defended against Akim Tafer. A massive cruiserweight who had not only challenged for world honours, but had defeated both Denis Andries and Derek Angol in winning and defending the EBU title.
“When I saw him fight Derek, I said ‘My God I’m not fighting that guy’. The guy was massive – I couldn’t believe it. He was hitting me with every shot, he couldn’t miss me and was beating the hell out of me.
“You know what? I put it on him. I made him start to think and breathe. Then in the fifth I think, I faked a right hand to the body and caught him over the top and down he went. He got up and went for me.
“We both had to stand and fight and it was taking place in a phone booth. Then time stood still and his chin was hanging there saying ‘hit me’. I hit him with a right uppercut and left hook. It was the first fight I let out a big scream with delight after a win. It was my defining moment.”
After seeing out ’94 with two low key wins, Carl had his dream chance to become Manchester’s first world champion in 60 years against Ralf Rocchigiani at the G-Mex in June of the following year.
Despite never having been stopped, the German had eight losses and seven draws on his ledger at the time of the fight, including one against our own Tony Booth. Carl had been put down, but also repaid the favour and was massively up on the cards until catastrophe struck.
“I dislocated my shoulder. I felt a sharp pain in the tenth when I threw a shot. It came right out in the eleventh. I knew that he knew I was in trouble. I was gutted. Some people say that I should have continued but I was in a lot of pain. It took me over two years to get a rematch.”
The German defended six times in the interim before Carl earned a split decision away from home in Hanover and finally become a world champion.
“I outboxed him completely because I knew he had a tough chin and I couldn’t knock him down. One judge still gave it to him, but I completely outworked him.
Two out of the three judges gave it to Thompson by large margins, whereas Jose Sousa pitched for the home fighter by two rounds. It was the last world title fight he judged, according to Boxrec.
On the subject of his first defence with Eubank, which is considered a classic, Carl remembers his own reasons for the fight.
“I took that fight because my next door neighbor was annoying me and I wanted to move house.
“I knew I could beat him. I’d watched him all my life. You had to work him because he was a lazy fighter. He liked to pose and strut his stuff.”
Eubank’s showmanship had emerged in a pre-fight press conference when he asked the champion what round he’d like to be knocked out in.
“I refused to lose to Chris because of his disrespect. You’d have had to carry me out to beat me. Now he is as nice as pie and we talk. To him it wasn’t personal but I took it to heart”
After capturing a close but unanimous decision in their first encounter in which he was floored, Thompson managed to force the doctor to stop their second fight due to eye damage. It was the only inside the distance defeat Chris suffered in his career.
Then came the controversial title-losing effort against Johnny Nelson in March 99. Carl had been floored and was five rounds down on two of the cards when referee Paul Thomas made the decision to pull Carl out. Thompson, under pressure but on his feet and able to continue, protested bitterly and immediately. Commentators for Sky Glenn McCrory and Ian Darke agreed with a fuming Thompson that the stoppage was very premature.
“The referee didn’t allow me to apply my game plan. He was a bit squeamish. I do take a lot of punishment but that’s because my opponents have to work hard. Come the fifth round Johnny Nelson was blowing.
“He knocked me down, full marks. But I got up and fought him. Everybody knows I’m good in the second half of the fight but I wasn’t given the chance. Chris Eubank was probably up in the first half of our fights. I was used to being behind. I was the defending champion. Come on, give the champion a chance to defend his title!”
At 36, a former world champion coming off a stoppage loss may have considered retirement.
“No way. I had plenty left and could start again. That’s what the Terry Dunstan fight was about. I knew that in my heart Johnny Nelson didn’t beat me and I felt like a champion so why am I going to quit?”
And Carl points to his next fight, a British title opportunity against Terry Dunstan as an example in December 1999 as how his game plan against Nelson could have paid dividends down the stretch.
“Take the Dunstan fight. He was a similar fighter to Nelson. He was tricky, not as tricky as Johnny, but still rangy and good on his feet. He was beating me after the first five rounds. Come the eleventh, I was a round up. In the twelfth, I stopped him.”
Thompson rebuilt well in recapturing the European belt against Alain Simon and then successfully defending against Alexey Ilyin in November. Both were convincing inside the distance wins before he took on Uriah Grant for the IBO strap in February 2001.
“That was an entertaining fight. I was hurting him with the jab and stopped him.”
Nine months later at the Wythenshawe Forum, Carl defended against the concussive Ezra Sellers in an all-time-great up-and-downer and Carl rolls his eyes as he reflects.
“He was the hardest puncher that I ever came across. I think it was three two to him in terms of knockdowns but others say he had me down four times. I say the referee was wrong. The fight was classed as fight of the year. He won, and that was it.”
Some have suggested that Carl should have boxed more with him, but the man himself explained the context to the toe-to-toe war.
“I twisted my ankle in the fight and had to make a decision. I had to go at him. He was a southpaw and I knew it wasn’t going to last long. If my ankle didn’t go, I should have boxed him,. But he was a tremendous puncher.”
After 19 months out, Carl had three comeback wins against lower-tier opposition when he took a fight against the then IBO king Sebastiaan Rothmann on four weeks notice.
“I think he was already training for a fight. I thought to hell with it I may as well [fight him]. But I was knackered in that fight. He caught me with a good shot somewhere in the ninth round I think and I played at it because I was more tired than anything and brought him in. Then bang one two!”
“He was out-jabbing me and outworking me. I needed a lifesaver and this hand saved me.
“Haye saw me tired and getting beaten up and thought ‘I want a piece of that.”
And a then forty-something Carl capped his amazing career with that grinding performance that humbled the Londoner and concreted the Cat’s legacy as the most exciting British fighter of the modern era. He soaked up the early pressure and floored and finally stopped an exhausted Haye on his feet.
David made noises about wanting a rematch for a while, but Carl believes that was never going to happen.
“His management did the right thing and kept him away. But He deserves a lot of credit for what he has done in his career”
After a fortunate points win in support of Ricky Hatton’s light-welter unification fight against Mausa, wear and tear finally laid Carl’s career to rest.
“I only stopped fighting because of injuries. I couldn’t run. So I said if I couldn’t do the work I’m not going to continue. I was gutted.”
Manchester has had its fair share of boxing heroes in recent history, namely Ricky Hatton, Jamie Moore, Arnie Farnell and Michael Gomez. But for drama, excitement and career longevity, Carl Thompson surely needs to be remembered as a British boxing great.
Will Hale | BoxRec
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