European cruiserweight king David Haye retained his prestigious title tonight (March 24) in London, as he broke down the courageous Danish challenger Lasse Johansen inside eight rounds.
The 25-year-old puncher – renowned for his ability to finish fights quickly – had to go beyond five rounds for the first time in his three-year professional career. Yet, with a coveted European belt at stake, and an ambitious, determined individual like Johansen opposing him, Haye expected a tough battle.
In fact, Haye’s trainer, Adam Booth, even insisted before the fight that Johansen would offer his charge the most competitive fight of his career. Despite a dominant start to the contest, such assertions proved correct.
Haye opened the scheduled 12-rounder in his typical, sharp-shooting, quick-fisted manner. Possessing blurring handspeed and an ability to counter opponents’ shots in an instant, Haye immediately made his mark on Johansen. A series of sharp left-jabs, and one blinding left-hook gained the Dane’s immediate respect.
Haye was economical, rather than explosive - yet hurtful nevertheless. The Bermondsey puncher’s first noteworthy success in the opener came via a mammoth right hand he landed over the lazy left lead of Johansen. The Lystrup-born challenger felt the force of the shot and staggered slightly to the ropes. Within seconds, however, Johansen regained his composure and shook off Haye’s attempts to finish the job.
In taking Haye’s biggest bomb in round one, Johansen displayed a resoluteness that had been lacking from many past Haye opponents. It was clear, from as early as the first round, that Lasse had his mind set on winning.
Following the blueprint Carl Thompson structured in September 2004 - when beating Haye in an IBO title affair - Johansen believed it was possible to weather the early Haye pressure, and then overwhelm the Brit the later the fight went. Pre-fight, Johansen had predicted knocking Haye out after six rounds.
Realising the extent of Johansen’s fortitude, Haye set about picking his shots in rounds two and three. He would fire off tremendous left leads, followed by attempted uppercuts and right hands round the back of Johansen’s high-held guard. Johansen took some hefty blows, but remained steadfast. His guard was sturdy, and he offered little for Haye to target.
Nevertheless, Haye’s handiwork did bring about some reward in the early going. After succumbing to volley upon volley of shots, Johansen suffered a split left eye that would later require 27 stitches.
Yet even the sight of blood failed to deter Johansen. In fact, the Danish cruiserweight’s willpower grew further once he suffered the cut. He became more ambitious, and, sensing Haye was edging towards uncharted territory, began taking more chances. Whereas Haye led the early going, in rounds four and five, Johansen began setting the pace.
The 30-year-old challenger would edge close to Haye behind his tight guard and poke series’ of jabs and straight right hands towards Haye, in an attempt to regain some respect from the champion. Johansen was still taking few chances, but he was intent on proving Haye’s inability to hurt or deter him.
The fifth and sixth rounds marked seminal moments for Haye. Despite landing the flashier, classier and quicker shots throughout the bout, Haye’s workrate and punch output dropped. Both Haye’s realisation that Johansen was there for the long haul, and Johansen’s own spirit, caused David to settle down and look at the bigger picture.
Potentially, the champion who had never been beyond five rounds was staring at a 12-round struggle in the face. It was a make or break situation for the hard-hitting titleholder.
Johansen was buoyed by such a scenario. He began catching Haye as the Londoner retreated to the ropes. He managed to put the champion on the defensive. Lasse also began initiating the action. A smile crept across the face of the Dane. There was fist-pumping at the end of the sixth round.
Haye, however, wasn’t about to cave in under the renewed hope of Johansen. While Johansen moved into a new gear, Haye went with him. At times, the London talent displayed brilliant defensive manoeuvres, and eye-catching counterpunches.
The work was now more sporadic from Haye, but the economy – and punches that were delivered – were of the highest calibre. At one moment, in the sixth round, Haye incredibly made Johansen miss with six straight shots with his back to the ropes.
Yet there were still some concerned faces amid the star-studded York Hall crowd. Few expected the bout to go beyond six rounds, and many wondered how Haye would cope with adversity post-Carl Thompson.
Encouragingly, Haye provided some decisive answers to those questions in the seventh, and, more conclusively, eighth rounds. In the seventh, Haye began countering with more force and purpose, and was timing the jab and right hand expertly over the double-jab of Johansen.
Fearing Johansen’s mid-round ambition, Haye snapped into life again. He began pinging back the head of the Dane with jabs, uppercuts and right hands – the way he did so impressively in the opening two rounds. Body shots also began demoralising Johansen.
Sensing Haye’s second wind was in full flow, Johansen quickly evaporated in the eighth session. His cut eye had worsened, his nose was bloodied, and a roundhouse right hand from Haye perforated the challenger’s eardrum. Johansen didn’t expect Haye to rally back from his perceived ‘lull’ through the middle rounds. It was a mark of Haye’s improved maturity and mental resolve that he did, therefore.
A series of clubbing right hands, and a stunning right uppercut, had Johansen tottering on the verge of defeat. Having been patient, and focused on ‘boxing’ for the last two rounds, Haye – sensing Johansen’s vulnerability – set about sealing the deal.
He followed Johansen to the neutral corner, where the Londoner unloaded three hard right hands on Johansen as the Dane beckoned referee Guido Cavalleri in to stop the bout. Johansen could no longer see the shots coming. His spirit was, finally, crushed. With 50 seconds remaining in the eighth session, Cavalleri called a halt to the bout.
Johansen complained about a couple of vicious Haye shots after Cavalleri’s decision, but not about the stoppage itself. The brave Johansen suffered the first defeat in his 15-bout pro career.
Haye, meanwhile, received the workout many had felt he’d always needed. In eight rounds the European champion had progressed from knockout artist to genuine fighter. Haye boosted his pro stats to 16-1 (16) in the process.