Tony Bellew appeared to have all but ended David Haye’s career with a fifth-round stoppage win over his rival British heavyweight in their grudge re-match in London on Saturday.
The pair had become as well-known for their pre-match dust-ups and verbal taunts as their boxing but there was no denying the comprehensive manner of Bellew’s second successive victory over the 37-year-old Haye.
“Tony boxed a great fight,” Haye told Sky Box Office. “He did some really clever stuff. He boxed really good. I didn’t, plain and simple. He had a great game plan and I had no answer.
“You have to let your fists do the talking, it didn’t go my way even though I’m fully healthy. I’m taking nothing away from.”
An emotional Bellew said: “David Haye is an amazing fighter, he just got caught in a slugfest. He’s a great fighter, he has got crazy power but speed and power always decreases. He is a legend, a credit to the sport and I’m just happy I’ve got the win against the odds.”
Bellew was only a light-heavyweight when Haye was at the peak of his career as the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion.
Haye had billed this non-title bout as the make or break contest of a fading career, having been stopped by Bellew, two years younger at 35, in the 11th round after suffering an Achilles injury when the pair met in March last year.
But Saturday’s bout at London’s O2 Arena rarely looked like lasting as long.
In the third round, Bellew twice sent Haye to the canvas thanks to a pair of powerful right-hand punches.
The bell saved Haye from further punishment that round and he tried to regroup in the fourth.
The end, however, was near and with Haye desperately looking for the knockout blow that could have turned the contest on its head, he was open to attack.
As both boxers swung, it was Bellew who landed with a powerful left hook that sent Haye tumbling to the deck. He managed to regain his feet but referee Howard Foster was so concerned about his ability to defend himself, he then stopped the fight two minutes and 14 seconds into the fifth round.
Haye had hoped a win on Saturday might propel him to a lucrative bout with Britain’s reigning world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, but that dream was ended in brutal fashion by Bellew.