Tony Bellew pounded out a decisive conclusion to his feud with David Haye, sending his British heavyweight rival to the canvas three times on the way to a dominant fifth-round win in London.
Bellew upset the odds to stop Haye in 11 rounds when they met at the same O2 Arena in March last year, although the former WBA heavyweight champion was badly compromised by an Achilles tendon injury suffered in round six.
That meant legitimate questions loomed over the Liverpudlian’s victory in a brutal battle, but the 35-year-old ex-WBC cruiserweight king blasted away any lingering doubt in a performance that surely sends Haye into overdue retirement.
Haye, 37, pledged to move away from the gung-ho approach that contributed to his debilitating setback last time out and he did enough to pocket the first two rounds, prevailing in a battle of contrasting jabs – the older man’s slung low as Bellew popped out his firm lead in orthodox fashion.
However, Haye again appeared to be loading up on right hands and his once imperious footwork showed signs of becoming laboured even before his night unravelled spectacularly in the third.
Bellew might sometimes appear rudimentary in his approach but a razor-sharp boxing brain is complimented by a beautiful left hook.
#REPEAT – The Bomber @TonyBellew stops Haye in the fifth!! #BellewHaye2 pic.twitter.com/YcVDghbYy8
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) May 5, 2018
A couple missed their mark but, when Haye wore one, a right hand followed and he crumpled against the ropes before going down. The older man rose but his movement was even more sluggish. Bellew jumped on wounded prey and secured a 10-7 round.
The fourth was a sustained beatdown, Haye taking his lumps and resisting the inevitable. Bellew was unable to find the finish and his trainer David Coldwell pleaded with him to jab at the end of the session.
However, Bellew had other ideas for his left hand and another clattering hook saw Haye tumble face first. He beat the count but the follow-up barrage saw referee Howard Foster step in to end the fight and, probably, an illustrious career.
After the bout, an emotional Bellew dedicated victory to Ashley Roberts, the brother of his long-term partner Rachael who died suddenly last August and called out former pound-for-pound king Andre Ward.