Liverpool’s Tony Bellew beat former world heavyweight champion David Haye in the 11th round of an exciting all-British grudge match in London as a sold-out O2 Arena packed with Scousers looked on.
Haye, the older and heavier of the two fighters, fell in the sixth following a disabling injury to his right leg that left the Londoner practically unable to move or stand properly.
He proceeded to survive with a brave display of raw courage until Bellew knocked him clean out the ring in the penultimate round, causing his team to throw in the towel.
The opening rounds saw both boxers exchange huge missing shots as Haye swung big hooks looking for a quick knock-out, while Bellew bided his time with less effective counter-attacks as he made the step up to the heavyweight class.
The fight’s destiny started to take shape in the sixth when, in a tangle in the middle of the ring, Bellew was pushed to the floor. However, it was the Londoner who came off the worst as he seemed to twist his right ankle and damage his Achilles. The injury-stricken pre-fight favourite then proceeded to be knocked down two times by current WBC Cruiserweight Champion, Bellew, who sensed his chance.
Victory for Bellew, 34, was a virtual inevitability from that point; with no base to set his feet, Haye resiliently held on as he leaned on the ropes, throwing aimless swings.
YouTube: IFL TV
In the 11th round, Haye was finished as his own momentum threw him to the floor following a big hook. The 36-year-old was back on his feet for seconds, before Bellew blew him through the ropes into the ringside cameramen.
As Haye came up on the count of nine, his corner threw in the towel to finish an incredible contest.
Bellew’s celebrations were brief before he went over and congratulated his opposition, who was fighting only six miles from where he grew up in Bermondsey.
After the fight, a victorious Bellew said: “David, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, because you could have picked a lot of other guys. It was genuine, I really wanted to beat him and he wanted to beat me. I have so much respect for him. Who wants to see it again?”
Agreeing with that prospect of rematch, Haye said: “Tony was a great fighter… I gave it my best and it wasn’t good enough. He was by far the better fighter tonight. He dug deep and took my best shots and put me down.
“I would love to do it again, I have never been in a fight like that. If the fans want to see it again I would do it again. We’ll do it on his terms, in his town – he deserves it.”
The undercard saw Craig Glover and Derry Mathews, both from Liverpool, lose in their contests. Glover’s match-up with debutant Jack Bonnalie in the cruiserweight division started the evening’s boxing, but the Liverpudlian was outpointed.
An emotional Mathews confirmed his retirement from the sport following on from his third round stoppage defeat to Ohara Davies. The 33-year-old won the WBU featherweight title and the British lightweight crown on two occasions, finishing his career with a record of 38-12-2.
The night belonged to Bellew, however, and he will assess his options before naming his next opponent – though many would welcome another showdown with Haye, next time perhaps in Liverpool.