Tony Bellew produced an explosive performance to land a stunning second stoppage win in 14 months over fellow Briton David Haye at London’s O2 Arena.
Bellew, 35, looked at his best as he evaded a Haye attack in round three before landing a superb left hook and right hand to floor his heavyweight rival.
A second knockdown followed moments later and Bellew – the underdog with bookmakers, as he was in the previous fight – delivered a pinpoint left hand in the fifth to again send Haye down.
Haye nodded to acknowledge the shot and rose, only to be placed under intense attack, prompting referee Howard Foster to stop the fight and send Bellew racing to the corner of the ring in celebration.
Bellew looked overjoyed and close to tears as he surely ended a rivalry which had been a focal point in British boxing for more than 18 months.
Haye, 37, said before the fight that he needed a spectacular win to prolong his career, and it is seems unlikely that the former world heavyweight and cruiserweight champion will continue beyond this.
Bellew defies the odds again
This rivalry has seen verbal sparring, torrid insults, fines and warnings from the British Boxing Board of Control, Achilles and biceps surgery for Haye and soul-searching for Bellew.
Bellew – with his late brother-in-law Ashley’s name across his shorts – said he thought the relative who died in August was sat in the arena somewhere watching him.
His display was inspired; he felt his way into the first two rounds as both men postured after coming under attack.
In round three, Bellew evaded three shots near the ropes and chased his man down to land a left-right combination which left Haye sitting down on the ropes.
A left hook served up another knockdown and Haye looked beaten. The man who so gallantly fought on with a ruptured Achilles after six rounds last time was floundering and a wild swing in the fifth left him open to Bellew’s savage left hook.
It was stunning drama and the type of clinical display Haye himself had promised.
Bellew’s win last time was shrouded in claims he could only beat an injured man. Those have been silenced. Just where does his remarkable career go from here?
He mentioned former super-middleweight and light-heavyweight world champion Andre Ward, but a return to cruiserweight and a bout against the winner of the World Boxing Super Series for all four world titles seems most likely.
Whatever the outcome, Bellew is making a habit of defying the odds during a career played out on his terms.
Is this the end for Haye?
Before the bout Haye said a poor result could damage his legacy, but his career should be remembered for its great nights.
His rise from the canvas in round four to rip cruiserweight titles from Jean Marc Mormeck in 2007 showcased his grit, while two years later he gave 99lbs in weight to 7ft Russian Nikolai Valuev to fulfil childhood dreams of becoming a world heavyweight champion.
Only the legendary Evander Holyfield can also claim to have unified cruiserweight world titles before going on to win a heavyweight crown.
He wore headphones as he waited for Bellew to join him in the ring and, after an intense stare-down, there were early signs he looked sharp, notably a straight right hand in round two.
But even powerful shots were mocked by Bellew, and the knockdowns – coupled with the fact Bellew was prepared to apply pressure this time around- meant Haye looked fatigued by the fourth.
As is customary, he entered the ring to the McFadden and Whitehead hit ‘Ain’t no stopping us now’. But the music has to stop at some point and after two surgeries and two defeats in the past 14 months, that time appears to be now for Haye.
‘Massive respect to both men’ – reaction on Twitter
Former heavyweight world champion Frank Bruno: Big congratulations to Tony Bellew. An excellent performance again. My heart goes out to David Haye – he gave it his all… be proud. Massive respect to both men, credit where it’s due.
Olympic heavyweight gold medallist Audley Harrison: Congratulations to @TonyBellew – excellent performance. Father Time comes to us all, but @mrdavidhaye can be proud that he came back to see what he had left – not many will EVER achieve what he did, so he can leave (if he chooses) PROUD.
WBA super-middleweight title challenger Chris Eubank Jr: Hell of a fight, never expected that outcome. Congratulations Tony Bellew. David Haye… warrior till the end.
Rodriguez takes world title – the undercard
Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez, 25, showed his class to capture the IBF bantamweight title with a unanimous decision over Paul Butler, who could not win the belt having missed the weight.
Butler has held the title before but was put down heavily by a left hook early on and battled the distance despite breaking his nose.
Olympic silver medallist Joe Joyce landed his biggest professional win and the Commonwealth heavyweight title by stopping Lenroy Thomas with a left hook in round two.
Afterwards, 32-year-old Joyce talked up a meeting with Hughie Fury or Sam Sexton, who fight for the British title next week.
Lightweight Luke Campbell, 30,warmed up for a possible summer rematch with Yvan Mendy with a fifth-round stoppage of Troy James, while John Ryder delivered a body shot to stop domestic rival Jamie Cox at super-middleweight.
Olympic bronze medallist Joshua Buatsi, 25, moved to six professional wins from six with a fifth-round stoppage win over Frenchman Stephane Cuevas.