David Haye was blasted into an unknown future almost certainly bereft of boxing as Tony Bellew rose to the sweetest and most savage glory of his fighting life.
Haye’s promise from Anthony Joshua of bonanza night at Wembley Stadium was blown into the yonder in five stunning rounds
The Hayemaker’s ring career was probably ended by a thunderstorm of massive punches from the Bomber who had described himself as ‘this little fat Scouser’.
Well, it was one huge-hearted Liverpudlian who left an indelible mark on British prize-fighting with this remarkable second crushing of Haye, once the unified cruiserweight champion who went on to wear the world heavyweight crown.
Bellew, having sent him reeling up and down like a yo-yo, generously reminded the roaring 20,000 in the 02 that Haye had been a great champion ‘who is a better boxer than me’.
But he added: ‘Boxing is about styles and I’ve always known I had David’s number.’
The number that counted on Bellew’s valedictory night was three – the times he sent the man who believed he had the biggest punch of the world crashing to the canvas.
Where he had limped like Quasimodo with his ruptured Achilles tendon 14 months ago, this Saturday night he was repeatedly sent staggering and stumbling but Bellew’s supposedly sub-heavyweight blows
Haye, at 37, hedged on his vow to retire if he did not beat Bellew comprehensively. After being obliterated by his nemesis, he demurred: ‘We’ll see. I actually enjoyed the battle in there, even though I got beat by the better man on the night.’
Of where his pair of victories over Haye may take him later this year, Bellew said: ‘I’ve got no idea. But the people seem to like watching me fight.’
This audience certainly rose to his acclaim after jeering him into the ring. And how he deserved it.
After losing the first two rounds, the Bomber exploded in the third. He surged into a shuddering exchange of blows and dropped Haye twice, each time the brain-scrambling rights which were supposed to be the Hayemaker’s trademark.
Haye came limping out for the fourth, clearly in distress. Maybe there was another ankle injury albeit not as chronic as in the first fight. Somehow he survived a fearsome battering. But the fifth was his apocalypse.
This time he stumbled into a left hook from hell. Down he went again. He was out on the feet to which he somehow clambered. Referee Howard Foster warily allowed him to continue but as Bellew went for the kill with a salvo of blows he saved Haye from himself as well as a slaughter.
Bellew had predicted he would shock the world. Only those closest to him truly he believed he would do it twice.
Whatever Bomber wants to do next, he has earned that right. For Haye, some serious thought lies ahead.
The O2 was packed to the rafters, with several large spaces filled by the heavyweight brotherhood.
World champions past and present and perhaps future were neighbours at ringside.
Frank Bruno and Joshua sat shoulder to shoulder across the ages. Joe Joyce joined them soon after winning the Commonwealth title in only his fourth professional fight with a knock-out as brutal as it was rapid.
‘Broono, Broono’ the crowd roared as the presence of Britain’s beloved Big Frank was announced.
Joshua, even though he was here principally to see if the Hayemaker could live up to the promise of a projected challenge to AJ by setting the record straight against Bellew, arrived early to savour the atmosphere and spread the joy.
‘Oh Anthony Joshua,’ they chorused. They love him, too, now.
There wasn’t quite the intensity which whipped up such heated expectations for the first Haye-Bellew fight. Rather the anticipation was bathed in curiosity.
How much did Haye’s ruptured ankle help the Bomber land his upset 14 months ago? Can the Haye body be fully injury proof now? Is the Hayemaker still an exocet missile? Are either of them, in their mid-30s, still travelling world class?
We were about to find out.
Michael Buffer came all the way from America to rumble them in. Haye to a mixture of cheers and jeers, Liverpool’s Bellew mostly to London boos.
Both walked threateningly towards the other during the preliminaries, Haye staring and Bellew jumping like a jack rabbit. Haye was first to connect with the heavier shots, twice landing left hooks off his jab. A right cross followed. Bellew’s jab was sharp but his swings missed and he shook his head as he was caught with another right before the bell.
Bellew, who had won the first round of the first fight, set about making amends with a right of his own at the start of the second. Seconds later he was staggered by a left right combination. This was a different Hayemaker at this early point.
Haye was swirling his right hand in the old Ali bolo style, to lure Bellew onto his left hand. Twice he sent the Bomber back to the ropes. But suddenly Bellew came alive. Down went Haye from a snap right. No sooner was he upright than Bellew repeated the feat to claim a huge round.
Bellew went for the kill at the start of the fourth. Somehow Haye survived, even as Bellew rained down the heavy punches. Haye was stumbling like a drunk.
Haye looked to be limping still at the start of the fifth and that spelled the end. Bellew flattened him again, this time with a massive left hook. Haye looked out on his feet as he rose. Referee Howard Foster allowed him to continue but leapt to intervene as Bellew unleashed the finishing salvo. Bellew walked away calmly, savouring his sweet triumph.
Asked about retirement following his latest defeat, Haye said: ‘Is this the end? It didn’t feel great in there tonight, but I don’t know.’