Underdog Tony Bellew dramatically defeated David Haye at London's sold out O2 Arena on Saturday ( 5 March), but only after the elder boxer had fought for six rounds on one leg.
Heavyweight Haye's right leg had buckled in the sixth round leaving the Londoner to scrap while severely immobilized. Haye, limping with an injured achilles, continued to hope for one big shot to save himself, but by round eleven his chances were slim. A series of uppercuts knocked the 36-year-old out of the ring and by the time he had clambered back, his corner had finally thrown in the towel.
Hobbling, Haye's refusal to surrender, stretching the bout beyond what had seemed possible, earned the respect of most of those watching a fight for which there was no championship at stake, but a £7m purse to be shared.
The former world heavyweight champion had travelled to Germany to see his doctor ahead of the fight, but had denied rumours of an injury. But the way his ankle buckled in the sixth round suggested that he may well have carried a problem into the fight.
During the post fight interviews Haye studiously avoided discussion of his leg injury and, in stark contrast to the pre-fight build up, spoke admiringly of Bellew and having been beaten by the better boxer.
Haye, the heavier fighter by almost a stone, said: "Tony was a great fighter that was what went wrong. He beat me fair and square. If I want to fight for the world titles I need to beat this man."
Bellew, more naturally a cruiserweight fighter, declared himself the "champion of the misfits" and saluted Haye's efforts. "I wanted to really beat him and he really wanted to beat me. He's a brilliant boxer. Who wants to see it again?"
Despite Haye's recent period out of boxing – he has fought just eight rounds in the last five years – and Bellew having won the WBC cruiserweight title at Goodison Park last May, it was the Londoner who came into the fight the favourite.
From the opening bell Haye seemed to believe that his best chance was one of his famous Hayemakers. When Haye finally caught the younger man with a big right in the second round, the Scouser merely pulled a funny face to indicate that there had been no pain and no power. Despite pre-fight predictions of an early knockout, the fight was still evenly balanced by the sixth round.
Bellew, who made a much-discussed cameo in the last Rocky movie, Creed, had been fearful of moving forward, cowed by Haye's longer reach and constant body jabs.
But the fight totally changed complexion in the sixth. Bellew was actually on the canvas early in the round, but it was judged to be a slip, but then Haye's right leg buckled and for the rest of the round the older fighter hobbled about and tried to stay out of harm's way until the bell.
From that point Haye was limping and mostly just attempting to survive. Despite Haye's restricted mobility, Bellew searched in vain for a decisive punch.
Haye still hoped to land one fight-winning blow, but with his ankle damaged he could get no solid base for his power punches and when he did throw a hook he would often stumble away in an almost comical fashion.
By now it was Bellew's fight to lose, but he was fearful of a sucker punch and found it hard to pin down the sitting duck. In round nine Bellew even caught Haye with a low blow and a brief stoppage ordered by the referee. After a warning was issued, Bellew tried to offer a hand of reconciliation, but Haye ignored it and threw a wild haymaker which missed its mark by some considerable distance.
In what proved to be the final round, Haye was knocked out of the ring and tried to clamber back, but as he almost beat the count, his corner tossed in the towel.
After the finale there was clearly respect between the fighters at last.