Tony Bellew revealed that he pleaded with David Haye to throw in the towel during their gruelling heavyweight bout on Saturday night (4 March) and believes the Bermondsey boxer went "beyond the call of duty" at the 02 Arena.
Haye had the better of the fight before damaging his Achilles in the sixth round. The 36-year-old bravely battled on until his corner threw in the towel in the 11th round, when he met the canvas for a second time.
Bellew, who was very much the outsider before the fight, admired Haye's refusal to give up despite suffering severe injury but admits he was "worried" about his foe's welfare. He even turned to Haye's corner to call a halt to proceedings.
"Just before the stoppage I looked at David and said 'stop now'," Bellew told BBC Sport. "He shook his head. He went beyond the call of duty. I looked at Shane McGuigan (Haye's trainer) and said 'stop it'. I was worried as he couldn't box.
"In rounds four and five he was tired but he was blocking, when we got to nine, I felt myself on top of him and I could feel him panicking, I said, 'stop, stop' and he went 'no'. He gets a lot of admiration from me from a sportsman's perspective."
Belle defied the odds and silenced doubters – as he so often has during his career – by beating Haye, whose ambitions for another shot at a world title are in ruins. Before the fight, Haye promised to deliver "one of the most brutal beatings in British boxing history" as the jibes flew back and forth, but the Hayemaker, who is set to undergo surgery on his Achilles, was able to pay tribute to the Scouser at the end of the night.
"I did not expect him to have the chin and the durability that he has," Haye told Sky Sports. "Bellew, by far, was the better fighter tonight. I've never been in a fight like that before. He's the man. I'm at his mercy – I can't think of world titles now."
The bad blood between Bellew and Haye seemingly dissipated when all said and done, but while there was talk of a rematch, the victor on the night signalled his ambition to fight Deontay Wilder before declaring that there is 'a new sheriff' in the heavyweight division.
"If you beat Haye, who professes to be one of the best heavyweights in the world, then Deontay Wilder or Joseph Parker – why not?" added the 34-year-old Evertonian. "The biggest one-punching heavyweight in the world couldn't put a dent in me. There's a new sheriff in town."