LONDON -- Tony Bellew left David Haye facing retirement after dropping him three times in a humiliating fifth-round stoppage Saturday.
Bellew (30-2-1, 19 KOs) beat his English heavyweight rival more emphatically than he did last year, flooring him twice in the third round and once in the fifth.
Haye (28-4, 26 KOs), once the most exciting heavyweight in the world, was left flat on his face in the fifth round. He courageously got up, only for Bellew to force the stoppage moments later.
Time waits for no man, as Haye painfully discovered at the O2 Arena in south London, not far from where he grew up. Injuries and a stop-start career have taken their toll on the 37-year-old, and Bellew exposed those truths for the second successive fight.
"David Haye is an amazing fighter. He just got into a slugfest, and we hurt each other," Bellew said. "I was hurt in that fight. But speed decreases with age. Power doesn't."
Bellew, 35, dedicated the fight to his late brother-in-law, Ashley Roberts. Haye, meanwhile, denied that he suffered a foot injury in the first knockdown.
"I'm not injured. I'm fully healthy," said Haye, who refused to say whether he will retire.
Bellew stopped Haye in the 11th round some 13 months ago and again boxed a clever fight. Bellew avoided Haye's punches before exploding into action in the third round with power shots of his own that were more accurate.
A second successive defeat in only his fifth fight in six years is likely to be a sad end to Haye's career, which saw him win world titles at heavyweight and cruiserweight.
"I didn't feel that great in there. I will have to review it," he said. "Tony Bellew fought a fantastic fight, and it's all fun, really. Tony Bellew boxed a great fight, and I didn't.
"Tony was a better man. I couldn't quite make it happen. Everything happens for a reason. He's a great champion, and I enjoy the battle. Bellew's my nemesis. We are of similar stature. That's why we gel and make such a fun fight."
Haye's aim had been to fight the division's best again after last doing so when he lost the WBA world heavyweight title on points in a unification fight with Ukraine's Wladimir Klitschko in 2011. Bellew, from Liverpool, shattered that dream, but his future is also uncertain because a world title shot is unlikely this year.
Bellew has ruled out facing English rival Anthony Joshua, the WBA-IBF-WBO world champion who is in talks to face America's WBC king, Deontay Wilder. Bellew, who like Haye is a former world cruiserweight champion now operating at heavyweight, is ranked No. 7 with the WBC, and there is no obvious next opponent for him.
"What about Andre Ward, pound-for-pound king? You name them, and I'll beat them," Bellew said. "It's been a great journey, but I don't know where it goes. Who do you want to see me fight next? I'm a walking super-series. I need a megastar."
Since losing to Bellew last year, Haye has had operations to mend his Achilles and biceps. He also changed trainers.
Haye insisted that he was in better condition for this fight, and Bellew expected an early onslaught. It came in the first round but fizzled out by the third. Haye could not land anything that really troubled Bellew in the first, and Bellew showed he was dangerous on the counter-attack in the second. Bellew landed a short right hook to the temple early in that round and landed another cuffing blow later.
Bellew showed quick reactions and quick feet to elude Haye's punches in the third round. Bellew then suddenly went on the offensive and chased Haye across the ring before landing a right flush on the jaw to drop the Londoner for a count.
Haye was clearly hurt, and Bellew followed up with another sledgehammer of a right, this time to the top of the head. Haye slid down the ropes to the canvas, and when he got up, he was on spaghetti legs. Luckily for Haye, the bell saved him as his senses looked scrambled.
Haye took some severe punishment in the fourth round, and he seemed unable to avoid the punches. His nightmare was complete in the fifth round, when he was sent sprawling across the canvas by a left hook. Haye bravely got up, but his legs were betraying him, and when Bellew followed up with more unforgiving blows, referee Howard Foster stopped the fight.