Tony Bellew was knocked out in the eighth round as his brave bid to overcome undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk ended in heartbreak at a raucous Manchester Arena.
In his final professional bout, Bellew was attempting to become the first Briton to hold all four major world titles – plus the prestigious Ring Magazine belt – in a weight class simultaneously.
The heavy underdog made a courageous start in an electrifying atmosphere but was denied a fairytale finish to his career as Usyk (now 16-0, 12KOs) demonstrated why he is rated among the finest fighters on the planet.
Usyk gradually started to establish his dominance and closed the show emphatically, flooring his rival with a devastating one-two, prompting referee Terry O’Connor to wave off the count after two minutes of the eighth round.
He therefore retained his WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO titles at 200lbs and may now have the heavyweight scene – and Anthony Joshua in particular – in his sights.
An emotional Bellew told BBC Radio 5 live afterwards: “I gave it everything I had, he is an exceptional champion. He is everything I have feared. He is the best I have ever fought.
“I had a great plan, I tried my best, but it wasn’t good enough. He is just so hard and awkward, putting pressure, tap, tap, tap, then he stings. He overpowers you and is bigger than you think.
“He is probably the best cruiserweight who ever lived. It is him or (Evander) Holyfield – I would love to see that fight.
“Heavyweights stay away, he takes a great shot and I don’t even know if I hurt him. He is even better than it says on the box.
“It is my final walk away – I have been doing this for 20 years, and now it is over.”
The 35-year-old, who finishes his career with a record of 30 wins, three defeats and one draw, was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards up to that point and courageously attempted to get to his feet.