This Saturday from the O2 Arena in London, David Haye returns to the ring with the second "Haye Day" event of 2016, following his successful comeback fight in January, as he faces The Undefeated
, Untested, Unknown, Likely Unprepared Cobra, Arnold Gjergjaj.
Here's a look at this fight, which is, you know...it is what it is, as they say.
David Haye vs Arnold Gjergjaj
Record: 27-2 (25 KO) ... Streak: W2 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ...Height/Reach: 6'3" / 78" ...Age: 35
Thoughts: It's worth noting that Haye's last five fights go back to 2010, and his last 10 go back to 2007. "The Hayemaker" took three and a half years off after a win over Dereck Chisora in 2012 and a shoulder surgery in 2013, which scuppered a fight with Tyson Fury. Looking back, that could've been hugely interesting, even more so than we thought at the time, but it didn't happen.
Still, here we are. Haye, now 35, used to say he would retire at age 30. He did not. He retired after the surgery, but there was always the sense he would come back, and he has. And to be perfectly blunt, the entire structure of his return has felt like nothing more than a cash grab. First, he fought Mark de Mori in January, finishing that mismatch off in two minutes, 11 seconds. That was OK, it was a comeback from a lengthy absence. Now comes Gjergjaj, with the promise that if both win on Saturday, he's going to fight a 44-year-old Shannon Briggs later this year.
If Haye gets an offer to fight Anthony Joshua, he'd surely take it. If he gets an offer to fight Tyson Fury or perhaps Wladimir Klitschko again, should Klitschko beat Fury, he'd surely take it. Because he's hoping to get at least one more truly major payday. And until he gets that offer, he's not going to take any really significant risks.
From the standpoint of business, this is perfectly understandable, even smart. In that respect, it's hard to do anything but tip your cap to him. His return against de Mori drew a big crowd at the O2 Arena, and another is expected here. But how long can he sell these fights? If this bout with Gjergjaj goes as the de Mori fight did -- and it probably won't look too different -- will the British public reject the fight with Briggs, or will they buy into the idea of Briggs, the former heavyweight champion, being a threat? Both Haye and Briggs can certainly talk up a fight, and neither shy away from theatrics.
The real evidence of Haye's intentions will come if/when he does get that Official Big Fight. Will he be there to cash the check and get out unscathed? Will he truly be there to win? He's more businessman than almost anyone in the sport, and the sport, as we're reminded constantly, is filled with businessmen. It's hard to much care about Haye's comeback run because there's little substance to it. Boxing may be a business, but fight fans still care what happens once they've been sold the fight, and you can only toy with them so long.
Boxing-wise, Haye was significantly bulkier and heavier in January, weighing in at 227¼ pounds, well above the 210 he weighed in to face Dereck Chisora, Wladimir Klitschko, and Audley Harrison in his previous three bouts. He weighed 222 when he beat John Ruiz in 2010, his previous career-high weight. Before, he felt that sacrificing bulk helped him maintain his speed, which was always his real advantage at heavyweight. Now, he's older, so weight isn't as easy to cut, and he also may feel that, in fact, bulk is better for him now, at least in fights where his speed is so significantly greater than his opponent's that he might as well have more muscle.
Record: 29-0 (21 KO) ... Streak: W29 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ...Height/Reach: 6'5" / N/A ...Age: 31
Thoughts: "Who the hell is Arnold Gjergjaj?" That was what everyone thought as soon as Haye's opponent announcement was leaked, and if they didn't think it then, they thought it when it was officially announced the next day.
Gjergjaj is a big bodied fighter originally from Gjakova, Kosovo, now residing in Pratteln, Swizterland, where he's fought 28 of his 29 pro fights, with one in Hungary back in 2011. He is an unproven fringe contender, a fighter whose best wins have come against Denis Bakhtov and ... well, Denis Bakhtov was the most familiar name he's fought to date. Really, the only familiar name.
His nickname is "The Cobra," which you've likely gathered because press conferences and such he's near exclusively referred to not as Arnold Gjergjaj, but The Undefeated Cobra. "Cobra" is a cool nickname, plus it brings to mind Carl Froch, who was a great fighter familiar to the British public, and it also helpfully points out that Gjergjaj is undefeated, which in enough minds to matter makes him at least somewhat legitimate as a heavyweight contender of sorts.
This is, of course, a huge opportunity for Gjergjaj. A win for him would not really send shockwaves through boxing, but would likely net him a world title fight just based on beating someone with a big name. The relative disrespect shown to Gjergjaj is one of those unfortunate things in boxing; it's not Gjergjaj's fault that this fight isn't very compelling and feels the way it does going in. He's just a guy who got a call and jumped at a big chance to do something he's worked hard to do. Hopefully the moment doesn't take him the way it did de Mori in January. As long as he gives the effort, that's really all anyone can ask.
Matchup Grade: D+. I'll add the "+" on the off chance that Gjergjaj being The Undefeated Cobra, emphasis on "undefeated," actually matters, that maybe he's better than we know, and just hasn't had the chance to prove it. If you watch video of him, it's apparent that this is probably not the case, and that any chance of him winning lies in catching Haye with something unexpected and scoring an almost fluke-ish win. In terms of pure ability, he is not in David Haye's class, nor does he have the experience Haye has. It is a mismatch on paper, "undefeated" or not.