Former two-weight world champion David Haye has announced that he will face undefeated Arnold ‘The Cobra’ Gjergjaj on Saturday May 21 at The O2 in London as he continues his journey back to the summit the heavyweight division.
The Hayemaker returns to the ring for the first time since January 16 when more than 16,000 spectators packed into The O2 to witness him deliver a signature right hand to KO top 10 WBA ranked Mark de Mori.
The fight lasted just 121 seconds in what was Haye’s eighth first round KO of his professional career and 25th knockout in his 27 professional wins.
Haye now turns his attentions to the 31 year old Kosovo-Albanian who has amassed an impressive record of 29-0, with 21 of those wins coming via knockout. ‘The Cobra’ stands at 6 foot 5 inches tall and most recently tipped the scales at 112 kilograms – his size and strength are expected to pose a real threat.
The Cobra’s 29-0 resume is the second longest winning streak in the heavyweight boxing behind only the current WBC champion Deontay Wilder, who is yet to be beaten in his 36 professional fights, but ahead of Tyson Fury who has 25-0 record. The Cobra has impressive pedigree having sparred with the current WBA and WBO heavyweight champion and, the man he beat for those titles, Wladimir Klitschko.
Despite the 147lb division being talent-rich, the governing body bizarrely served up the Canadian as Brook’s mandatory challenger and he obliged them by destroying him inside two rounds.
Such one-sided fights do nobody any good – especially not Brook, whose underwhelming run with the IBF gold has comprised just 12 rounds and easy wins over Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and now Bizier.
A combination of injuries and waiting for Amir Khan are mitigating factors and you can be sure Brook himself will have wanted a higher calibre of opposition.
Now it’s time for that to happen and he may have to make concessions to face the division’s big guns.
Brook has a perfect 36 wins on his record but only two of them have taken place outside the UK.
And since beating Shawn Porter in California to claim his world title, he’s fought in London once and his hometown Sheffield twice.
The former undisputed champion at 168lbs entered the ring on Saturday night for just the second time in 29 months but if he was rusty, it was entirely imperceptible.
Many had tipped the previously unbeaten Barrera – a top-10 ranked and physically imposing contender – to cause Ward problems.
But it never materialised with the obvious talent gap insurmountable, and Ward’s canny defensive skills, precise jab and damaging counter-punching earning him a third-round knockdown on his way to a comfortable decision (117-109, 119-109 and 117-108) on the cards.
The 32-year-old immediately called out Russia’s Sergey Kovalev – the IBF, WBA and WBO world champion sat ringside – as he seeks to make up for all that career-crippling inaction.
“Sergey Kovalev is a great champion – he’s the man at light-heavyweight,” Ward said afterwards.
“It’s not a matter of ‘if’ just ‘when’. I’ve been focusing on Sullivan Barrera, I couldn’t think about anything else. There is no second fight, there is no shot at the title if I didn’t handle business tonight, so now I can focus on that.”
It’s a fight HBO, the network which screens both Ward and Kovalev’s fights, is desperate to make to beef up their anaemic boxing schedule – and Ward’s decisive victory moved it one step closer to reality. The American was once perhaps the most marketable emerging force in the sport and HBO were eager to make him a star, a pay-perview main event staple. But Ward’s imperious 2011 victory over Carl Froch in the final of the ‘Super Six’ super-middleweight tournament and subsequent rout of Chad Dawson seem like a distant memory.
Injuries and endless litigation with his former promoter, the late Dan Goossen, kept him on the sidelines and all that momentum was eroded by frustration before eventually giving way to apathy.
His pure boxing style isn’t the easiest sell, so his allure has to be based around the notion of being virtually unbeatable, as was the case with Floyd Mayweather.
Overcoming Barrera was the first step back in the right direction but Kovalev is a different animal and could present the rare scenario of Ward going into a fight as an underdog. Yet should he devise and execute a gameplan to outfox the destructive Russian, undoubtedly among the most feared fighters in the world, even the most ardent of Ward critics – and there are many – would be silenced.
Saturday showed both his enduring class and that he has plenty left in the tank. His clean living, athletic prowess and punishment-free resume give him every chance of emulating Mayweather’s longevity.
Indeed, the recuperative benefits of his hiatus could even have added years to his career. But a fighter’s legacy is determined by the quality of his rivals and those defining fights. Challenges don’t get much bigger than Kovalev and, if made, will be pivotal in how history remembers one of the finest fighters of this generation.