Analysing Heavyweight David Haye's Next Opponent: Arnold GjergjajMay 18, 2016
If you were asked to name a famous sportsperson from Switzerland, Roger Federer would surely be the obvious answer.
Fellow tennis players Martina Hingis and Stanislas Wawrinka might pop into your head. If you like your winter sports, it could be a skier you think of, perhaps the great Pirmin Zurbriggen.
The Swiss have produced top-class footballers, too. Those of a certain vintage will recall striker Stephane Chapuisat, while viewers of the Premier League have seen plenty of Johan Djourou and Stephane Henchoz.
But when it comes to boxing, can you name a Swiss fighter of some repute? Can you even name one Swiss fighter?
Unless you're a historian of the sport, it's unlikely you'll be able to provide an answer without the help of an internet search engine.
However, Arnold Gjergjaj (29-0, 21 KOs) has the chance to not only make a name for himself but also put Swiss boxing on the map on Saturday, as he faces David Haye at the O2 Arena in London.
Actually, Gjergjaj is a Swiss resident—he was born in Gjakova, Kosovo.
He is, though, the top-ranked heavyweight in Switzerland right now, beating out two other fighters for the "honour".
As for Haye, he will write the second chapter in his comeback story. The first, against Mark de Mori in January, lasted all of 131 seconds. For a scene-setter, the opening instalment didn't tell us much at all.
Like De Mori, Gjergjaj has an impressive record. As a pro, he has never tasted defeat in 29 outings.
And, like De Mori, he is also something of an unknown quantity. So, does that make him dangerous or dubious?
De Mori was nothing more than a sacrificial lamb—admittedly a well-toned one—served up to a hungry Haye. It is hard to believe Gjergjaj won't be devoured in a similarly quick and ruthless manner.
At least he will have a height advantage. Standing at 6'5", the visiting fighter can look down on the 6'3" Haye.
Yet he has just one recognised name on his CV. In June 2015, Gjergjaj climbed off the canvas to record a unanimous points triumph over Denis Bakhtov, a heavyweight who is best known to British audiences for his short-lived bout with Anthony Joshua in 2014.
Bakhtov didn't last long against the reigning IBF champion from England. Cut above the left eye in the opener, the Kazakh was flattened in Round 2.
Gjergjaj will hope to put up greater resistance against Haye, who has compatriot Joshua firmly in his sights.
The Hayemaker needs rounds under his belt so he is ready for another world-title tilt, although that opportunity doesn't seem to be happening any time in the near future. Until it does, he needs to stay busy.
He already has Shannon Briggs lined up as his next opponent—the veteran American gatecrashed a London press conference staged to announce the fight with Gjergjaj, proclaiming Haye should face him instead.
Having also got under Haye's skin at the weigh-in before Joshua's fight with Charles Martin in April, Briggs' antics have had the desired result.
Suitably annoyed, Haye now wants to silence his rival in the ring.
The former WBA champion branded Briggs an "idiot" in an interview with Sky Sports, adding: "I know people think he's fun, but not me. He might have been funny when he was doing his stuff to [Wladimir] Klitschko, but trust me, it's not funny for me. Him chasing me around is driving me nuts."
For a man who once had T-shirts made up showing him decapitating the Klitschko brothers, Haye has now experienced a taste of his own medicine. Bitter would be the best word to describe how it went down.
Gjergjaj can put paid to the Haye-Briggs media circus with an upset at the weekend. It would be a monumental upset, too. He is priced at a whopping 16-1 for the win, per Odds Shark.
Still, he has fought 123 rounds in his career—three more than Haye—and has a 72 per cent knockout ratio, according to BoxRec.
Those stoppage wins have not been against the strongest of competition, but that isn't necessarily Gjergjaj's fault. He can only beat whoever is signed to face him.
He certainly flattened Prince Anthony Ikeji in 2011, sparking the beginning of the end in Round 2 with a lovely left hook set up by a sharp jab:
Having previously worked as a sparring partner for both Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko, Gjergjaj has at least had some experience of facing top-class opposition.
In 2013, he was scheduled to face European champion Dereck Chisora in London, per Declan Warrington of the Daily Mail. It is a shame that fight never happened, as it would have been a far better reference point for Gjergjaj's capabilities in the ring than any of his other results to date.
While he will be determined to knock him out in the ring, Haye has come to the defence of his next foe.
He told the Sun: "He [Gjergjaj] is taller than I am, heavier than I am and has an unbeaten record, so I think it’s a bit unfair people digging him out without seeing him."
Time will tell if The Cobra has enough venom to cause an upset.
Boxing is about levels, and all the signs point to the outing being nothing more than a decent payday for Gjergjaj before he returns to the boxing wilderness in Switzerland.
Hopefully, he can at least seize his moment in the spotlight and force Haye to work a little harder than the shell-shocked De Mori earlier in the year. Don't hold your breath, though.