If David Haye’s objective was to impress his celebrity friends in attendance at London’s O2 Arena, then Saturday night’s fanfare complete with bright, flashing laser-lights and thumping loud sound systems would have been just the tonic. The only ingredient missing was a fight. In amongst the It crowd assembled at ringside, spare a thought for any genuine fight fans who had paid good money to watch this debacle. If Haye cares about retaining his boxing credibility then he needs to stop treating real fans of the sport with such disdain.
Throughout the build-up, viewers who had managed to track down Channel Dave in their TV listings were constantly reminded that Haye’s opponent was a man with “the second longest undefeated record in boxing”, as if they had somehow unearthed a heavyweight Floyd Mayweather hidden for years within the blue ribbon division’s ranks. It was somewhat surprising then to watch as mighty Arnold The Cobra Gjergjaj was felled within seconds of the opening bell. In fact Haye could have easily finished off The Cobra there and then but perhaps even he thought this mismatch of a fight might be too hard to defend against such an early knock-out, so he briefly backed off. Unfortunately his opponent was in no condition to maintain the deceit; in the second round a gently flicked jab from Haye, the kind a boxer uses not to inflict harm but to probe the distance from your opponent, sent The Cobra crashing back down to the canvas, with the fight being stopped a few moments later. For all the talk of an unbeaten record, Gjergjaj was several rungs in quality below Audley Harrison.
Wearing a bizarrely designed pair of adult diaper-esque shorts more reminiscent of the Jerry Springer Show than a boxing ring, Haye celebrated his victory as if he had overcome a genuine challenge, then proceeded to pretend he has bad blood with the ageing Shannon Briggs who will be his next opponent in September. The nature of that alleged feud is so artificial that it is cringe-making to watch these once-respected boxers trying to deceive fans into believing they really do have hateful feelings towards each other. Ali-Frazier this certainly is not.
And perhaps this is what upsets boxing fans the most; not the ticket prices or the headline billing for such a terribly mis-matched opponent, it is the spin and dishonesty that surrounded the entire event. Two weeks after Amir Khan commendably moved up two weight categories to climb into the ring with one of the most dangerous fighters in the world today, Haye’s celebrity get-together on Saturday night was an insult to boxing fans everywhere. Instead of fighting opponents of the level of De Mori and Gjergjaj in an attempt to forge the path of least resistance to a title shot, Haye could win back respect by getting in the ring with the likes of Dillian Whyte on someone else’s undercard. Haye initially generated a lot of goodwill and excitement amongst fans when he announced he would be coming back to a heavyweight scene that has been revitalised in the past year, but the deception of Saturday night risks him losing the respect of all but his closest celebrity colleagues.