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Anthony Yarde: In Need of a Lion’s Performance

By: Oliver McManus

Bracing conditions await for the cool cat that prowls around Peacock Gym as Anthony Yarde steps out of the cage for the first time in his professional career; the light-heavyweight enters the lion’s den of Chelyabinsk to face, WBO champion, Sergey Kovalev. A daunting task from the outset and matters were further thrown into flux when Kovalev was touted to face Canelo and Yarde was made a hefty ‘step-aside’ offer.

Despite all those hypothetical complications the fight does now go ahead – having been unofficially announced and then cancelled back in June – following a protracted game of cat and mouse with a healthy side dish of boxing politics. On August 24th, then, the fight goes ahead and British fight fans finally get the opportunity to test the hype and hyperbole surrounding Anthony Yarde.

Frank Warren’s prized prospect has lived a privileged life since entering the professional ranks in 2015 with soft touches offered throughout his development. Of course that’s an understandable element within boxing and, despite the, often, shrugged and shrouded defense of the opponents, Yarde marauded his way past them with villainous intent. His bout with Chris Hobbs was an early indication of the spite that Yarde possess – Hobbs pasted for four rounds, dropped on six occasions.

Since that peak in 2017 – five fights and a, genuinely, impressive win over Nikola Sjekloca – that saw him first climb the world rankings there has been increasing disdain for the maneuvering of Tunde Ajayi’s charge. Repeatedly he has been pitted against underwhelming opposition that were sold as genuine challenges to his ‘unrivalled supremacy’ – the latter a tad bit of creative license. Dariusz Sek was a real lowlight with him heralded as more than acceptable on the grounds he would be the first southpaw of Anthony Yarde’s career.

Consistently juxtaposing his lack of experience – did you know Yarde only had 12 amateur contests – as a reason for not taking serious step-ups (Sullivan Barrera has been continually vocal in his desire to fight Yarde) whilst commandeering his WBO ranking to justify stepping past domestic level is an isolationist tactic. It is, admittedly, very clever as it has allowed Yarde to take no damage, in terms of in the ring, whilst constantly chipping his way closer to Krusher. ‘WBO Champion of the World’ has always been the stated aim and desire so, in that respect, he has been maneuvered perfectly but that stops on August 24th. From thereon in it isn’t a matter of what strings Warren can pull – it comes down to boxing ability.

The kid can box, let’s be honest, there can be no denying his explosivity and heavy handedness but it’s learning how and when to use that has often resulted in a lacklustre end product. Boxing is a bloodsport with an aversion to blood – no-one wants to see a fighter seriously injured – but the tippy-tappy style of Yarde as he patiently repeats pad-work round after round is hard to become infatuated with. We’ve seen before what can happen when the clinical spark kicks in and he looks to close a fight – there is no feasible counter to that relentless, bombarding aggression.

Now he’s chucked in with a livewire there is minimal margin for error and that patience and diligence will be tested to maximum resistance; should there be any momentary lapses in concentration then Kovalev can, and will, exploit them. If he’s even half as good as the incredible, charismatic, belief of Ajayi suggests then he’s on the right path but words have got to turn into actions sooner rather than later.

You have to afford him a reasonable degree of respect and admiration for flying out to Russia – to a venue closer to Beijing than Canning Town – in full knowledge that he is a heavy, heavy underdog. Far too often we see fights avoided or hampered by squabbles over the proposed location and Russia is, perhaps, the most politicized of venues; you only need to nod towards Lucas Browne for an example of alleged skullduggery on Russian soil. But Yarde is brushing that to one side and rightly considering it yet another factor that would make a victory for him all the more remarkable. When you add up all the common variables then logic suggests Kovalev retains his title. But boxing isn’t about logic or maths – otherwise Compubox would be the official scoring system and BoxRec our official ratings – it is always about the two fighters in the ring – both at its purest and in a human, macro sense of it.

Anthony Yarde has surrounded himself with like-minded people that are consumed in the belief that he is the real deal and, naturally, that rubs off on a performance. It seems to me that for his whole career he has been regarded as a tabby cat in lion’s clothing, feasting on vegetarian scraps, but he goes to Russia with a lamb-chop in his sight. It is feeding time and Anthony Yarde has a ravenous hunger for success.

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