WOW, what a tremendous effort put forth by Anthony Yarde on Saturday night when he challenged world light-heavyweight king, Artur Beterbiev. Though the result was exactly as Boxing News predicted, the contest itself proved more competitive than we and many others expected. For that, Yarde must stand up and take a bow.
Yarde deserves only credit for the manner in which he conducted himself before, during and after the kind of contest that reminded us – like a shot of tequila after a spell on the waggon – how exhilarating boxing can be. The fact he performed so well against an established 19-0 (19) world champion should highlight both his natural fighting prowess and an unteachable ability to cope under pressure. Physically and psychologically, Yarde is certainly blessed.
Could Yarde have done any more against such an accomplished rival? At this stage of his career, given the experience he’d amassed beforehand, it’s likely a gallant defeat was the best result he could have mustered. But it’s only fair to wonder if Yarde’s path to the bout was befitting of a challenge like Beterbiev, a fighter who for many years has been operating at the highest level. To even just rival a competitor like that, comparative late-starter Yarde has been well-managed by a promotional organisation who know exactly how to play the game.
The bottom line, however, remains the same now as it did this time last week: Yarde is yet to win a bout against truly top-tier opposition. That is not a criticism nor should it be a surprise, either, when one considers that the only proven world class fighters he’s faced are Beterbiev and, in 2019, Sergey Kovalev. In both cases, it’s not disrespectful to conclude that the leap, in the end, was too wide.
The best victory on Yarde’s ledger remains the four-round stoppage of Lyndon Arthur in December 2021, a fighter who found himself flirting with the world top 10 purely because he outpointed an out-of-sorts Yarde in their first encounter 12 months before. The rematch victory over Arthur was the ninth time Yarde had contested a WBO regional belt, with the previous eight coming against fading fringe contenders, gatekeepers or unknown imports. Though the reasons for what is essentially amassing ranking points against largely sub-par opposition is understood, one can’t help but wonder if Yarde would be an even better boxer today if he’d instead been fighting more worthwhile opposition on the way up.
It might be deemed churlish to suggest Yarde should have been matched better when one considers he has now not only twice fought for major belts after such little seasoning but performed admirably in both affairs. However, is the current system – align with a sanctioning body until title fight comes along – stunting the development of certain boxers, like Yarde, who are unquestionably gifted? Yarde operates in a light-heavyweight era that is highly-regarded, particularly in the UK where the talent pool is deep. But since he picked up the Southern Area title with victory over Chris Hobbs in 2017, the only British fighters he’s faced are Arthur (twice) and Dec Spelman. Even if Yarde had taken on, say, Craig Richards or Callum Johnson, it’s likely his education – win or lose – would have been enhanced. Frankly, it’s absolutely crazy that we have so many top light-heavies in Britain and none of them will face each other due to promotional ties, that already explained loyalty to one set of sanctioning body rankings and, ultimately, a fear of a loss. Perhaps if Yarde and Joshua Buatsi had got it on all those years ago, or we’d had a situation where the best Brits were regularly fighting the best Brits, there would be substantially more widespread interest in one of them facing a talent like Beterbiev than there was at the weekend.
Fighters too often start climbing a particular rankings ladder only to discover that the final rung is still an awfully long way from the top. All promotional groups adopt this approach, it is not exclusive to Yarde; his case is merely a topical example.
There is a worthwhile counter argument to consider, too. Had Yarde have been matched tougher, he may have lost his way and failed to build the confidence he has in abundance, and therefore not had the chance to take on Beterbiev at all. There can now be no doubt that he belongs at world class. Regardless of what happens in his future, Yarde will always be able to say he ran close one of the most fearsome champions around. That alone is a tremendous achievement and it was warming to see the hardcore fans unite and rightly salute his effort.
Crucially, at the age of 31 and with his coach Tunde Ajayi waving the flag of surrender at exactly the right time, Yarde’s ascent may not be over yet.