WOW what a tremendous performance from Anthony Yarde on Saturday night as he challenged light heavyweight king of the world Artur Beterbiev. Although the result was exactly as Boxing News predicted, the contest itself proved to be more competitive than we and many others expected. For this, Yarde has to stand up and bow.
Yarde deserves only credit for the way he behaved before, during and after the kind of competition that reminded us — like a shot of tequila after a spell on the dare — how exhilarating boxing can be. The fact that he did so well against an established 19-0 (19) world champion should underscore both his natural fighting prowess and his incorrigible ability to cope with pressure. Yarde is certainly blessed physically and mentally.
Could Yarde have done more against such an accomplished rival? At this stage in his career, given the experience he had previously gained, a brave defeat was probably the best result he could have achieved. But it’s only fair to ask if Yarde’s path to fighting was appropriate to a challenge like Beterbiev, a fighter who has competed at the highest level for many years. To keep up with even a competitor like this, comparatively late starter Yarde has been well guided by a promotional organization that knows exactly how to play the game.
However, the bottom line remains the same as this time last week: Yarde has yet to win a fight against truly high-quality opponents. That’s not criticism, nor should it come as a surprise considering the only proven world-class fighters he faces are Beterbiev and 2019’s Sergey Kovalev. Either way, it’s not disrespectful to conclude that the leap ended up being too big.
The best win on Yarde’s ledger remains the four-round layoff of Lyndon Arthur in December 2021, a fighter who only flirted with the world top 10 because he turned out an upset Yarde in their first encounter 12 months ago. The rematch victory over Arthur marked Yarde’s ninth fight for a WBO regional belt, with the previous eight coming up against fading rivals, gatekeepers or unknown imports. While the reasons for earning ranking points against largely underperforming opponents are well known, one cannot help but wonder if Yarde would have been an even better boxer today if he had instead fought more rewarding opponents on his way up.
It might be seen as dour, Yarde should have matched better considering that after so little experience he has not only contested twice for major belts but has performed admirably on both counts. However, does the current system – settling with a sanctioning agency until the title fight comes around – stunt the development of certain boxers like Yarde who are undoubtedly talented? Yarde operates in a light heavyweight era that is highly regarded, particularly in the UK where the talent pool is large. But since he won the Southern Area title by defeating Chris Hobbs in 2017, the only British fighters he has faced are Arthur (twice) and Dec Spelman. Even if Yarde had taken on Craig Richards or Callum Johnson, for example, his training – win or lose – would likely have improved. Honestly it’s absolutely insane that we have so many top lightweights in the UK and none of them are going to go head-to-head based on promotional relationships, which already explains loyalty to a number of sanctions body rankings and ultimately fear of losing. If Yarde and Joshua Buatsi had done it all those years ago, or if we had had a situation where the best Brits were fighting the best Brits on a regular basis, there might be a lot more interest when one of them faces a talent like Beterbiev than there was it on the weekend.
Too often fighters climb up a certain ranking only to find that the last rung is a long way from the top. All advertising groups adopt this approach, it’s not exclusive to Yarde; his case is just one recent example.
There is also a worthwhile counter-argument. Had Yarde been hired tougher he might have strayed and not built the confidence he has in abundance and therefore had no chance of facing Beterbiev at all. There is no doubt that he belongs to the world class. Regardless of what happens in his future, Yarde will always be able to say he came close to one of the most fearsome champions alive. That alone is a tremendous accomplishment and it was warming to see hardcore fans unite and rightly applaud his efforts.
Crucially, at the age of 31 and with his coach Tunde Ajayi waving the flag of surrender at just the right time, Yarde’s rise may not be over yet.
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