Exclusive: Anthony Yarde interview – Plotting his way back into contention

Anthony Yarde before the WBC, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight contest at the OVO Arena Wembley, London. Picture date: Saturday January 28, 2023.

Having had a few months to recuperate and reflect after exceeding expectations in a spirited defeat by long-reigning world champion Artur Beterbiev on January 28, two-time world title challenger Anthony Yarde tells me of his desire to have two fights before 2023 ends and maintain momentum, aware the light-heavyweight division is in a fantastic place right now.

Yarde: Exciting times for the future, 175lb division is thriving

Anthony Yarde and Artur Beterbiev during their WBC, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight contest at the OVO Arena Wembley, London. Picture date: Saturday...
Beterbiev declared Yarde his toughest opponent post-fight, and it’s no surprise
  • “They all think the same, it’s competitive and that’s what makes it exciting,” Yarde admits he still feels like the best of the bunch on domestic scene, featuring Callum Smith, Joshua Buatsi, Dan Azeez and others
  • 31-year-old’s head trainer Tunde Ajayi hopes his charge will return in June and again once more before the year’s over, believes he has grown since Artur Beterbiev TKO8 loss in January and is excited for what’s next
  • Former WBO world champion Joe Smith Jr has been rumoured as a possible opponent for Yarde, who hasn’t looked out of place at world level and repeatedly stressed his desire to box top contenders

Three years and five months after falling short in Chelyabinsk on enemy territory, Anthony Yarde stunned critics and lured Artur Beterbiev into a firefight at Wembley Arena. He led on two of the judges’ scorecards, but suffered the same fate again.

Sergey Kovalev said Yarde would 100% be a future world champion after surviving an eighth-round onslaught to finish him in the 11th, inflicting the Briton’s first defeat as a professional and securing a Canelo Álvarez showdown as a reward.

His compatriot and current unified champion Beterbiev was less committal when asked the same question in the post-fight press conference, but said why not?

“I feel like it was a fantastic fight, one for the fans, that’s me as a fighter – I’m fan-friendly.

Tunde is family, he pisses me off sometimes, I do him. I’m a fighter, always gonna be like why did you do that [stop the fight] but he’s got a job to do – 80-90% wouldn’t have. I’m happy he did, we live to fight another day.

We’ll wait and see, exciting times for the future. The division is thriving, becoming one of the most exciting – heavyweight, welter then light-heavy.”

  • Yarde reflects on his latest defeat, ranks boxing’s most exciting divisions

Beterbiev and Bivol venturing down separate paths

Artur Beterbiev before the WBC, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight contest at the OVO Arena Wembley, London. Picture date: Saturday January 28, 2023.
Beterbiev turned 38 in January and doesn’t fight regularly, but it hasn’t hindered him yet

After all, Beterbiev didn’t win his first world title until he was 32 – a R12 knockout (November 2017) against Enrico Koelling for the vacant IBF strap.

He next defended it 11 months later against Yarde’s compatriot Calum Johnson, rallying from a knockdown to finish the recently-retired challenger in four.

Despite racking up seven world title defences, his relative inactivity and weaker opposition on paper have made Beterbiev an easy target for criticism.

For context, the division’s other long-reigning titlist is 32-year-old Dmitry Bivol, who has made ten defences since being elevated from interim champ in Oct. 2017.

It’s why Tunde Ajayi, Yarde’s head trainer, questioned the strength of Beterbiev’s resume in the presser. As he ages, surely father time will slow him down?

Perhaps, but the fearsome punch power and 100% knockout ratio continues as he enters the final stages of an illustrous career which began as an amateur in 2002.

Both champions have expressed their desire to unify the division, with encouraging noises previously suggesting something could’ve been arranged for this summer.

A report today by WBN contradicts that, with WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman saying they wouldn’t sanction their title in any unification while the Russia-Ukraine war continues. Both are Russian, but Beterbiev has Canadian citizenship.

Instead, Bivol may sit out and wait for a prospective Canelo rematch at 168lbs while Beterbiev was last month ordered to face WBC mandatory Callum Smith next.

Looking phenomenal in the gym, what’s next for Yarde?

Anthony Yarde during the public workout for the Unified Light Heavyweight Championship of the World fight, Artur Beterbiev v Anthony Yarde at Grand...
Yarde can’t afford to box against lesser opposition going forward

As for Yarde, he spent time off in tropical countries to get away from London’s predictably volatile weather. Now though, he hopes to squeeze in two more fights this year and isn’t focused on fighting a specific opponent or style.

“If it’s right, then we’ll fight.”

Yarde’s promoter Frank Warren said he’d speak to Top Rank boss Bob Arum about making Yarde vs. Joe Smith Jr, who hasn’t been seen since Beterbiev vanquished the former WBO champion inside two rounds last summer.

Yarde told me there were some more meetings to be had before his team agree upon opponents, but his trainer was more definitive with a timeline for his return.

Speaking after Zhang TKO6 Joyce on Saturday night, he said: “June or July, and again before the end of the year. He’s looking phenomenal in the gym!

They say you can’t buy, borrow or pretend to have experience – he’s 100% grown from the Beterbiev fight – exciting, ready to go, damaging my elbows in the gym, hitting and punching hard with great reflexes, I can’t wait.”

After losing to Kovalev, he returned six months later with a R2 TKO win over Diego Jair Ramirez in Spain – a durable Colombian who had won just four of his 55 fights.

While getting the winning feeling back is understandable, doing so against that level of opposition doesn’t help Yarde as far as stepping up to tougher challenges.

You can dismiss Bulgaria’s Stefani Koykov as little more than a convenient stay-busy opponent, as Beterbiev sustained a knee injury needing a minor operation and delayed their world title date by three months.

The best win on his resume is Lyndon Arthur, especially the way he boxed en route to a fourth-round KO in avenging the split decision defeat twelve months prior.

That was for the Commonwealth and WBO Inter-Continental titles at 175lbs, the former now held by European champion Dan Azeez and the latter made vacant.

Joshua Buatsi fights unbeaten Polish contender Pawel Stepien on May 6, Arthur was set to face Argentina’s Braian Nahuel Suarez and Craig Richards repeatedly linked with Ricards Bolotniks, Yarde must return against a credible operator next.

Picture source: Getty Images, quotes all procured by me