In a world with four recognised sanctioning bodies, several unrecognised sanctioning bodies and a litany of belts, Anthony Yarde stands out. The 31-year-old from Hackney has never held world title gold, whether reputable or disreputable. But what he has done is relentlessly seek out the best fighters in the world to serve as his opposition.
Rather than court the sanctioning bodies for a tame opponent and a vacant belt, Yarde will face the best light heavyweight on the planet for the second time in his 25-fight career. In 2019, it was Sergey Kovalev who stood in his way. On Saturday night at the OVO Arena in Wembley it will be WBC, IBF and WBO kingpin Artur Beterbiev in the opposite corner. Nobody can accuse Yarde of ducking a challenge.
This atypical approach hasn’t always worked out for those precious few fighters brave enough to take it. While Paul Butler is a two-time world bantamweight champion, few were queuing up to give him props for facing the other-worldly Naoya Inoue last month. The Ellesmere Port scrapper even went to Japan to face one of the world’s pound-for-pound best, but an unforgiving public merely lambasted him for losing by 11th round knockout.
A similar fate has befallen some of the many British fighters eviscerated by the fiery fists of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Despite showing enough gumption to fight the then-best fighter on the planet, the likes of Rocky Fielding and Billy Joe Saunders never got their flowers for taking the ultimate leap.
Ricky Hatton is one of the scant British fighters to actually get plaudits from a cynical public despite losing to iconic fighters. Most fans rightfully respect him for taking on Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, despite being stopped by both.
This approach can be a thankless task. Yarde has certainly not had an easy road since Kovalev bludgeoned him to an 11th round defeat in 2019. ‘The Beast from the East’ looked to have put himself on the map when he rocked the then-WBO champion and had him on the verge of defeat. But six fights at domestic and European level since have meant this momentum was not maintained.
Losing a split decision to the talented Lyndon Arthur didn’t help. A fourth-round knockout win in the rematch has righted the good ship Yarde though. A keep-busy third round stoppage of Stefani Koykov in November has brought us here.
Of course this strategy of forgoing the conveyor belt of interim belts, IBO alphabet belts and other such spurious baubles is a risky one. A third career loss, even to a fighter as celebrated and formidable as Beterbiev, could condemn Yarde to domestic level forever. Boxing is a sport without a fixture list, where fighters’ own choices shape their destiny. Sadly by its very nature, the fighters making the most admirable choices often don’t get as far as the more cautious ones.
But with risk comes potential reward. If ‘The Beast from the East’ somehow finds a way past the 18-0 (18KOs) Russian-Canadian boxer, he will write his name into the annals of history. It is no exaggeration to suggest a win here would rank alongside Hatton’s 2005 victory Kostya Tsyzu and Randolph Turpin’s 1951 win over ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson as one of the greatest by a British boxer.
This is precisely why Yarde should be applauded, no matter what happens. Twice now he has taken on the defining light heavyweight of an era in pursuit of a career-defining victory. Even if he doesn’t secure it, his endeavour is worth more than any number of interim, ‘regular’ or IBO belts could ever be.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change