Anthony Yarde is unequivocal. “I’ve never gone on record and said I don’t spar. That’s never been said by me. I sparred today, I sparred yesterday and I sparred the day before.”
The British light-heavyweight contender had come under criticism after his August 2019 defeat to Russia’s Sergey Kovalev after it was claimed that he had taken up a non-sparring policy in the lead-up to the world title contest in a bid to protect himself from extra blows to the head.
Former world champion Carl Frampton branded it as ''ridiculous'' and said that Yarde had ''to make changes to his camp'' after suffering the knockout defeat in the 11th round, but Yarde tells The Sportsman that the furore came out of a miscommunication.
“I think it came from my trainer [Tunde Ajaye] in an interview where he said we don't spar,” he explains. “What I think he meant was that we don't go around sparring other fighters and having fights basically in the gym.
“The policy that I have and what I stand by is that I spar to practice and I spar to learn. Every now and then you will have a spar with someone around your level and it's hard work, but other than that it's about sparring fighters at a lower level than you, and learning and practising with them people.''
Ajaye himself adds: “You shouldn't believe everything you hear unless it comes from the horse’s mouth. Nobody has ever said Anthony doesn't spar, you have never heard Anthony say it himself.
“What I said was misread. Absolutely it’s all cerebral and the more you get punched, the shorter your career in my opinion, although I doubt if there’s any evidence to suggest that. But I would be in no way shocked if there was actual statistical evidence to suggest sparring can shorten careers.”
Yarde says that he has trained that way throughout his whole career. A lot of fighters have gone on record after their boxing days have ended to say that having wars in sparring does more damage to their bodies, and breaks their bodies down more than world title fights themselves. The 28-year-old adds that he has been around the famous Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas and it opened his eyes to how a training camp should take place.
“I had seen guys when I started boxing in the gym, and they were top notch. You know, sharp boxers. And I see them now, and they can't see no punches coming towards them and they're slurring their words,” he adds.
“I went out to Vegas and I was in Floyd Mayweather's camp for when he was preparing for Robert Guerrero back in 2013, and I was watched three weeks of his training for the second Marcos Maidana fight. He was just learning and practising things in the gym, he wasn't having no brutal sparring, he wasn't having any extremely tough sparring. He didn't have any fighters that would have given him black eyes or anything like that.
“During the Guerrero camp, that's when he had Errol Spence Jr. come in to the camp. Spence gave him good work, and because it was only three weeks or so until the fight itself, he told Spence he was finished with him for now. So sparring is all about knowing what you should do and not what to do.”
Yarde is back in the gym now with his eyes set on winning a world title in 2020. He will be looking to bounce back from the Kovalev loss - his first professional defeat in his first world title shot - with recent reports suggesting Maxim Vlasov could be in the offing, potentially at the O2 Arena on April 18th, headlining alongside rising heavyweight prospect Daniel Dubios.
“Unless you hear an announcement from my promoter Frank Warren or Tunde, it's all ‘he says, she says’ and I wouldn't pay attention to it until it's all confirmed,” Yarde warns of the speculation. “Of course my return is being worked on. I only fought two times last year, and I would like to fight three times this year, but it all depends on who we get as an opponent.
“I don't look at the division and think there is one guy I want to fight, the only opponent I would say - if there is one - would be Canelo Alvarez because of the rewards that come with it. Other than that, I don't really see anybody I want to fight. That isn't being disrespectful to anyone in the division, but unless you're a legend and it is a big reward, then I don't see it like that.”
Yarde believes the fight against Kovalev will be a valuable experience as he attempts to move on through the world rankings. He says that he plans to take the correct fights but admits that when a big opportunity is offered to him like his world title fight, he can't refuse them going forward.
“The thing with the Kovalev fight, and I said this before the fight, I wasn't going over to Russia, in his hometown, looking to win on points as he had a big fight with Canelo Alvarez lined up and I knew I was going to have to knock him out to win. It was a big fight for me, we struggled getting a visa to get over there, I was jet lagged, not many people know this, but I was napping most of the day of the fight. I was asleep until 4pm that day. I gassed out in the fight and we saw I was hurting him in the eighth round. A lot happened before that fight.
“I have always studied the business side of boxing, when I was younger coming through, I looked at Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and how they managed their careers. With the Kovalev fight it was a big opportunity, a world title fight. And it was the most I have been paid as a fighter in my career. I want to take the right fights for my career, but if a big opportunity comes up, I am going to take it.”
The boxing world will come to a standstill on February 22nd, when Tyson Fury will again face Deontay Wilder in a bid to become a two-time world heavyweight champion. Their first fight in December 2018 finished in a controversial draw but many believed Fury deserved to win despite being knocked down twice in the fight. Yarde himself can't confidently pick a winner next month.
“I couldn't give a prediction, obviously there are two ways this can go, either Wilder's going to win by knockout or Fury is going to win points, or maybe Fury can win by knockout. The way I look at this is that the first time they fought, Fury had only just got back into the ring, and he did a great job. The thing with Wilder is he got emotionally invested into the fight, which is why he didn't perform very well.
“We have seen when Wilder isn't emotional he can perform very well. It's like Wilder said before, he only needs to be perfect for one second and you need to be perfect for 36 minutes. I felt the same in the first fight, it all comes down to whether Wilder can land that big punch.”