They’ve never seen lions in Chelyabinsk. Their ice cold, hostile surroundings, adopted in demeanour by the reigning champion and native Russian, wouldn’t seem to suit the warm weather beasts, at first touch…
However, in order to upset the balance of nature, Anthony Yarde, the inexperienced, unbeaten challenger from East London finds himself touring the city, wearing gloves both inside and outside of the squared circle.
The only certainty when assessing Saturday’s WBO light-heavyweight title fight between Yarde and the ever-controversial, Sergey Kovalev, is that we don’t know what to expect. Hell, most of us didn’t expect the bout to force its way into fight week, given the whispers of a showdown between the defending champion and Mexican needle-mover, Canelo Alvarez.
Does the Russian have what it takes to fend off another hungry predator? Has he taken his foot off the gas, enjoying the celebrity lifestyle, home comforts and the odd, bitter tipple? He’ll hope to emerge victorious, retaining the belt he battled to regain. Trainer Buddy McGirt will hope his charge is listening as attentively as he was when facing Eleider Alvarez, earlier this year. Even if the pair work seamlessly in tandem, it just might not be enough.
And what of ‘The Beast’, Yarde? The braggadocios, inexperienced Brit was seen only six weeks ago wearing jewellery-clad grills on his teeth, enjoying a Vegas pool party. The press have bemoaned a lack of hard sparring and overlooked his previous, emphatic victories.
That pad work with ulta-confident, semi-delusional head trainer, Tunde Ajayi may have sharpened his reflexes – but he can only hope it proves transferable when faced with one of the sport’s most unforgiving punchers.
The pair have squared off on two occasions this week; following the press conference and yesterday’s weigh-in. On both occasions, the champion broke their stare, feeding the away fighter’s notion that he’ll emerge the mentally stronger of the pair. The serious, unshakeable athlete – even on enemy territory.
Sergey Kovalev has seemed relaxed, smiling and laughing when presented to an adoring Russian audience, sparking fears that he may be taking this a little lightly. His career has been decorated with explosive stoppage wins, but now aged thirty-six and having suffered three defeats in almost as many years, we must ponder whether he still poses that brutal killer instinct.
It wouldn’t be the first time an ageing champion had forced the hand of a hungry would-be King, would it?
Sergio Martinez facing Martin Murray when approaching the end of his own glittering, tumultuous career, springs to mind. The devastating Argentinian dragged St Helen’s Murray to South America, expecting a routine defence of his middleweight crown. However, ‘Maravilla’ was under pressure from the opening bell, escaping as an extremely fortunate victor, denying the accomplished Murray in agonising fashion.
The glaringly obvious difference between the two Brits mentioned, is their experience and success when travelling through boxing’s testing middle grounds. Murray was an ABA champion and an English international representative, before signing professional papers. Anthony Yarde had twelve amateur fights in total. Twelve.
Infact, on Saturday, he faces Sergey Kovalev in only his thirty-first contest ever. It would be nonsensical to suggest he was ready, but (rarely) often times, experience is rendered irrelevant. It’s that kind of game. Fans of Yarde cannot possibly expect a victory, yet hope springs eternal, as it has for fighters of similar grounding.
Ohara Davies, a close friend of Saturday’s travelling challenger, found himself in a similar position when tackling former Olympian and now-world champion, Josh Taylor. Another former student of Tunde Ajayi, Davies had been fast-tracked, but has since discovered that those ‘levels’ in boxing are far more than merely buzz words used to promote potential mismatches.
British fans will hope that Anthony Yarde can topple the fearsome Russian on his own turf. Of course they will. But, if it all boils down to class and proven opposition, defeated at the highest level, we should expect a comfortable ‘Krusher’ victory. The oddsmakers have it close, more so as a result of wild, optimistic gambling and advertising, rather than realism. The truth is, we just don’t know.
I’ve heard colleagues comparing this weekend’s bout to the mega-contest of the weekend following between two Olympic gold medalists. Educated, dedicated fans of boxing are more intrigued about Anthony Yarde, than they are about Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Frank Warren, the promoter of the British light-heavyweight, has been banging the drum for a long time. Could his faith finally become vindicated? Would Anthony Yarde become a PPV star if, and it’s a big if, he topples Sergey Kovalev?
Risk v Reward seems to have become Warren’s mantra, since facilitating Tyson Fury’s return against Deontay Wilder. It’s what fans want. It breathes life into boxing, at a time when others claim it’s dead. If Yarde suffers defeat this evening, at least he’s dared to dream. How many prospects can truly hang their hat on that?
In brief summary;
Hope: An unexpected, savage Anthony Yarde victory, dispelling myths that the Londoner lacks the minerals to compete at the top level.
Expectation: Sergey Kovalev shrugs off the concerns of a personal life shrouded in controversy, to bludgeon another challenger, sending Yarde bravely to the back of the queue.
Feature written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209