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James Cook: Old Lion In The Camp

Boxing Social catches up with James Cook, the new addition to Anthony Yarde’s training set-up, and reflects on his charge’s spectacular performance last weekend against Lyndon Arthur…

There’s a new lion in the Anthony Yarde camp: and his name is James Cook.

“I’ve been around boxing a long time, so they call me the old lion in the camp,” Cook says with a chuckle, his voice rich with the mellifluous tones of Jamaica, where he was born back in 1959.

The former British and European super-middleweight champion was invited to join the Hackney light-heavyweight’s training set-up in the wake of his points defeat against Lyndon Arthur in December last year – and his impact has been immediate.

Last weekend Yarde turned in a career-best performance to comprehensively turn the tables on Arthur in their Commonwealth title rematch, stopping the Mancunian in four rounds.

After the fight, Yarde’s trainer Tunde Ajayi hailed Cook’s contribution, declaring: “We were a ship without a rudder and James Cook has really been the cement that has solidified our team.”

Speaking to Boxing Social a few days after the fight, Cook was keen to reciprocate Ajayi’s warm words. “[When I joined] everyone was speculating about how things would work between me and Tunde. They were asking will he give me respect or whatever. But it’s worked so well.

“Tunde has said to me, ‘yeah this is what we’ve been missing’. I give him the highest respect and praise. He’s very happy with the things I’ve said and put in place.

“And let’s not forget Tunde had this guy from the beginning and did pretty well with him! They just needed this old lion to put a few more things in place. Sometimes when you’re so close to a fighter you can’t see things other people can see, so it’s working, it’s working great.”

Turning his attention to Yarde’s performance it is clear that Cook is more than satisfied with his performance. “It was a fantastic fight,” is his assessment. “If Anthony had lost the boxing world would have crucified him. Not many people thought he would win it but he came out and made a statement – a big statement! It wasn’t even close. He dismantled him. This was a different Anthony Yarde.

“I’ll be honest with you – there’s little things he needs to work on, but this boy has got so much power, he can hit, he can fight and he’s smart. He excites me. I tell people: not a lot of fighters excite me but this kid excites me because he’s got it all.

“He followed our instructions to a tee and the team were very happy. Arthur is tall and lanky and can box and we took that away from him. We told [Anthony]: ‘you can’t go out there and box Lyndon Arthur, you can’t be pretty. You’ve got to get to this man in rounds one to six. Start fast!’

“Having said that, to be honest he sort of shocked us because we didn’t think he’d start quite that fast! The fact is though: he’d done the hard work. He’d put the work in. We’d taken him running I made sure he knew that if he turned up late for running he’d have to do extra laps!”

Cook is a straight talker with an admirable reputation for turning around young lives and inspiring the youth of London, work that was recognised in 2007 with the award of an MBE. Much of his work has centred in and around the Pedro Youth Club in Hackney, an institution that was founded in 1928 and which he saved from closure in 2003.

It is through his long association with Hackney that Cook first got to know Yarde, who he views as a brilliant role model for the youth of east London.

“I’ve known him since he was an amateur and he’s always been a pleasant young man,” Cook says. “He is so clever, so good at what he does. People look up to this guy because he carries himself and holds himself together so well. At the press conference when Lyndon Arthur was saying things he didn’t react – I was thinking if that had been me as a fighter I probably would have reacted. He’s such a humble young man and someone people can really look up to.”

The dream – of course – is for Yarde to bring a world title back to Hackney, and Cook is convinced his charge is ready for anyone in the red-hot light-heavyweight division.

“I like [Joshua] Buatsi, he’s a good fighter, but a good Anthony Yarde? All the guys out there will have problems with him. They won’t last. He’s an all-rounder. He’s quick, he’s sharp and he punches like hell. They’ll all struggle with him.

“One hundred per cent he’s ready for a world title fight. [Callum] Johnson vs [Joe] Smith [Jr] will happen so Anthony will probably have a warm up before fighting the winner six months or so down the line. Whoever wins he’ll be ready for them. He’s a big danger to any light-heavyweight.”

Imagery Courtesy of Frank Warren/Queensberry Promotions