Revered American industrialist and business magnate Henry Ford once famously said “obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.”
However, the automobile pioneer’s words do not ring true for Britain’s Anthony Yarde this weekend. There will be little going through his mind at the moment that is not related to his goal of becoming become light heavyweight champion of the world. However, he still finds an obstacle stood before before him, in the shape of Russia’s Artur Beterbiev. And it’s difficult to envisage a more frightful one.
As an amateur, Beterbiev captured gold at both world and European level, and his run towards an Olympic medal in 2012 ended only through running into a certain Oleskandr Usyk in the quarter finals in London. Afterwards, the then 28 year old made the decision to join the paid ranks, and relocated to Canada to start his professional journey.
The progression and development of “King Artur” remains a blueprint for the guiding of an elite amateur towards glory in the pro game. Promoter Yvon Michel expertly guided the Dagestani through both standard of opponents and governing bodies’ rankings. In just twelve professional fights, Beterbiev had become champion of the world.
His reign as champion, as has been well documented, has been brutal. Even as the level of opposition has increased, there has still not been a fighter found to hear the final bell with Beterbiev. He has proven to be capable of stopping world class competition both late and early – just ask Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith Jr respectively.
Now in possession of three of the four world titles at 175lbs, there is little doubt as to who the main man in the division is.
Anthony Yarde, the home fighter in London this weekend but the undeniable B side, is seemingly outmatched on every metric.
The Hackney man did not have a glittering amateur career. In fact, he barely had an amateur career at all. Yarde was on track to be professional footballer with Queens Park Rangers, until a leg injury pulled the rug from that particular sporting path. At 19 years old, he stepped into a boxing gym for the first time.
After just twelve fights, Yarde decided to turn professional at 24, and it quickly became apparent that what he lacked in schooling, was more than made up for by his explosiveness. Yarde was stopping all who were put before him, and it wasn’t long before he was snapped up by major UK promoter Queensberry.
Under Frank Warren’s outfit, Yarde was navigated to a strong position in the WBO rankings without having fought any truly notable opponents. When he was called as mandatory challenger to face Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev in 2019, the most prestigious belt in his catalogue was the southern area title. A respectable accolade, but hardly sufficient preparation for the likes of Kovalev.
And so it proved. Yarde was comprehensively outboxed in Chelyabinsk and, having exhausted himself trying to stop the Russian in the eighth, was stopped in the eleventh.
Yarde would go onto taste defeat again against domestic rival Lyndon Arthur, however avenged this loss just over a year later in destructive fashion. A couple of stoppage wins against sub par competitors later, and he finds himself tasked with toppling an even greater champion than Kovalev.
The bookmakers and boxing public give Yarde little chance. He is an 8/1 underdog at the time of writing, and many in the sport have said a win would be one of the greatest upsets ever sprung by a brit.
But just where exactly would it rank? In 2015, Tyson Fury bamboozled his way to a huge win over long reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, turning the division on its head. However, chinks in the Klitschko armour had been previously exposed and, unlike Yarde, Fury had captured titles at British and European level to prove he belonged in the the same ring as ‘Dr Steelhammer.’
Ricky Hatton’s win over Kostya Tszyu in 2004 has also came up. Tszyu was a pound for pound level fighter, without doubt, but had previously tasted defeat and Hatton was tested at the top level and regarded as one of the best 140lbers in the world.
Should Yarde dethrone Beterbiev this Saturday night at the OVO Arena, it is likely to go as the biggest upset pulled off by a UK fighter since the turn of the millennium. He will have to hope that the 38 year old Beterbiev has started to feel his age overnight, and trust his own power and speed enough to go into the firing line early. It may prove to be his undoing, but Beterbiev has been dropped by lesser punchers than Yarde in the opening stanzas of fights.
Victory would be life changing for Yarde and would send shockwaves across the entire sport.