2020’s been a tough year for all. For Anthony Yarde it could hardly have been tougher. In late March, he lost his father, a high-profile victim in the early grip of the global pandemic, urging people to stay at home to avoid the same fate. Just a matter of days later, tragedy struck once more. His grandmother lost to the same silent killer.
Few can comment on what grief meant for Anthony Yarde. Raised by his mum from the age of 8. His father came back into his life through boxing, and had been in Russia when Anthony had come a finishing punch from a world title versus Sergey Kovalev. No-one but the boxer himself will know exactly what that relationship meant to him.
A rare few will have been with him in the aftermath. Never far away, his trainer and manager Tunde Ajayi has navigated his career from his first days as a professional with little amateur experience, to Saturday night and his 9th title fight in total. An unknown entity 5 years ago, with Yarde he has built his credentials. As a professional boxer himself he was undefeated, though on only 5 occasions and all held in the Elephant & Castle Centre in Southwark. Tongue-in cheek describing himself on social media as a “MASTER GENIUS”, together with Yarde they have birthed the “Lions in the Camp” shout heard constantly from his corner and from Yarde after a number of concussive knockouts. It is a term suited for social media but to some unbecoming in a sport where more often than not the fans like to see the fists do the talking.
A hard lesson for Yarde
On Saturday night 2020 left it’s final stamp on Anthony Yarde with a split decision defeat against Lyndon Arthur, a boxer who won the fight on the power and skill of his jab. Both fighters have their case, and it may just be a case of preference. I had Yarde by 7 rounds to 5, but three down through a quarter. With a few of the later rounds nip and tuck, it is easy to see how two scorers preferred the work of Arthur, who peppered Yarde’s head throughout the night with a popping left hand lead.
Respectful from the off, rarely did we see Yarde get inside and engage. An overhand right tagged Arthur in the 4th, but Yarde seemed to enjoy his success more than seize on it. When the onslaught came in the 12th Arthur stayed on his feet and it proved too little too late. Only just; if Arthur had been knocked down we’d be talking about a majority draw with two of the scorecards flipping.
Yet in a fight of fine margins, its effects could be seismic. Both Yarde and Ajayi have built much of their fame through their active social media presence, with constant eye-catching videos of pad/bag work, skipping or cries of Lions in the Camp. It’s provided Yarde a platform and brought with it sponsorship deals from Maxi Nutrition and a global ambassador role with Adidas. With the latter signed when he had just 16 professional wins, and after an amateur career lasting only 12 fights, it’s a reward rarely seen by boxers at that stage of their career, or indeed by most at any.
Yet with a presence comes a backlash and for Yarde it was clear. Not immune to criticism himself, his trainer bore the brunt. Twice he sent Yarde out without a gumshield and twice the referee called him back. After an opening couple of rounds where Arthur got away his jab and started to release some combinations, all his trainer could offer was that the Mancunian was scared. 4 rounds later his encouragement for Yarde to relax drew criticism from an audience that saw Yarde as significantly behind on the cards.
Yarde’s route back
Some of the criticism if fair, some of it is almost invited, and Ajayi gives little indication it will wear heavily on him. To him there are no losses, only lessons. It is a mantra that he should heed, though no-one can say for sure he won’t. Yarde, I believe, will grant him that opportunity, but the favour should go two ways.
In Yarde’s latest defeat we have learnt little. He moves well, and has the ability to hurt almost anyone on the inside. He has a chin that can sustain that battle and a mentality that can at times resemble a streetfighter. The latter is no criticism if that aggression can be controlled. Nothing in his make-up has been exposed. Most men in the light-heavyweight division will have a bigger reach and those able to keep him away will always land scoring jabs, but when they miss he will be able to hurt them. Even in this fight he showed improvements from Kovalev with his ability to come on strong at the end, where previously he had gassed and faultered.
It is not often you can say as much about a fighter who has tasted defeat twice in his last four fights, but this is what makes it all the more frustrating. The streetfighter needs to become streetwise and make those adjustments. Much has been made of Ajayi’s preference for minimal sparring, but we know as much that he does do some, whether it’s enough is not a call any of us without sight of that facts can say.
Would the backlash be so vocal if the pair didn’t put themselves so much in the public eye? It is a blessing and a curse. Perhaps we would be making more of a fighter still learning his trade, only ten years down the line from first having picked up the gloves. Yarde is raw. It is a fact which made his rise all the more meteoric. No measured approach built on years of schooling as an amateur, just a gunslinging power that showed little respect for those infront of him.
Those days are behind him, and for his legion of fans, drawn from a community wider than the sports traditional support, his next few fights may prove their least interesting. For a purist they will be fascinating. Boxing will have the final say. If Yarde can adapt, if brains can meet braun then don’t bet against that early promise being realised.
What’s next for him remains to be seen, and he may be advised to take a step back before moving forward. A rematch versus Arthur seems logical but another negative outcome could be defining. A tune-up fight could be likely but there remain a few fights past that. Isaac Chilemba could be an option, a man who has fought for light-heavyweight world titles on multiple occasions, but proved a step short of the highest tier.
Then there are domestic dust ups, the winner of Shakan Pitters vs Craig Richards, neither particularly appetising for Yarde but an opportunity to stamp himself somewhere above British level.
Finally in Callum Johnson there is a fight both men could be up for. Like Arthur a risky fight for Yarde, Johnson has a point to prove. Only defeated once, to a man in Artur Beterbiev some consider the pound for pound king, you get the sense Johnson is a man frustrated at the credit Yarde has enjoyed, and the position he currently finds himself in the rankings. In none of boxing governing bodies top 10, a win over Johnson would nonetheless remain the highest profile win on Yarde’s record, whilst a loss would slingshot Johnson back into world title contention.
Regardless of who it is across the ring in Anthony Yarde’s next fight, the man in his corner will more than likely be familiar. Events outside the ring make my mind up that it is a partnership about more than just boxing. Few will have had tougher 2020s than Anthony Yarde but in the ring 2021 could define the legacy, both of a fighter with precocious talent and a trainer himself up against the ropes.