ONE way of reducing the magnitude, and indeed danger, of what is to come is to reimagine the threat as something you have seen before; a threat no different than the previous one you conquered. Even if it amounts to a lie, or a delusion, this will allow you to think, behave and function as before, never giving the latest threat the satisfaction of knowing it is for them you have changed.
For Anthony Yarde this approach comes more naturally than it does for most. He has, after all, long been an advocate of the idea of constant training camps – that is, training non-stop throughout the year – and has also often spoken about his journey being continuous and arduous and full of peaks and troughs. In short, regardless of the threat, he keeps going. He never stops. Rather than think about who is next, and how he must adapt to overcome them, he focuses only on what he can control: himself.
This approach is maintained even when there is a threat like Artur Beterbiev on the horizon. It is maintained because it is all Yarde knows and it is maintained because if there is one man you don’t want to exaggerate in your mind’s eye it is the terrifying Russian with whom Yarde will trade punches this Saturday (January 28).
“I’m not only training for this fight, I’m training for my future,” Yarde told Boxing News last week. “Whenever someone tries to label a particular person, I always say to them, ‘Look, I don’t care about the individual. It’s about the belts. It’s about the legacy; the history. Whoever the person is holding the key to all that doesn’t matter.’”
Admittedly, it would be easy to consider this approach delusional if you were not aware of Yarde’s history or, for that matter, able to hear the respect in his voice when he mentions Artur Beterbiev’s name. But when you know of his methods, consistent since turning pro in 2015, and you hear this respect – respect, not fear – the approach then starts to make sense.
“It has felt very different,” Yarde said when asked if this latest “camp” was the same as previous ones. “In every aspect really. It’s a massive fight, of course, but I feel like fighting someone like Beterbiev is good for me. Because of his reputation, and his record, it’s going to bring out the best of me in terms of how I train and how sharp I am on the night.
“You see that all the time with other fighters. They usually produce their best performance in their most dangerous fight. I’ve always been similar. I get up for the big fights. Even when I went to Russia (to fight Sergey Kovalev in 2019), and there was so much stacked against me, I was still able to perform. That showed me that it’s inside of me. It was confirmation. Now it feels like the right time to go one step further.”
The misconception with Yarde, based on both his appearance and the softly-softly strategy employed early in his career, has long been that he is a frontrunner and a man more style over substance. His trip to Russia to challenge Sergey Kovalev in 2019 spat in the face of this view, yet there remained a feeling nonetheless that Yarde was either (a) just doing it for the money or (b) arrogant enough to believe he could win a fight most felt, at that stage of his career, he couldn’t.
This time, however, it’s different. This time Yarde, at 31, is more than ready to challenge a fearsome, ageing Russian, particularly on home soil.
“This one just feels right,” Yarde said. “I often go by feelings in life and this fight feels right. The Kovalev fight had ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ about it. I was never completely sure. Looking back now, I feel like it was a bit too early for me, especially because it meant I had to go to Russia. I had never headlined abroad at that point in time. I had fought in America (in 2016) but it was very early in my career. I had never headlined abroad before. To throw myself in the deep end like that was a lot. But this fight (against Beterbiev) just feels right. How it started, and how we got to this point, it all feels right.”
Part of the reason why this light-heavyweight title fight against Beterbiev feels “right” owes to Yarde’s improvements since that 2019 loss against Kovalev. Since then, after all, he has won five fights all by knockout and lost just once: a subdued performance and points loss against Lyndon Arthur (in 2020) which he immediately avenged (by fourth-round stoppage). Better than all that, though, Yarde has spent the last three and a half years in the gym, learning, working, and doing all he can to ensure the next time he is asked to step up he is properly prepared for it.
“No doubt I’m a better fighter now,” he said. “The type of fighter I am, the more experience I get, the better I’m going to get. I’ve got experience now of being in that situation. Also, the more time I have to train, the better I’m going to get in certain areas.”
In a cruel twist of fate, another thing that strengthened Yarde’s mental fortitude was the Covid-19 pandemic. That, quite tragically, hit the Hackney man harder than most, taking from him his father and three of his grandparents.
“As you go through life you either get stronger or weaker,” Yarde said. “If you do survive the bad, life has a way of then strengthening you. I try not to overcomplicate things. If you look at nature, most things that are broken will, if you let it heal properly, grow back stronger. Teeth fall out when you’re a child and they grow back as adult teeth. You break a bone and, if it heals properly, it grows back stronger. It’s the same with experiences in life. Hardship has just conditioned me to become stronger and deal with it better in the future.”
Given all that has happened, Yarde could be forgiven for thinking this upcoming fight with Beterbiev, a man with 18 knockouts from 18 straight wins, is his reward for enduring so much in the past couple of years. It certainly has that feel to it.
“I try not to get too excited, but it’s that feeling of the stars aligning,” he said. “I’m not taking that for granted. I’m still training hard. I can’t rely on this feeling. But it’s good to have it and I feel like that’s what’s giving me this confidence. They say a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter and a confident fighter is a dangerous fighter and I am both of those things.
“For me, the way my career and life has gone, it’s an amazing moment. I started boxing at 19 after being tempted by all the things around me where I grew up. I then made a decision to start boxing and my belief and hard work has led me to this. Everything I went through in 2020… to think about that journey makes me emotional.”
Typically, when one imagines the thought process of a man about to face Artur Beterbiev in a boxing ring, words like “excitement” and “happy” and “confident” do not enter into it. Instead, one imagines a fighter doing all they can to delay the inevitable, either watching too much footage of the threat to come or ignoring its existence completely, before finally figuring out ways to emerge from the fight in one piece.
“I try not to look at all the stuff on social media and just try to stay focused,” said Yarde. “Sometimes someone can say something to you and then you’re thinking about it. It can change your thought process. I don’t need that. I know what this is. I know the reality of it. All I need to do is stick to what I’m doing, keep myself in a good mood, and if I am in a bad mood use that as well. I have to just stay focused. That’s the best way I can simplify it.
“I don’t watch too much of him because I don’t really want to change anything I’ve done so far in my career. But Tunde (Ajayi, coach) and James Cook (coach) have both been watching him and looking at things he does well and not so well. I’ve also watched him box in person and seen the same things.
“But you never really know until you’re in there with somebody. I’ve always understood that. People spend so much time thinking about other fighters and then they get in the ring with them and everything they thought beforehand changes. From the outside, they think they can do this and that. But, once they’re in the ring, they can’t do all that stuff. The same will apply with him preparing to fight me. He’s going to be looking at me thinking he can do this and that to me. But, once he’s in front of me, he will realise he can’t do those things.
“For me, it’s just about being fit – physically and mentally in shape – and using my boxing IQ, my physical attributes, and staying focused. I feel like when I go in there and Anthony Yarde comes out, you always get the best version of me.”
That may be true, but never has Anthony Yarde come up against someone with the reputation of Artur Beterbiev, a heavy-handed destroyer who, while 37 years of age, is in the prime of his fighting life and never scarier than he is right now. So scary is his reputation, in fact, it’s easy to become nervous on an opponent’s behalf, fearful of the first time Beterbiev’s power registers and you see their expression – not to mention game plan – change on impact.
“Nerves can be good but they can also drain you,” Yarde said. “I’m a very relaxed character. That’s just the way I am. I try not to let anything faze me. But he’s big and strong and he can hit. He’s got a certain reputation. I’m glad he comes with the reputation he has, though, because it means I will be sharp and I’ll come prepared.”
When asked to pinpoint the last time he was nervous for a fight, Yarde, 23-2 (22), didn’t take long to think of an answer. Surprisingly, too, there was no mention of Russia or Kovalev. Rather, he said, “It was a weird time really. I had this abscess toothache and didn’t have time to take the tooth out. I won the fight by first-round knockout against Richard Baranyi (in 2017) but I was in so much pain during training camp and the idea of fighting seemed like such a risky thing to do. So, yeah, that’s the only time I’ve ever really experienced nerves. That’s the most nervous I’ve been in a ring.”
That may well change after Saturday night, of course. Then again, maybe it won’t. Maybe, in light of the fact he has gradually and unknowingly been preparing for this moment for the past eight years, confronting Artur Beterbiev in a ring inside Wembley Arena will be a comfortable experience for Yarde; one as natural as heading to the gym each day and honing his craft.
“So much goes into a boxing match, it makes no sense trying to second-guess anything,” he said. “This fight could end in a first-round knockout. Everyone knows me. If I hurt somebody, the fight’s finished. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what your reputation is.”