ANTHONY YARDE watched Lyndon Arthur keep his Commonwealth light-heavyweight title with a unanimous points win over Dec Spelman six weeks ago and wasn’t impressed. “It was boring,” he said. “He [Spelman] wouldn’t have gone 12 rounds with me.” On Saturday (September 12), Yarde gets the chance to back up his words when he meets Spelman over 10 rounds at York Hall in Bethnal Green. Provided he wins, Yarde will challenge Arthur next.
Yarde usually finishes fights early – 18 of his 19 wins have come inside the distance – and though the 29-year-old from Ilford didn’t come home with the WBO light-heavyweight championship from Russia last August, he wasn’t far away. The story of the opening seven rounds of his clash with Sergey Kovalev was that Yarde was outboxed without being outclassed, before he had the Russian only a clean punch or two away from defeat in a dramatic eighth.
So torrid were those three minutes for Kovalev that before the ninth, trainer Buddy McGirt warned the champion that if he saw a repeat of the previous round he would pull him out. As it turned out, Yarde had emptied his tank going for the finish and was eventually stopped in the 11th.
How to view that fight? There were those who saw it as a missed opportunity, believing it was the right time for Yarde to be fighting the 36-year-old Kovalev. But his subsequent showing against Canelo Alvarez proved Kovalev was far from finished. Yarde said it was a lack of experience, not knowing how to pace a fight, that cost him. Of course, there was disappointment because Yarde doesn’t fight to lose, but had he won, it would have been up there with the best British wins overseas and that was asking a lot of someone with only 12 amateur bouts and 18 straightforward pro wins behind them. Yarde wasn’t exactly a seasoned pro going into the Kovalev fight, boxing just 51 rounds and only going beyond six rounds twice.
In his only outing since, he blew away the overmatched Diego Jair Ramirez in Spain. Yarde picked up a hand injury during that fight that ruled him out of a place on an ITV4 bill in February. That was a shame for Yarde because once viewers see him, the likelihood is they will want to see him again.
Yarde is already known to an audience outside boxing because of sponsorship deals, which manager and trainer Tunde Ajayi helped put together. There are those who criticise Ajayi but he has a point when he says: “I think a lot of fighters would like to be managed the way I have managed Anthony.” Ajayi, promoter Frank Warren and matchmaker Jason McClory manoeuvred Yarde into world title contention – and a £4 million payday – without having a hard fight. Not that matches with Nikola Sjekloca and Dariusz Sek were straightforward. Yarde just made them look that way.
The idea this weekend is to set up a match with Arthur, though that is reckoning without Spelman. The 28-year-old from Scunthorpe isn’t heading to East London to take a knee or survive. He’s too honest for that. Against Arthur, he had his best moments in the last couple of rounds and that says something for his character because up to that point, he hadn’t had much success.
Manager/trainer Carl Greaves says it was Arthur’s movement that gave Spelman trouble and that “this is a better fight for Dec.” He explained: “Yarde holds his feet more. He’s wide open to right hands and doesn’t like pressure. Dec is in far better shape for this because although he’s only had three-and-a-half weeks’ notice, he’s just had that 12-rounder so his weight is better and he’s sharper.”
Others have thought Yarde hittable and one-paced, but once he lands punches, game plans tend to change. European-level fighters such as Tony Averlant, Sjekloca and Sek have been dented early, broken down and then taken out. Yarde is never rushed. He fights with the patience of a puncher who knows that sooner or later, he will get his opponent out of there. Only Kovalev and Stanislavs Makarenko − who went the full four − have survived after being hurt by Yarde.
There’s the chance that after the high of challenging Kovalev in Russia, Yarde will feel flat facing an opponent he’s heavily fancied to beat in an empty venue. Even a flat and rusty Yarde, who sadly lost his father and grandmother to COVID-19, can find the punches to hand Spelman his first stoppage defeat around the halfway mark.
The undercard is strong and includes a real 50-50 fight over 10 between middleweight punchers Mark Heffron and Denzel Bentley. For the Heffron camp, headed by manager Kevin Maree, Battersea’s Bentley (13-0) is overrated and this has come too soon for him, while the Peacock Gym where Bentley is based believe Heffron is an on-top fighter.
Maree got a good look at Bentley seven weeks ago when he beat another of his fighters, Mick Hall (15-2), forcing him to retire after six rounds. Bentley boxed with his hands low and you imagine he will be tighter defensively against Heffron. The 28-year-old from Oldham (25-1) can punch. He handed hard-as-nails Midlander Andrew Robinson (21-3-1) his only stoppage loss, but when he met Liam Williams (18-2-1) for the vacant British title, Heffron struggled to let his hands go and was picked apart in 10. Heffron has won all four since and we pick him to beat Bentley, but wouldn’t be surprised if it goes the other way.
Meanwhile, Nottingham’s English welterweight champion Ekow Essuman (13-0) will probably be taken the full 10 by French switcher Cedrick Peynaud (8-7-3), before prevailing on the cards.
The Verdict Throwback Spelman stands between Yarde and a clash with Arthur.