ANTHONY YARDE now claims that Lyndon Arthur never wanted a rematch. If true, that’s understandable: On December 5 last year, Arthur earned the right to move forward, not back, by working hard to prove he was the better man in their first fight. Not only that, the Mancunian injured his right arm beforehand, so proved it almost exclusively with his left. With that in mind, Yarde – who now has a two-armed “King Arthur” to deal with – might have opted to look elsewhere, too. Because regardless of what you’ll see and hear in pre-fight interviews with the ballsy Team Yarde, the truth is that the Londoner was exposed, at least for periods of the contest, by that one hand. Though he finished strongly, Yarde would have been forgiven for looking to rebuild elsewhere.
Both fighters deserve serious credit for taking this Copper Box return. Likewise to Frank Warren, the promoter who has interest in each of them. He might have opted to plot separate paths for his light-heavyweights and, long-term, be left with more money in the pot to build a rematch further down the line. Though he has unquestionably grown cannier since the days when he entered the scene as a fearless young promoter in the early 1980s, embarrassing the established ‘Cartel’ by making hard and well-matched fights almost every time, Warren has always understood the need to serve contests at the right time rather than leaving them to overcook.
What we have, this Saturday (December 4), is a truly enticing return where victory and defeat will have consequences. If the loser is again Yarde, he will be left with only questions to answer about his future at this level. For the victor there will be kudos and new opportunities aplenty. In short, this is boxing as we like it: A fight in which the winner is difficult to pick and a matchup that really means something. The only grumble – if there is one – is that the first bout, though it triggered multiple talking points, was far from a classic. Yet it was engrossing throughout and one suspects part two, with so much riding on it, will not be short of drama. There are loose ends to tie up, the kind that are too often left to dangle indefinitely, and inarguable supremacy to gain.
One can make solid arguments for either to claim that position. In the case of Yarde, he can say he simply started too slowly last time and with more urgency, and the odd adjustment to his approach, he will overwhelm Arthur. Yarde showed on more than one occasion during their first dance that he has the strength and hand speed to hurt his enemy. Though Arthur’s left jab was the most prolific weapon in fight one, Yarde’s right was the one that really caught the eye. And now he’s educated on the slippery nature of his opponent’s style, he can, he believes, make the tweaks to emerge victorious. Another big factor for those predicting Yarde will level the score is the addition of the beyond-knowledgeable (and level-headed) James Cook to his team – to assist the much-maligned Tunde Ajayi.
Ajayi, for all his persuasive patter and unquestionable wisdom, simply could not trigger a change in Yarde’s approach last time. It is not clear, either, if he really tried to. Beforehand he belittled Arthur and afterwards claimed the decision was unfair. Today, just like one year ago, Yarde shares similar views to his head coach. He says he was “coasting” and “trying out new things”, all safe in the knowledge he was winning the fight. If that’s true, if he really believed the bout was won, it’s only fair to ask why he fought so feverishly in the final round.
Those picking Arthur to win need only use as evidence what happened 364 days before this rematch. Arthur, trained by Pat Barrett, jabbed with authority and moved exceptionally well. He knew when to punch and when to wait. Though Yarde was the aggressor, he was only rarely effective. He landed the bigger shots, but Arthur landed more overall. And at risk of labouring the point, because it’s a huge point, he did so by barely throwing his right. The notion that Arthur, after having that success, is now fearful of facing Yarde when fully fit would seem nonsensical. Underestimating Arthur again, a man who has lived through hell outside the ropes, would be a huge mistake for Yarde.
“Even if I had my right hand, I didn’t need my right hand,” Arthur recently told Boxing News. “I don’t need to make excuses, I won. So we’ll see. I believe I’m going to win regardless, whether it’s by points, whether it’s by knockout.”
Over-confidence is not a factor. He is still relishing how far he’s come. “To headline any event is mad to me,” added Arthur. “You’re up there and you’re in the lights. This is what boxing is about. [This is] what we dream of, as a 1-0 fighter or a debuting professional fighter, and I’m here now, my fourth headline bill. I come from an estate of kids that don’t really do things like this.”
What we can’t presume, however, is that Yarde cannot improve. If Arthur was something of a revelation last year, Yarde was unquestionably disappointing. To win he has to ensure he does not allow Arthur to find his rhythm, and make any lulls in his opponent’s output work to his advantage. Because Arthur has a tendency to take breaks and, when he does, Yarde’s artful swipes to the body could turn things in his favour. The danger for Yarde, as Anthony Joshua can attest, is trying to change too much. His advantage in power should not be sacrificed at the expense of trying to be overly clever.
Similarly, Arthur has to remember what he does best. The jab was his honey punch last time and, even with a right hand in good working order, his lead remains the key to victory. To win, Yarde will have to find a way to take that out of the equation.
This one is fascinating. Arthur, priced at 1/1 at the time of writing against the 5/6 favourite Yarde, is the pick to get the job done again. Yarde will likely display more urgency and, in doing so, allow Arthur’s superior boxing and counter-punching to win another close but deserved decision.
The undercard has an intriguing crossroads battle at super-welterweight between Ilford’s Hamzah Sheeraz, 13-0 (9), and Penge’s Bradley Skeete, 29-3 (14). The former is one of the brightest prospects in the country and the latter, at 34 years old, insists he’s not finished.
Skeete has struggled since he was stopped inside two rounds by Kerman Lejarraga in Spain in 2018. In the same year, in an upset, he was again halted inside six minutes by the unheralded Argentinian, Diego Ramirez. Skeete returned this year to beat Dale Arrowsmith in three rounds. In the meantime, Sheeraz’s reputation has soared. Yet to be truly tested, he has nonetheless been turning back decent opposition with relative ease. In truth, this would have been a difficult fight for Skeete even if he was at his peak. We expect Sheeraz to continue his march with another inside-schedule triumph.
Maidstone lightweight Sam Noakes, 7-0 (7), gets a step-up of sorts against Willenhall’s Shaun Cooper, 11-2, but the KO specialist should continue his run; Noakes’ Maidstone stablemate, Dennis McCann, 10-0 (7), has the tools to reach the top. Expect the 20-year-old to exhibit them against Argentina’s Juan Jose Jurado, 15-4-3 (1).
The Verdict Arthur-Yarde II is a terrific domestic match-up.