ALL logical thinking before Anthony Yarde dared to challenge WBO light-heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev pointed to the Russian winning in Russia. Kovalev, at 36, might have been older but he was also significantly better and infinitely more experienced.
The logic was indeed crystal clear. Kovalev, once a formidable amateur, was one of the best fighters in professional boxing. One who had been operating at world championship level since 2013. One who had scored one of the most impressive wins of his career in his previous outing. Yarde, in comparison, was a novice. After a mere 30 bouts (18 as a professional and 12 as an amateur) and without any experience in world class whatsoever, the 28-year-old Londoner was not only stepping up but undertaking the kind of jump that nearly always precedes a bad landing.
For Yarde to win, to land on his feet with his arms in the air in celebration, he would have to defy everything that we have been taught about the sport of boxing. All the facts pointed to a punishing victory for Kovalev, particularly in his homeland. Only conjecture and hope, moulded by Team Yarde’s blind faith, could craft any argument to the contrary.
The truth is, if this fight had happened 30 years ago, long before social media and YouTube gave voice to all manner of propaganda, Yarde would not have been given a chance. Not by the bookies who were too kind to the challenger or the educated voices who had been hoodwinked into believing the hype. No, this would have been deemed a mismatch from the outset.
That’s not to say upsets didn’t occur or experts were not proved wrong back then. But it’s rare indeed for a fighter with minimal experience and schooling to defeat boxers like Sergey Kovalev. Think back to the biggest upsets in history – how many of the orchestrators came from nowhere? How many did not have extensive amateur careers or substantial professional experience? Not many, if any.
To succeed at the highest level in boxing there must be some knowhow of that level – be it as an amateur or professional or even in the gym. But Yarde and his team, led by trainer Tunde Ajayi, insisted they were going to show the world a different way. One that dispensed with sparring, one that didn’t need tests or exams in order to graduate with honours, one that would succeed on positive thinking alone. But boxing doesn’t work that way. At least not against fighters like Sergey Kovalev.
As Chris Eubank Jnr discovered against George Groves last year and, to a greater extent, Conor McGregor against Floyd Mayweather Jnr in 2017, inexperience – however loud and confident one might appear to be – is always exposed against a comparative master of the prize ring.
So full credit to Anthony Yarde for coming close to pulling off what would have been one of the biggest upsets of them all. He came closer than Eubank and was altogether more convincing than McGregor. In round eight, after fighting solidly but losing much of what came before, he had Kovalev reeling and seemingly on the brink. The Briton switched to the body and swung accurately to the head. The slick combinations he and Ajayi had been practising on the pads started to flourish in the reality of a fight. The old maestro looked every one of his 36 years as Yarde poured on the pressure. For the last two minutes of that round, the younger man was the better man. For those two minutes, Yarde showed the world his vast potential.
But it was a fleeting moment. Kovalev, no stranger to the trenches, returned fire and then some in the next session. Yarde’s mission went awry. Painfully exhausted yet driven on by his own fighting spirit, he had no idea how to cope as he flung the same punches he had been throwing at the start. But all snap had gone from them. Kovalev knew what to do. Marching ahead, he bossed with his jab and trailing right while slipping anything coming back. Yarde’s blood stained the champion’s white gloves to provide gruesome evidence of the Russian’s renewed superiority. The 10th was a harrowing three minutes for the swollen challenger, one that he should not have been allowed to emerge from.
By the time the 11th round began it had gone too far. Yarde, a long way behind on the cards, was spent but his astonishing will to win demanded more. The voices that had been telling him he was invincible demanded more. They had no right to. One hopes the ferocity he withstood does not rob him of the bright future he showcased in round eight.
“I won by experience,” Kovalev said after his 11th round victory. “He lost because he didn’t have enough experience. I won because I am Sergey Kovalev.”