SHOULD Anthony Yarde fulfil his promise to knock out Russian dynamo Sergey Kovalev this weekend, then expect the legend of Tunde Ajayi, the Londoner’s mischievous yet wildly positive trainer, to be born almost overnight.
The self-proclaimed “Master Genius” has been preaching his methods for a long time. They have led to much annoyance within boxing circles because they are so different to anything we’ve heard before. Ajayi doesn’t whisper his beliefs either, he shouts and sings them. He smiles a lot, he sniggers too, amused that we don’t quite get it. But he always makes himself heard. Indeed, if there was any trepidation on his part about ending up with egg on his face, he’s doing an exemplary job of hiding it.
It’s that confidence that makes him worth listening to, even if you don’t completely agree with what he’s saying. While a deranged street preacher wailing down your ear about the impending end of the world makes you turn your head and walk the other way, Ajayi’s thoughts on the brutal business of boxing are laced with enough logic to actually make you stop and think.
It’s not like Ajayi is an outsider, or an imposter who’s looked over the fence and presumed he has all the answers to boxing’s myriad puzzles. No, he’s fought and trained, he’s been involved in world title fights before. He’s coached the likes of Harry Simon, Kevin Mitchell, Ohara Davies, Ola Afolabi and Danny Williams. Where he is today, standing alongside Yarde as the unbeaten light-heavyweight embarks on one of the most dangerous and intriguing of all British boxing missions, is part of a long process that is already years and years in the making.
Ajayi, who fought as an amateur and had five professional fights (all wins) before deciding teaching was to be his forte, does not care for traditional training methods. Running, for example, puts too much strain and stress on the body and has nothing whatsoever to do with fighting. But his most contentious idea is that sparring, at least hard sparring in the build-up to a fight, is bad practice. Unquestionably a deep thinker, Ajayi – who was part of Dereck Chisora’s corner when he challenged then-WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko in 2012 – has always wondered why boxers partake in fight after fight after fight in the gym, before they actually engage in the real fight, the one that matters, the one that pays the bills, in the ring.
Instead, Ajayi likes his fighters to practice (and practice and practice) punching and footwork. His dizzying routines on the pads are all over YouTube. Sometimes one punch is perfected, sometimes it’s a combination, for sustained periods.
Now, aside from the fact – or what we presume to be fact – that boxers need to be trained in how to cope in every situation and should, surely, have at least some experience of a long and gruelling fight before heading into one, Tunde’s theories are worthy of consideration. After all, not many boxers can claim to be completely injury free or as fresh as they’d like to be when the opening bell sounds. Yarde, though, is as good as new.
But being as good as new is where some struggle to comprehend. New might well be fresh and shiny and energetic, but is it not also naïve and prone to making mistakes? New might be willing to take risks but new is also unaware of the risks they face. In short, as good as new is not as good as wise and experienced. Or so we presume.
Tunde’s admirable confidence has not just rubbed off on Yarde, it’s infiltrated every part of him. It’s the kind of confidence that has won unwinnable fights in the past. It’s also the kind of confidence that can erode dramatically in the midst of a hard fight. It remains to be seen which way this goes for Yarde, but he should be admired for focusing solely on the positives and dismissing any worst-case scenarios. Because against someone like Kovalev, ageing though he might be, such scenarios do not bear thinking about.