Get your arse in gear (or on it for those late night US shows, I’m not here to judge) for the new season. Excitingly, the world level fights kick off proper this Saturday in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Britain’s unbeaten heavy hitter Anthony Yarde steps up to face WBO World Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev for the WBO World Light Heavyweight Title live on BT Sport here in the UK. Kovalev is a fearsome puncher, but then so is Yarde. However, only 18 fights into his professional career, Anthony is surrendering home advantage and with only twelve amateur fights before turning over, facing a fighter of Kovalev’s experience and ferocity in his backyard is a big ask. Yarde’s cojones cannot be questioned, but has this all come too soon?
Are the decks stacked against the Brit?
As strap season starts in earnest, here’s a little look at what might affect a fight which may cement a champion, or be perfect timing to welcome a new one.
The champion: Kovalev
“He is so young. I will have to get rid of all that baby fur off his skin so he will run away back home.”
Sergey Kovalev is 36. There’s nothing wrong with that, but thirty seven fights combined with those years and over two hundred amateur bouts are miles on the clock. Call it experience if you want but realistically he’s not peaking anymore. At this point Kovalev is very much trying to defy the decline. It is hard to argue that Sergey’s the same fighter from the world ruining “Krusher” who destroyed Nathan Cleverly to win the WBO World Title in 2013 and ran rampant until meeting Andre Ward in 2016.
Since that loss to Ward, his first as a professional, Kovalev has lost two of five fights- and both defeats came early. One of those two was an eighth round stoppage in Sergey’s immediate rematch with the piously self proclaimed Son of God, which despite Ward’s unsubtle allusion that he is literally the second coming, there is little shame in. Unfortunately, Ward is a rather exceptional boxer.
Recently, two cleverly matched opponents (Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Igor Mikhalkin) made Kovalev look good and gave him some rebound confidence. Like the first shag after a break up, these guys were only ever there to remind him he’s still got it. Then, though, Eleider Alvarez made Kovalev look old. Really old, stopping Krusher in seven.
Yes, Sergey superseded being usurped with a crystal clear unanimous decision win to reclaim the WBO strap from Alvarez, but Krusher showed then that he may be may be leaning back on his boxing more now. The last truly world class opponent Sergey stopped was Jean Pascal, over four years ago. He surely, hopefully, still has pop, but he doesn’t use it recklessly- whether that’s good or bad for Yarde remains to be seen.
Chris Hobbs (fought Yarde in 2017)
“I want Yarde to win but think Kovalev will. Yarde still has not been tested- I still think I’m one of the best he has fought. That’s not great for a world title challenger. If Kovalev is finished and still not living the life then perhaps a different story.”
The challenger: Yarde
“I’m going to focus on myself, be the best that I can be and get the knockout victory because that’s what I feel like I need to do to win the fight.”
Is Yarde’s likelihood of a win the same wherever the fight takes place? Frankly, no. He needs a knockout as he states above. Are his comments a double bluff? With only twelve amateur fights, he’d be mad to think he can outmanoeuvre Kovalev. “Krusher” took on Bernard Hopkins and didn’t look out of place- winning clinically against the aged but wily legend. Sergey can box.
Even if Anthony can match Kovalev’s subtle artistry, he’s the challenger and he’s away from home. These intricacies shouldn’t matter. This fight, every fight, should be a straight up, even affair. As boxing fans we all sadly know that ain’t how it works.
Anthony Yarde has won a few fringe world level titles (unsurprisingly mainly within the WBO), as well as the Southern Area Title- taking that strap from Team Southpaw Jab’s Chris Hobbs. By comparison, Kovalev’s first real belt was the WBO World Title he beat Nathan Cleverly into submission for. Belts, though, are easy to arrange given their omnipresence. Winning them, well, you still have to beat someone. Yarde has done so convincingly. So far.
He’s top heavy, Yarde, and it has caused him problems in the past. He can look overly unbalanced and off kilter when caught- and Anthony can be caught. Nikola Sjekloca, in no way a world level fighter, is not the only one to wobble the Brit. Nonetheless, Yarde has only gone the distance once, in 2016 in his second fight.
Confidence is not an issue, Yarde appears unfazed by the occasion but then the deck is stacked towards the champion. When the Welsh champion Nathan Cleverly fought in Cardiiff and lost to Sergey Kovalev everything swayed in his favour; life doesn’t always work like that. Does this matter? Not to Yarde, and good on him.
Anthony Yarde hits so hard he makes the Copperbox shake. Yes, he’s learning on the job, adjusting during every fight. So far he’s adjusted every time, recalibrating when needed in the ring and it must be said, doing so admirably thus far. His fearsome power may well be arriving at the right time to show Kovalev that he’s too long in tooth.
Philip Bowes (reigning Commonwealth Super Lightweight champion)
“It’s a fifty fifty. Even if Kovalev is a party animal, if he’s half the fighter he was he beats Anthony comfortably.
Russia isn’t a nice place for black people, I’ve been to the Ukraine- it’s similar. He will be treated like a star because he’s a famous athlete but as for his team and fans it’s a different story. He hasn’t got the comforts of the Copperbox.
Kovalev late stoppage or points.”
Stats wise, the fighters are the same height (six foot dead- officially) and have a similar reach (officially). I’m five eleven. What have we learnt? Nothing, except that stats can be manipulated- I’m five six when you meet me.
Realistically there’s no doubt as to who the venue favours- and Yarde would be smart not to drink any water they give him.
Tyson Fury knows as much, having avoided all gifts of water in Germany when he dethroned Wladimir Klitschko, that there is some skullduggery in the sips of l’eau out east. Lucas Browne maintains he was poisoned with PEDs when winning the WBA World Heavyweight Title in Grozny, Russia; halting Ruslan Chagaev in eight.
An observation, not an accusation.
Brits, however, are increasingly in a glass house throwing stones when it comes to dodgy decisions and being somewhat deceptive. Which is a shame.
If Krusher keeps Yarde away from him, in fact even if he doesn’t but lasts the distance, he should celebrate continuing to hold that WBO strap. Naturally I’m rooting for the Brit, but it’s probably too early for Anthony to have the tactics to land a fight winner on the veteran Kovalev.
A stoppage is Anthony’s best chance, he clearly knows that but the deck is stacked against him- win by KO and get a draw. A loss will likely see Yarde move to a more natural, higher weight amid claims he should always have been there.
Title picture created by Unknown Boxers