Undefeated London boxer Anthony Yarde faces a monumental task on Saturday evening taking on ‘The Krusher’ Sergey Kovalev in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia, for the WBO light heavyweight world title.
Much is made of home advantage in big title fights and is often a sticking point for some fights not being made, but on Saturday evening, Yarde is bravely stepping into the ring away from home, not just in Russia, but in deep Russia.
Chelyabinsk is a relatively small city famous for a meteor that crashed over the Ural Mountains in 2013 injuring over 1,000 people. It is also Sergey Kovalev’s home town, but Yarde seems unfazed by the task in front of him.
Anyone who knows the Anthony Yarde story will be familiar with his lack of experience, both at amateur and pro level. There’s not a Frank Warren interview that passes without mentioning ‘he only had 12 amateur fights’, in contrast, Kovalev, who was an established Russian amateur, won a gold medal in the Russian Juniors just three years after he started boxing.
He went on to represent Russia at the European Championships, however, never earned a medal outside of Russia, where he won medals at middleweight and from 2005 at light heavyweight.
Kovalev turned pro in 2008, after reports there was friction between him and another highly regarded amateur Artur Beterbiev, a current world champion.
Whilst Yarde is the younger, physically more impressive and potentially hungrier fighter, experience will play a massive part in this fight.
With only 18 professional fights under his belt, Yarde’s team have decided to navigate his career avoiding the traditional routes of English and British level following his Southern Area title win against Chris Hobbs back in 2017.
This means it’s been hard to really place Yarde on the world scene as the level of opposition to date has been far below the standard he is facing this weekend, with his best win coming against Nikola Sjekloca at the end of 2017, the only knockout defeat on Sjekloca’s record.
Of his 18 professional fights, 17 have been won by knockout. As a result, Yarde has only boxed 51 rounds in the ring as a professional.
Yarde has very quickly made his way through the WBO rankings, picking up trinkets such as the WBO European and WBO Inter-Continental which has brought him to this mandatory position.
At 36, Kovalev is an experienced campaigner, winning his first world title against Brit Nathan Cleverly in 2013 after a fourth-round stoppage. It was that fight that really made Kovalev a big name in the sport and he went on to achieve even more over the following years. In 2014, Kovalev beat the legendary Bernard Hopkins, albeit a very old Hopkins, to unify the light heavyweight division, adding the WBA and IBF belts to his title collection.
The turning tide
Sergey Kovalev seemed unbeatable at that point, a monstrous power puncher, great chin and good ring craft meant he was one of the most feared fighters in the world.
That was, of course, until he met one of the best of all time in Andre Ward in 2016. Kovalev lost a controversial points decision, but more than that, he lost his invincibility. They rematched just seven months later with Ward even more impressive, Kovalev losing by TKO, but another fight marred with controversy, as Kovalev complained about multiple low blows.
After Ward retired and the belts became scattered, Kovalev became a two-time champion, beating Vyacheslav Shabranskyy at the back end of 2017, his career seemingly back on track. However, following a KO defeat at the hands of Eleider Alvarez in 2018, it looked like Kovalev’s time at the top was over.
He was showing his age and appeared to be a shadow of the man that had destroyed Nathan Cleverly to win his first world title. To his credit, Kovalev won the rematch against Alvarez on points to become a three-time world champion, but team Yarde had seen enough.
Anthony Yarde’s promoter Frank Warren and his enigmatic trainer Tunde Ajayi believe now is the right time to take this fight. Kovalev is an old man in boxing terms and can’t possibly handle the youth, athleticism and power of Anthony Yarde; or at least that's what they think.
And this isn’t just lip service from team Yarde. Yarde was offered significant money from Canelo Alverez to allow him to fight Kovalev on streaming platform DAZN in the autumn. Team Yarde turned it down with the belief that on Saturday night in Russia, he will become world champion.
Ultimately, it's the unknowns that makes this fight so interesting. How good really is Yarde, how effective is Tunde Ajayi’s ‘System 9’ training methods at the top level, but this really comes down to how much has Kovalev got left in the tank? One thing’s for sure, it will be explosive, and common consensus is the fight won’t need the judges.
Three things to watch out for
- Anthony Yarde goes into the fight as the underdog and for him to win the fight is 27/20 with GIVEMEBET!
- Kovalev won’t want the fight to go on too long, and could come out of the blocks at full speed. For him to win by KO in rounds 1-3 is 8/1 with GIVEMEBET!
- In his last fight against Travis Reeves, Yarde won by TKO in the fifth round. For Yarde to repeat this feat in Russia is 22/1 with GIVEMEBET!