“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
In one sentence Mahatma Gandhi outlined the journey that has brought Anthony Yarde to Chelyabinsk to fight for his first world title.
In Yarde, you have a man who has trod an unconventional path. A late starter in the sport, he now faces an opportunity to break the axioms of boxing in every possible way.
Facing him is Sergey Kovalev, a man wrought from the unforgiving Russian school of boxing, where respect is given to very few and opportunity to even fewer. He was talented enough to give the best in the land a run for their money, but was always a slight step behind.
It is this closeness to success that builds an incendiary desire to avenge injustice when a boxer enters the professional ranks. Kovalev, blessed with natural strength, has bludgeoned his way to a record that shows only three defeats in 37 fights, two of those against the best boxer of the last 20 years in Andre Ward.
Yarde, with no major fights or wins of note, has built a career on the type of fare that would usually prepare a boxer for a domestic title.
Yet, there is a sense that he can upset the odds. Is Yarde about to shatter all boxing norms on Saturday?
Let us consider the keys to victory for this most unlikely of challengers.
Sergey Kovalev relies on being able to control the tempo and psychology of a fight. He needs it for his confidence. In his first fight with Ward, Kovalev initiated the attacks, remaining equally strong in the clinches. Ward’s hesitance in the early rounds enabled Kovalev to impose his will on the fight.
The second fight saw Ward, scarred by a controversial win, wasting no time in tearing into Kovalev, blitzing him from every angle, making Kovalev doubt himself. This led to a rapid psychological retreat that Ward capitalised on, eventually grinding Kovalev into submission.
On Saturday, Yarde will have to love the idea of fighting more than the idea of winning.
Anthony Yarde needs a fast start with sustained aggression from the off. Counter punchers struggle with Kovalev with his high work rate. He has to push Kovalev back early in the fight, building a position of physical and psychological strength.
It is essential to banish any thought that this will be a ‘smash and grab’ raid. On Saturday, Yarde will have to love the idea of fighting more than the idea of winning. He will have to enjoy the savage exchanges. It is the price of victory.
Tactics and Strategy
Sergey Kovalev is fundamentally sound and his straight punches are among the best in boxing. Add this to his strength going forward and Yarde may have to play the matador in the early part of the fight. Clever sidesteps and slips will get his head and body out of the line of fire and leave him in a strong position to attack.
Pace is important in a fight when a young challenger takes on an older fighter. Yarde must make Kovalev sweat throughout the round, working Kovalev in the periods where he likes to rest. All fighters pick rest points in a round. If Yarde can read and exploit those, Kovalev will tire far sooner and is likely to make more mistakes.
The key punches in the fight for both men are the straight-hand punches they throw. Yarde will throw his, usually as a counter to an opponent’s right hand. In contrast, Kovalev uses his right hand to batter through an opponent’s guard, and if there is no guard, then leave his opponent on the canvas. With the power both men possess, it will be interesting to see who can land more of their favoured shot.
Kovalev is excellent with his jab, often able to out-jab wily veterans such as Bernard Hopkins and Andre Ward
Kovalev is excellent with his jab, often able to out-jab wily veterans such as Bernard Hopkins and Andre Ward. It is devastating, both as a lead shot, or as a third shot in a combination where opponents are caught unaware. Anthony Yarde should watch out for this.
Defensively, Yarde has mastered his modified version of the Mayweather shoulder roll, which renders the opponent’s right hand impotent. Expect Kovalev to adjust and look to work his left hand more to open up the Yarde shoulder, before landing the devastating right.
This fight, with its unusually brief build up, leaves much unanswered. Consequently, any form of prediction is made difficult.
We will find out if Yarde’s trainer, Tunde Ajayi, is the boxing equivalent of Operation Treadstone – able to create a programmable fighting machine. For years, his methods have been ridiculed as nothing more than hokum. This is his opportunity to prove his theories in the toughest test possible.
His eschewing of sparring has caused much discussion between trainers, old and new. Sparring in the build up to a fight is axiomatic. There are few boxers that would advise against it. They may prescribe less, but sparring is an integral part of boxing preparation. The timing, adaptation, and callousing is difficult to achieve through any other method.
This fight will be talked about for generations, for the wrong or right reasons.
Many are asking if the hard years of drinking and partying are catching up with Sergey Kovalev. Is he still hungry to dominate the light-heavyweight division? Is this a man satisfied with his legacy? Has he addressed his physical vulnerabilities, so cruelly exposed by Andre Ward?
These are all important elements that we will find out this Saturday. What cannot be overstated is that this fight will be talked about for generations, for the wrong or right reasons. Only Saturday’s outcome will reveal its ultimate legacy.