Having been threatened by guns and knives growing up, Anthony Yarde insists he has no fear or anxiety going into Saturday’s world light heavyweight title fight against knockout machine Artur Beterbiev.
WBC, IBF and WBO world champion Beterbiev has knocked out all 18 opponents and dispatched Joe Smith Jr with ease in a two-round demolition job last June.
But Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs), 31, from east London, England, has knockout power of his own and says he has faced more dangerous moments on the street during his youth.
“His knockout ratio is phenomenal,” Yarde told ESPN. “I’ve done it in a shorter amount of rounds than he has, but credit where credit is due, he has been nothing but a wrecking ball and that’s what motivates me.
“If he’s a wrecking ball I’m going to be the wall that breaks the wrecking ball. I don’t fear no human, I’ve been faced by men with guns and knives when I’ve been outnumbered and to me that’s something to get scared of.
“All that fear stuff is not in me, I’ve shown my character by going out to Russia to fight Sergey Kovalev in 2019, and if it was Beterbiev I would have done the same. Fear doesn’t live in my body, fear is doubt and I don’t doubt myself.
“I believe the outcome is going to go in my favour. This is the same venue I made my professional debut and I can see myself raising three world title belts at the same venue.”
Yarde is confident that Saturday’s fight at Wembley Arena in London will be different to the last time he fought a knockout specialist from Russia for a world light heavyweight title.
Four years ago, Yarde started promisingly against Sergey Kovalev, but was stopped by the Russian who grew increasingly dominant in the 11th round to retain his WBO belt. Yarde believes the Kovalev experience can help him contain Beterbiev.
“From what I see, both Kovalev and Beterbiev are big leading punchers and their jabs are their power punches,” he said.
“That’s the school of boxing they come from, and the amount of fights they have had. The difference is that Kovalev was a bit more agile, snappy with his punches, but Beterbiev is a bit more static and bullish. He will come forward and he has good footwork. I feel he is a bit easier to hit than Kovalev, in terms of that stance.”
Since that defeat — which was his first professional loss — Yarde says he has developed technically and tactically as a boxer while also becoming stronger mentally after the deaths of four family members (his father and three of his grandparents) to COVID-19 in 2020.
He says he feels better equipped for a second world title shot.
“Compared to 2019, I’ve learned how to deal with defeat and I’m better now than I was then,” Yarde added.
“I know what works for me and how to get my wins. Me and my team had to sit down and analyse the Kovalev performance, training methods, making the weight.
“Life experiences can make or break you, make you stronger or weaker, and as I go through life I just feel I’m getting better in lots of different areas. What I went through during COVID, it has taught me that life is your best teacher.
“As a fighter, every time I’ve been in the ring I’ve gained experienced. Some people have had 20 fights and 200 amateur fights. Every time I fight, I feel like I gain 20 fights’ worth of experience.
“I’ve become more comfortable in the boxing ring. I’ve had to do my apprenticeship in front of the whole world, where as a lot of boxers do it behind closed doors. In the amateur scene they have so many fights and then they start going to the big stage like the Olympics, when they eventually get the limelight.
“I had a 12-fight amateur career and then turned professional and I’ve been in the limelight since, step by step. I’ve been looked at, criticised and I’ve dealt with it.”
Beterbiev focusing on belts, not knockouts
Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs), 37, has more experience than Yarde and a formidable professional record, yet he talks about his 100% knockout run as if it is incidental.
When the 38-year-old considers his 18-fight blitz, there is no menace or arrogance, which is reminiscent of how Gennadiy Golovkin — who was also born in the former Soviet Union — talked about his 23-fight knockout streak as world middleweight champion until 2017.
Instead, Beterbiev is focusing on retaining his world titles against Yarde to stoke up interest in a light heavyweight title unification title fight with Dmitry Bivol later this year.
“I don’t really think about the record,” Beterbiev said.
“If you think about it, your whole mind is on it, so I don’t think about it. Things like this, if you want to keep it, you can’t keep it. If you don’t want to keep it, you end up keeping it. I don’t feel pressure for that.
“I don’t know what is behind the knockout run. I think maybe I have a couple secrets which I keep in the boxing gym, but I don’t which is helping me and is the formula.
“I never think about getting the knockout, I always think about what I can do to be a good boxer.
“99% is luck, 1 per cent I have prepared for.”
Taking on Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), also from Russia but based in North America, is one of the biggest fights to be made in boxing this year. Rival promoters could keep the rival world light heavyweight champions apart, but instead have arranged a tasty-looking bout between two fighters in scintillating form.
WBA champion Bivol, 32, revealed a more attacking side to his game in his points wins over Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gilberto Ramirez in 2022 and the Russians would meet each other to decide the undisputed world champion at light heavyweight.
“We both need this fight to know who is the light heavyweight division number one,” Beterbeiv said.
“If you ask me, yes I am ready for this fight. Right now I’m only thinking about light heavyweight and staying at this division but in the future if we have some interesting fight at cruiserweight I can do it.
“Heavyweight is too much for me, I would have to eat a lot to gain weight. The fourth light heavyweight belt is very important.”
Beterbiev was born in Chechnya, Russia, but has been based in Montreal, Canada, since his professional debut 2013. Beterbiev also has Canadian citizenship, which exempts him from sanctions against Russian athletes due to the war in Ukraine.
Beterbiev doesn’t see any relevance in his return this week to London, where he experienced his last defeat in his final bout as an amateur against Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, the reigning WBA-IBF-WBO world heavyweight champion, on points at the 2012 Olympics.
“I’m not focused on the city, whether it is London, New York or Grozny, I’m more focused on the opponent,” Beterbiev said.