A little over a year ago, Anthony Yarde was perhaps within 10 seconds of becoming a world champion.
Having travelled to deepest, darkest Russia to dethrone light heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev, the 29-year-old had the WBO champion clinging on for dear life in a spectacular eighth round. A little longer on the clock and he might have just shocked the world.
That night, having lost the first seven rounds of the contest, Yarde fought largely on pure emotion. It is something he admits cost him with Kovalev eventually recovering to seal a 11th round stoppage.
Separating emotion and boxing is a skill he wants to hone and having been so profoundly struck by tragedy this year, it is one that will be put to the test when he returns to the ring this Saturday against Dec Spelman.
Yarde’s story stands out as one of the most heartbreaking to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. In late March, he announced he had lost his father to the virus. A week later, he also lost his grandmother.
Yarde’s father was with him in Russia that night last summer. Withdrawing himself from personal loss and the emotion that comes with it will be key in ensuring there are more nights like those to come.
“It’s one of those things you have to get by,” Yarde told Standard Sport.
“I try to separate my personal life from my career and my boxing. I feel that when you attach emotion from your personal life into boxing, you just won’t fight very well and you could end up having a very short career.
“When you think about negative emotion, even if it does motivate you, when you take that into the boxing ring, you need to withdraw it from yourself.”
The biggest questions for Yarde going forward will be what has he learned from that fight, one few gave him a chance in. Again, it boils down to emotion for the Londoner who recognises the faults – and the solutions.
“I let the situation overwhelm me. You could see it in my performance, instead of doing what I normally do and getting the job done… in the heat of the moment, it overwhelmed me. That’s because of emotion. I needed to control my emotion better.”
Yarde suffered his first professional defeat that night, a minor setback he says in cementing a legacy he hopes will see him win world titles at light-heavyweight, cruiserweight and even heavyweight with moving through the ranks firmly on his agenda.
“Everyone’s legacy is different and built in different ways. You’ve got someone like Floyd Mayweather who retired undefeated with all the money in the world. You’ve got someone Mike Tyson with a few losses on his record but still the one of the most feared of all time, the baddest man on the planet.
“Everyone has different legacies. Everyone is going to take different routes. It’s about being comfortable with your own route when things pan out for you.”
Part of that legacy will inevitably involve Joshua Buatsi – London’s other great hope at 175lbs. Yarde and Buatsi have been on similar trajectories since turning professional respectively in 2015 and 2017. The east Londoner is already part of the world title picture after pushing Kovalev all the way last year. South London’s Buatsi is there too, ranked no3 with the IBF and WBA and undefeated in 12 fights.
There is a mutual respect between the two and while their meeting is high up upon the wishlist of many fight fans, both agree their Hackney vs Croydon showdown can wait until titles are on the line – and when fans are back in arenas.
“A fight like that is not happening behind closed doors. People are going to want to be there, to see the atmosphere, to feel the atmosphere. Me and Joshua have actually spoken about that as well.
“It’s a fight for the future, hopefully for a world title. I feel I will be a world champion by that time and he may hold another belt by that time too. So it could be a unification fight. it could a peak in our story. But for now it’s about staying focused and making the most of the situation and when the fight happens, making it an entertaining fight.”
Before Buatsi and any more world title fights is Spelman on Saturday. Yarde made an under-the-radar return to the ring in February, blasting through Colombian veteran Diego Jair Ramirez in a low-key six-rounder in Madrid but he sees this weekend as his true comeback at the BT Sport Studios in Stratford.
“Dec made sense. He accepted the fight. And I am not overlooking him at all,” Yarde said.
“I’m not looking at it like I need to go out there and beat this guy quickly. It is not that sort of situation. I need to take it seriously and go out there and put on a good performance. There is still a lot of pressure on me, this is still my comeback fight. I need to announce that I’m back on the scene.”
Lydon Arthur also waits in the wings for Yarde. The two were scheduled to meet for the commonwealth title in April, a bout then pushed back to July as the coronavirus epidemic worsened. The bout, for now at least, is scheduled for October 24, part of the Daniel Dubois vs Joe Joyce card in the capital.
Arthur has already been in action since boxing’s return, getting a points win over the very same man Yarde tangles with this weekend in Spelman.
“I was so bored,” Yarde said, recalling the night he watched that contest from home. “That was a fight boxing fans would have been watching to see how he performs with our fight in mind. People might not have seen him fight before. People would have been watching wondering, ‘how is he going fight Anthony?’
“The performance he gave… yeah it was good, he got his jab going and boxed well, but people know, if he fought me like that, I’d knock him out. You cannot fight me like that.”