From 'the pits' to pugilism: Anthony Yarde interview

Shaun Brown
23/02/2018 9:00am

Anthony Yarde grew up on the mean streets of east London, but now has his eyes on boxing stardom. Ahead of his latest fight on Saturday at York Hall, the exciting light heavyweight spoke to Shaun Brown...

Anthony Yarde grew up in "the pits" of east London.

His words. Not ours.

Born in Hackney, he grew up in Stratford before moving to Forest Gate where his development as a young man would depend on the choices he made.

A young man that was looking to find his way in the world, he knew of the dangers that lurked on the streets. It could simply be a case of wrong time, wrong place and you became another statistic. Yarde didn't want to be led into that place. "I tried to keep myself away from it as far as possible," the 26-year-old light heavyweight told Boxing Monthly last weekend.

"Being a child you can become a product of your environment. Everyone knows that certain parts of East London are bad, even the crime rate now is still bad. People are losing their life from stabbings, pointless stabbings, shootings and things like that. It's still happening now in the area that I grew up."

Gangs were moving into rival territory. A life of gang crime wasn't for Yarde. He kept himself to himself.

That doesn't mean that trouble didn't find him. He wasn't always with the wrong friends, but he was with the wrong friends sometimes. Partying until the conversation got louder than the music. Going home straight away was not really an option. You hang about, you get a bite to eat late on. That's normal life, whether you're in East London or East Kilbride.

"There was quite a few occasions where altercations would happen," Yarde admits, instances where he would have to demonstrate the heavy-handed power that has seen him knock out 13 of his 14 opponents in a pro career that will be four years old come 9 May.

"There were two [altercations] that happened outside of a chicken shop where I was forced to defend myself against grown men at the time. I was only 15-16 at the time. It turned from verbal to physical, and my friends were getting grabbed, and people were coming after me so I was forced to defend myself and I was knocking grown men out with one punch."

Yarde would eventually be led into a sport that would not only take him away from the negativity, but would also see him utilise his attributes in the correct and legal manner.

There were just 12 fights as an amateur for Yarde. Not only did it feel like he was being avoided but it would be proven to be the case. On one occasion he entered an amateur competition only for the entire field to withdraw!

The lack of competition meant he would leave the amateurs behind. Anyway, he wanted to be a great professional not a great amateur. The amateur experience would be beneficial but when he took himself away to watch the likes of Muhammad Ali and Roy Jones Jr, it wasn't their amateur fights he was studying it was their professional ones.

And now he stands tall as one of the most exciting prospects in British boxing, alongside the likes of his stable mates Daniel Dubois and Zelfa Barrett; all three fighting tomorrow at York Hall on BT Sport.

Yarde's opponent is Frenchman Tony Averlant (26-9, 5 KOs). A 33-year-old who has mixed it with Nikola Sjekloca (a recent foe of Yarde's), Christopher Rebrasse (no stranger to these shores), Eduard Gutknecht and Jurgen Braehmer.

"I get a lot of criticism for who I'm fighting, but whatever people say I'm literally doing my apprenticeship in front of the world," said Yarde, sounding slightly defensive but also demonstrating his awareness of the column inches in the media.

"No-one questioned who Mike Tyson was fighting in his 13th or 14th fight, no-one questioned Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali... all these greats.

"No-one really questioned them or looks back at who these guys were fighting through the building parts of their careers. Sometimes it's good to have your own mind, so other people's negative opinion can't affect you. I went back to Tunde and said: 'Uncle, I'm seeing certain negative comments but do people know who these people were fighting?'"

Uncle Tunde Ajayi (who had five fights as a professional) is the man shaping the career of Yarde's. The one telling him to focus on what he is doing, not what anyone is saying and not on fairytales - the latter a reference to the temptation of the hugely successful World Boxing Super Series, should they ever want a light heavyweight tournament and one involving a dangerous up and coming prospect at 175lbs.

Ajayi is the guidance and the knowledge that Yarde needs, and the two men have built a trusting relationship since 2012.

"Mid-2012 we went to Vegas. I went out there, sparring and gaining experience and I showed him a different side to me out there," said Yarde, who was eager and persistent enough to get Ajayi's interest.

"He still didn't put 100 per cent effort into me because he had went through a lot of things in the past where fighters would leave him and stuff like that. I said 'I'm here to learn'. Eventually my relationship with Tunde grew. You go through certain things with certain people and it grows your relationship."

Las Vegas at 21-years-old. Quite the experience for the muscular Yarde who was judged on how he looked by the Americans, not by how many fights were on his slate. At this time he had only had five amateur fights and was very inexperienced. Those he sparred didn't care. They didn't let up but he gave as good as he got. From there it was all about elevation and progression.

On the eve of his 14th fight you can't talk to Anthony Yarde nowadays without the names of (British light heavyweight champion) Frank Buglioni and (former champion) Hosea Burton creeping in to the conversation somewhere.

Does he get fed up with it? Yes, sometimes. But he understands, that until this three-man rivalry is resolved, he will always be asked about them during interviews which he clearly enjoys doing.

"The thing about Frank Buglioni is you look at a scenario and you think to yourself: does that make sense? What makes sense for one person might not make sense for another person. For me and my career a fight with Buglioni makes sense.

"He's number two - this is with Boxrec. I'm number one, he's number two and he's got the British title. That's something that makes sense. I don't see why he feels he's in a position where he can fob me off to other people and say 'fight this person then you get to fight me'. That's not how my career is gonna go.

"I don't feel like I need him to progress my career. Right now he's got something I want and that's the British title but, again, I'm not gonna stop progressing to my final destination for my first goal, and that's to become a world champion."

Yarde has wanted to be the best since he was at school. It wasn't just fighting. He wanted to to be the strongest in his year; he was. Then he wanted to be the strongest in his school!

"And if there was anyone who thought any different we can arrange something to see who is actually the best. That's the kind of mentality I have," he said menacingly.

Even with his friends there was a competitive edge that would result in a 'friendly fight' to determine numero uno before restoring their friendship.

At 14, he begged his mum to let him go to boxing.

"I thought it was just cool to be able to say 'I go boxing'."

He wants to take on the world, and if he had his way he would have been doing it around his 8th professional fight. Luckily he has the right team around him to rein him in.

Slowly but surely he is making the inroads necessary to take on the best there is to offer when the time comes. For now he wants to keep knocking his opponents out. Boxing is a sport but it's also entertainment, he gets that.

"To get the public interested in you fight you need to be exciting. You need to have personality. I only want knockouts because it's entertaining. If I watch a fight I would like to see a knockout. Every fight I have I don't look for a knockout, I just believe that once my punches start landing the fight ain't gonna last too long. I don't think anyone is going to stand there and take my punches for too long."