Letting it happen: Anthony Yarde interview

Danny Winterbottom
07/08/2017 7:33am

Anthony Yarde is earning a reputation as a big hitter but, he tells Danny Winterbottom, his philosophy is to be patient and just focus on his boxing. If the KO comes, fine. If not, so be it...

Anthony Yarde was once a gifted track and field star under the tutelage of 1984 Olympic javelin gold medallist Tessa Sanderson. Now the unbeaten Southern Area light-heavyweight champion is using his natural athletic gifts and heavy hands to rise through the ranks in arguably the toughest sport of all.

“The 100 and 200 metres were my thing. I could run under 11 seconds for the 100 but I was also putting the shot although, I broke my toe and had to stop,” Yarde told Boxing Monthly over the phone.

“When I was at school I was good at most sports. I had football trials for Queens Park Rangers, played for Tunbridge Wells and Wimbledon at a decent level, and Harlequins Rugby Union club had me down there at 16 and the manager wanted me to go back at 18. But at that time I didn’t appreciate how big a club it was so I didn't take it seriously.”

Yarde has certainly taken his boxing career seriously and the 25-year-old picked up his first professional title, after 10 straight victories, when he made short and painful work of defending Southern Area champion Chris Hobbs on 13 May at the Copper Box Arena in London. Yarde sent the outgunned Southampton fighter to the canvas six times, showing patience and guile to complement his natural power, before referee Jeff Hinds had seen enough and called a halt in the fourth round.

It was the most rounds Yarde had travelled since his second professional bout and the Stratford knockout artist was in no rush to get back to the changing rooms.

“I don't believe in being reckless,” he said. “It was a 10-round fight and I planned on going in there and boxing and landing the shots I needed to win the fight. I knew that I would eventually get him out of there, but it didn't matter to me how long it took because I was enjoying myself.”

British area championships were once coveted, so traditionalists might have found it refreshing to see Yarde win the Southern Area title even though he might not choose to hold on to it.

“If I could, I would win every title possible,” Yarde said. “But my ultimate goal is to become a world champion and whatever route Frank Warren and Tunde [Ajayi, Yarde’s trainer] choose for me I will take.

“I’m a student of the game and I’ve learned that you have to listen to the experienced people around you.”

Yarde, a huge fan of Mike Tyson, grew up on the streets of Stratford, in east London. Trouble was never too far away for the youngster trying to find his place in the world.

“Where we grew up, you had to defend yourself,” he said. “I wasn’t a troublemaker. I didn’t go looking for trouble. I was the one who would say ‘Let’s go’ [leave] if we got into a situation. But if it was right there in front of me, I wasn’t walking away. Do you get me?

“I think I said this in a Fighter by Trade interview for BoxNation. When I started to box at the age of 20 I grew up, like a boy to a man.

“I stopped fighting on the streets, but I still had people around me who were doing some bad things. But on the other hand I had some friends who were living an honest life.

“I soon realised that the bad life was short-lived. It could be over in seconds. But the honest life had longevity. So I started to concentrate on my own life and I had a nine-to-five job.”

The story of a boxer who has escaped the lure of the streets to forge a successful career is an oft-told tale. What separates them from friends who choose the street life comes down to mental discipline and determination, Yarde believes.

“It's a mind thing,” he said. “Some people are scared of success. When they think of all the hard work they would need to put in, they can’t do it. The thought of fighting in front of thousands of people can be scary — I was scared at first.

“Some people on the streets are cowards. They would rather pick up a knife and stab someone. But I was never like that. If I got into a situation, I’m settling it with my fists.”

As a schoolboy, Yarde was interested in WWE and pushed weights at home as he sought to build a physique similar to his wrestling heroes. Watching old TV documentaries on Mike Tyson, however, sparked Yarde’s interest in boxing and he started going to a gym.

“My mum was dead against it,” he said, “but one of my uncles persuaded her to come down and watch one of the sessions. I ended up being in a boxing gym in Leyton for three or four months. But at the time I was still heavily involved in other sports, so I drifted back to them until I started [boxing] seriously at the Omnibus ABC, based at the TKO Gym in Canning Town, and I had three white-collar fights and won them all by knockout before I started in the amateurs.

“I was 21 when I first started in the amateurs and my coach was Tony Cesay [a former ABA champion and Millennium Award winner for achievements in the community]. I had real trouble getting fights because I was knocking everybody out. They didn't want to fight me.

“I won the Haringey Box Cup and then I entered the senior ABAs, and after I had beaten the guy who had won it the year previously, the officials claimed that they had lost my [boxer-registration] card! So that was me done. I’d had enough of it.”

Growing up, Yarde saw little of his father and spent most of his days surrounded by women — his mother and two older sisters. His friend Jo-lean saw him training at the TKO Gym and mentioned to the fighter that she had a friend named Tunde and asked him if he would like to go training with her the next day. This meeting would eventually spawn a deep friendship between trainer and fighter, with Tunde taking on a father-figure role.

“At first Tunde said he wouldn’t take me on the pads straight away, but eventually he could see I had talent and wanted to make something of myself in boxing,” Yarde said.

“We would argue a little over silly things, but over time we got very close. Tunde is very well connected. He took me over to the Mayweather gym in 2013, just before Floyd fought Robert Guerrero, and I got to watch Floyd train and I sparred with Andrew Tabiti, a 9-0 cruiserweight [now unbeaten in 14 fights and the NABF champion].”

Yarde made an explosive start to his professional career in May 2015 at Wembley Arena when he despatched Mitch Mitchell in two rounds in front of the BoxNation cameras. Only one of his 12 victims has lasted the distance. He is well aware that there may come a time when he needs to show more than hitting prowess and he is working on all aspects of his game under Tunde Ajayi’s guidance.

“The name of the game is to hit and not be hit,” he said. “I don’t want to focus too much on the knockouts, because when you get a puncher’s reputation as soon as an opponent lasts the distance the critics are all over you saying: ‘Oh he doesn’t punch that hard after all’ or they’re criticising your opponent when you do knock them out. My job is to concentrate on me and my boxing.

“In my second fight [a points win over Latvian trial horse Stanislavs Makarenko) I put pressure on myself to box the guy in the first few rounds and then go for the knockout in the last round, but it didn’t happen. From then on I’ve told myself: ‘If the stoppage comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, so be it.’”

In September 2016, Yarde made his American debut on the undercard of Liam Smith’s WBO 154lbs title defence against Canelo Alvarez at the AT&T Arena in Texas, making short work of home-state veteran Rayford Johnson in the show-opener when a left hook left his opponent slumped against the ropes in the first round. Yarde thoroughly enjoyed being part of the big occasion.

“Oscar De La Hoya calling out my name at the press conference is something I will remember for a long time,” he said. “Just being around Canelo and the whole promotion you quickly realise that he is a massive global superstar. I hope to be in his position one day.

“Frank [Warren] came into the dressing room before the fight and said to me: ‘Go out and do a job,’ which I did, but again I wasn’t looking for the knockout, it just came.

“As soon as I landed the shot, if you noticed, I skipped away, because I knew the guy was out cold from his body language, but the referee didn’t wave it off straight away. I could have hit the guy with another shot, but thankfully the referee finally realised the fight was over and he stopped it.

“I’m focused on my development as a fighter, and that’s a serious statement. I’m confident that I could beat these
[higher-rated] guys right now, but I have a manager and a promoter and I leave the matchmaking to them.

“I have only had 11 fights [now 12] and I’ve stopped all bar one, so some people will be asking what happens when I step up. ‘Can he do 12 rounds? Can he take a shot?’

“Those questions will be answered in good time.”

Turning from trouble

Yarde was due to fight on the Saunders vs Khurtsidze undercard, but the Georgian was arrested, reminding Yarde of his own choices

Avtandil Khurtsidze’s arrest in June due to alleged ties to a Russian criminal organisation had an indirect effect on Anthony Yarde, who boxed on the Copper Box bill that was due to have featured a middleweight title fight between Khurtsidze and Billy Joe Saunders.

As a former street fighter who took a positive path through boxing, Yarde sees the Khurtsidze situation as something of a cautionary tale, telling Boxing Monthly he was surprised but not shocked when the Khurtsidze story broke.

“There have been a few instances in boxing where negative things in life have had an effect on a fighter’s career,” Yarde said. “Even someone like James Kirkland. He had a world title opportunity but went out and committed a robbery with his friends and ended up in prison. He came back with a positive story of how he changed his life around, but these things happen in boxing.

“It’s true to say that you’re a product of your environment but, like myself for instance, I took myself away from certain people in my life that were involved in negative things because of my ambition to be successful in boxing.”

While nothing has been proven against Khurtsidze, Yarde wonders if the Brooklyn-based fighter from the republic of Georgia has a total and unswerving commitment to his boxing career. “He had a big chance against Billy Joe to turn his life around but some people just aren’t cut out for it.”