Yarde (shown here in December 2021 after beating Lyndon Arthur) made short work of Koykov and now will face Beterbiev. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)
Anthony Yarde’s challenge of light-heavyweight champion Artur Betrbiev is a big fight in its own right, but Yarde’s trainer Tunde Ajayi admits it’s also the chance to cash in a ticket to the promised land.
Should Yarde pull off the upset and scalp the heavy-handed Russian later this month, he will become a pay-per-view attraction in the UK and will likely be linked to the likes of Saul Alvarez and Dmitriy Bivol, with huge fights being discussed in the USA, Wembley Stadium and the Emirates, home of Arsenal FC, who Yarde supports and who are also supported by Yarde’s promoter Frank Warren.
Ajayi was focusing on Beterbiev, but when asked about the possibilities that might follow, he agreed.
“Absolutely, it’s actually the key that opens the door,” he said excitedly, when asked about the possibilty of a unification fight with Dmitriy Bivol or a shawpiece against Canelo Alvarez. “It is that fight, and I have to say I feel we are ready for it. It’s not just being a champion in terms of winning a belt, it’s representing that belt, being a role model and being an example and Anthony has always been that but you can’t rush things and it’s always about timing. I’ve said it from the start, everything is timing and for me, being a champion is about moving on to the next level. These are two men that don’t believe in trash talk, they don’t talk up fights to sell fights, these are modern day gladiators. It’s a tremendous battle and it’s the key that unlocks the door to megafights, pay-per-view fights. There are so many you can mention but it’s one step at a time.”
Yarde is being written off almost universally, but Ajayi has seen his friend and fighter grow and mature through adversity. Firstly, he lost his unbeaten record on the road to Sergey Kovalev in 2019 – in Russia – and then suffered horrifically through the pandemic, losing five family members, including his father.
After that period, he was matched with Manchester’s Lyndon Arthur and lost a decision.
“The true test of a man’s character is what he’s overcome and you must remember he went in to the first Arthur fight with all of that, losing family members including his own father, and he still fought,” Ajayi said. “In retrospect, probably from him and me, he probably shouldn’t have been in there, but he’s a warrior and he’s always proved that he’s a warrior.”
Yarde went away and healed. He licked his wounds and then gained quick vengeance on Arthur, stopping him decisively and early on in their return fixture.
“About 95 per cent of people in Boxing News said we were going to lose,” Ajayi recalled. “And that was motivation for us. So we go into the second fight with a clear mind. Ant’s taken his family to Mexico. He’s come back. He’s like, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready.’ And you saw what happened in the second fight. But for this contest [against Beterbiev], if you’re not motivated to fight for three recognised belts – the first time ever a UK light-heavyweight has fought for three recognised belts – then I don’t know what will get you motivated. We are totally motivated for the task at hand.”
For the longest time early in Yarde’s career, he was criticised for the level of opponents he was matched with. Ajayi is quick to point out that Yarde is yet to have 40 fights combined as an amateur and pro, yet he’s preparing for his second world title contest.
It’s fair to say he’s subsequently stepped up, fighting Sergey Kovalev, twice boxing Lyndon Arthur and now facing Beterbiev.
“Anthony has to be credited because he said he needs to stop cherry picking,” Ajayi laughed. “His first world title was against arguably the best light-heavyweight at the time and you could say that he’s doing it again. Both Russians. Nobody is willingly fighting these guys, but a young man with dreams and aspirations not once but twice is ready to take that and I feel that’s so admirable and something I’ve known about him from the start. I was the first to see it.”
As the spokesman for the team, it’s been Ajayi who has had to take most of the flak, and it’s something he has been content to do to protect his fighter. He’s not done a perfect job and he admits that, he’s made errors along the way but he’s learned. Many called for Yarde to ditch him after Kovalev but the team has remained in place from pro debut to where they are now.
“We’ve both travelled this road and it’s a fantastic story, whichever way you look at it, his story, my story, Ade [Oliyinka]’s story, there’s not many fighters who have stayed with the same trainer and the same promoter from the start,” Ajayi said. “It’s also a big night for Frank Warren, because he can say, ‘I believed in this guy from the start.’
“I know what a lot of people were saying. ‘Oh yeah, he’s a bodybuilder and everything.’ At York Hall years ago, someone said, ‘He’s a bodybuilder’ and I laughed and said, ‘You’re going to see what this bodybuilder can do.’ Now he’s right at the top of the mountain. It’s commendable that we got her just by being ourselves. Hard graft, not changing for anyone, so you’re not interviewing two different people from the start of their careers to where they are now. It’s the same people.”