Hackney-born Anthony Yarde travels to Chelyabinsk, Russia to challenge for Sergey Kovalev's WBO Light-heavyweight title on August 24th in a brave move that many other fighters would refuse. Anyone that thought before now that Yarde might not have the self-belief that he and trainer Tunde Ajayi portray can put that thought to rest.
Having watched most of Yarde's professional outings, it's hard not to give him a 50/50 chance of pulling off one of 2019's biggest upsets. In Kovalev, he faces a 36-year-old champion who has shown frailties when facing good body punchers in the past. Known as "Krusher", Kovalev was stopped in 7 rounds just a year ago by Canadian based Columbian Eleider Alvarez. Six months later, Kovalev put on a master class and outpointed Alvarez to regain his title.
In the first Alvarez fight, Kovalev stayed in the centre of the ring and outboxed the Columbian behind his superb jab. Alvarez was trying to counter the Russian to the body and had some success, although he was falling further and further behind on points. But, in the 7th round, Alvarez dropped Kovalev with a hard long right hand and although Kovalev got up he hadn't recovered fully.
To win the fight, Yarde is almost certainly going to have to accept that he is going to lose some rounds. Nothing we have seen from him to date, says that he is capable of matching the Russian in the boxing department for long periods. Kovalev doesn't dance around a ring but he uses educated footwork to outmanoeuvre his opposition while working that fast and hurtful jab, and then firing in a powerful right hand that is thrown straight or looped, either way, it can be a fight-ending weapon.
Yarde will have to pile the pressure on Kovalev from the 1st bell and make sure he doesn't take too many hard shots, It is Kovalev's stamina that Team Yarde is going to test, I am sure. There is weakness there and Yarde has youth and stamina on his side. He has to be smart and not get tagged by too many hard shots from "Krusher". Working to the body will be crucial as well, and the chance to land to the midsection will pay dividends in wearing down the older man.
This is Kovalev's first fight in Russia in 3 years and I get the feeling that his backers feel that home advantage might be needed against such a powerful, youthful and supremely confident challenger. Experience and home advantage have to make Kovalev the bookies favourite, but I think Yarde has got Kovalev at the right time in his career and as Alvarez showed, a good puncher can put Krusher in trouble.
Prediction: I'm going for the upset win, Yarde to stop Kovalev before the championship rounds.