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Anthony Yarde upsetting Sergey Kovalev: The case for and against

Danny Flexen weighs up the chances of Anthony Yarde upsetting WBO light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev

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Sergey Kovalev vs Anthony Yarde
Sergey Kovalev vs Anthony Yarde

While I consider Anthony Yarde a live underdog going into his WBO light-heavyweight title challenge against Sergey Kovalev, the relatively narrow odds of 7/4 outright on a British victory surprised me. The bookmakers are clearly being cautious following the huge Andy Ruiz Jr upset over Anthony Joshua, but given Yarde is venturing to the champion’s home country of Russia and has yet to meet anyone even approaching Kovalev’s calibre, those odds are exceptionally stingy.

Below I weigh up Yarde’s actual chances.

 

Kovalev is not quite the force of old…
I don’t buy the – somewhat related - theories that Kovalev is an alcoholic, irrevocably shot or both. That being said, there is no denying he has regressed at least a little from the dominant and unbeaten force who first tore the WBO belt from Nathan Cleverly in 2013, then unified with a masterful victory over the legendary Bernard Hopkins a year later. Kovalev is now 36, has encountered a variety of outside-the-ring problems and has lost three of his last six, including demoralising back-to-back defeats to the imperious Andre Ward.

 

But he did look pretty damn good last time out…
As poor as Kovalev performed in his loss to Eleider Alvarez last August, he was superb in regaining his WBO strap from the Colombian in February. Kovalev had seemed lost at sea in their first fight but, rejuvenated and taken back to excellent basics under new trainer Buddy McGirt, he schooled an Alvarez who suddenly appeared one-dimensional. Before the surprise Alvarez reverse, Kovalev ate up a couple of fringe contenders with similar or superior records to Yarde.

 

And Yarde has yet to face anyone even close to Kovalev’s stature…
The Londoner’s best win is probably the impressive fourth-round stoppage of Nikola Sjekloca in late 2017. The Montenegrin had never previously been halted and came into the fight off a gruelling draw with then-European champion and former WBO king Robert Stieglitz. Yarde destroyed him. That however is the high watermark for an unbeaten contender who only had 12 amateur bouts. Yarde’s team chose to direct him down the WBO fringe belt route – which helped secure this chance – but meant he avoided the best of British on the way up.

 

But he is undeniably talented and has self-belief in abundance…
Yarde, 18-0 (17), is fast, strong, powerful and displays deft upper-body movement for such a muscular specimen. Observers may mock the rhythm-driven padwork utilised by Yarde and trainer Tunde Ajayi but it has helped develop a fast-twitch, explosive style that may be just what the measured, disciplined Kovalev does not need. The belief shown by Yarde and Ajayi, not only in their ability in coaching ‘system’ but in daring to challenge such an accomplished champion in his native land, cannot be ignored. It is a leap up in levels but Yarde would not be the first challenger to make such a move and enjoy success.

 

Everything is timing…
One of Ajayi’s favoured catchphrases but there is some truth in it. Kovalev may be ever so slighty on the way down, where as Yarde, who turned 28 last week, is surely in his physical prime. Maybe the bookies weren’t so far off after all.

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