As the afternoon Texas sun beat down on the handful of spectators looking for their seats in the enormous AT&T Stadium, Hackney-born Anthony Yarde strode out to the ring for his first fight on American soil. This was in September, 2016, and Yard ’was first on the card.
Because the main event, involving Mexican superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, was still several hours away, only a few hundred fans were there for the British light heavyweight hopeful’s eighth fight.
“The arena was massive; it looked like you were an ant in a spaceship,” Yarde remembers. “They say you have to go down 50 feet to get to the ring.”
“It was frustrating walking to the ring [because] they got my music wrong. I think that made me angry.”
As the bell rang for the beginning of the first round, Yarde raced to the centre of the ring, twitching, crouching and pumping his jab into his American opponent’s face. After a minute of circling, Yarde bent down to his right and, in a flash, landed a sweeping left hook on the point of his opponent’s chin.
The American, separated from his senses, limply rested against the lower rope of the ring, while both his hands flaccidly hung by his side and his head slumped over his chest.
“Before the punch landed,” Yarde recalls, “I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’m going to knock this guy out’. When it did land I had a little walk [because] I expected him to drop.
“When I realised the rope was keeping him up I went back over to him and then the referee stopped it. I was going to hit him on his body; I wasn’t going to go for a head shot because the position he was in was more dangerous than being on the floor.”
It has been a meteoric rise for Yarde, 25. He first walked into a gym at the age of 19 and, after compiling an amateur record of 12 fights, 11 wins by knockout and one loss, he had his first professional fight in 2015 at the age of 23. Since then, he’s had nine fights, nine wins and eight by knockout.
We’re talking to each other at the back of the Peacock Gym in Canning Town. The place is a whirlwind of noise as professionals and amateurs train side by side eking out circuits, pounding treadmills, punching bags and sparring. In an attempt to make myself heard over the noise I raise my voice to ask, “When are you going to be fighting tougher opposition?”
“That’s not my job [to say],” he says quickly. “I have trust in [trainer and manager] Tunde Ajayi and [promoter] Frank Warren. They have been gradually stepping me up – it’s not their fault I’m getting rid of opponents.
— Anthony yarde (@mranthonyyarde) February 9, 2017
“A lot of people say I’m not fighting this person or that person, but, right now, I’m at a higher stage than I should be at. I didn’t go to the Olympics [or] the ABAs [the national amateur tournament], so I’m way higher than where I should be. Even in terms of how I deal with opponents, you get champions who struggle with opponents I’ve knocked out in one or two rounds.”
Yarde is regarded as one of Britain’s finest up-and-coming fighters. His trainer has compared his work ethic to that of Floyd Mayweather and Yarde’s promoter has given him the kind of exposure reserved for world champions.
This was highlighted by Yarde’s appearance on BT Sport’s advert promoting the launch of boxing on the channel. He makes an appearance alongside world champion Billy Joe Saunders and two-time Olympic gold medallist Nicola Adams. Yarde, though, is keen to downplay it.
“It happens,” he says. “People who aren’t even athletes are in adverts. I say to myself this is what’s meant to happen to get to where I want to get to, so I don’t let it overwhelm me and get me excited.”
Where do you want to get to then?
“I want to be a three weight world champion eventually known alongside names like Sugar Ray Leonard,” he says. “Sometimes people in boxing don’t believe in themselves or they stop their progression by telling themselves that they’re only going to get so far.”
Yarde hasn’t won a professional title and is yet to even fight in a scheduled eight rounder – but it’s indicative of the unerring confidence he has in his ability and refusal to accept even the prospect of defeat.
“Hopefully it won’t happen,” he says, “but [if I lose] that’s the time when I deal with it. It doesn’t cross my mind, but if it does I change subject and move onto something else.”
Over the next two months, Yarde is scheduled to fight on 22 April in Leicester and on 20 May back home at the Copper Box Arena, with both being televised on BT Sport. The opponents for both dates are yet to be announced.
“This is the first time I’ve had two fights lined up back-to-back,” he says. “My focus right now is on 22 April and then I move onto 20 May. I believe in doing things one at a time; when you start trying to do everything at once you may trip over.”
“I’m expecting another good developing fight [in Leicester]. Each fight I have, whether I get rid of them in the first round or the fourth, is a developing fight. Dealing with pressure, dealing with a different opponent [and] dealing with a different look [style] helps me learn.”
Yarde places a huge amount of emphasis on “developing” as a fighter; going so as far as to say that it “excites” him more than fame. So, I ask him how much he expects to improve by the end of the year.
“At the end of this year,” he replies, “I want to be at the level where I’m confident I can run the light heavyweight division.”