Lions In The Bin

June 12th 2018 I made a deal with myself, not to care about Anthony Yarde’s career until he fought someone I didn’t have to go to Boxrec to learn about.  I should have stuck to it.  It's worth noting before going further I have no axe to grind with Yarde or his team and find his energy as a person quite infectious.  He looks the model of a boxer, definition beyond comprehension and clearly lives the life many before him have failed to do.
However I find myself increasingly frustrated about a man we know nothing about.  The reason for my pledge six months ago was that Yarde had been announced to fight Dariusz Sek.  The soon forgotten Dariusz Sek.  It was a WBO European title fight at a time when Yarde was scaling their rankings by fighting for the peripheral titles.  Holding the belt automatically places you in their top 15, but not satisfied with such a standing, they’ve gone one better.  In fact they have gone 14 better, placing Anthony Yarde as their number one ranked light heavyweight in the world. 
We were almost at risk of turning a corner 12 months ago when Yarde took on the best name recorded on his CV, Nikola Sjekloca, and finished him in four rounds.  Sjekloca was a former super middleweight world title challenger who was coming off of a draw for the actual European title.  Impressive win, for what it was.
But then it was back to old habits.  ‘He hasn’t fought a southpaw yet’ will forever be a phrase that can only be attached to Anthony Yarde.  The net was cast far and wide to find a left-handed training fight.  It ended up in Poland.  To be more precise, it ended up landing on Poland’s fourth highest ranged light heavyweight and even more entertaining, Poland’s second highest ranked southpaw, Dariusz Sek.  Presumably the budget didn’t stretch to Norbert Dabrowski, or maybe as Yarde had already fought Norbert Nemesapati, there was no need to fight another Norbert?
What has prompted this piece is the IFL interview published today, where Yarde talks less as a boxer and more as a businessman, a Manager, a Promoter.  The roles seem to have been somewhat conflated in the mind of Yarde, along with the nine-to-five of being an actual boxer.  To clarify, this is not a slight at his business mind, far from it.  Boxers principally should be focused upon leaving the sport with three things; legacy, money and faculties. 
The issue is the contradictions we are fed.  I must confess I turned the interview off after 20 minutes, unable to stomach the final 10.  I took a knee, Yarde won.  Therefore perhaps the final segment was a clarification on all of the below or maybe he did the classic……..’NOOOOOOT’ to end it?  Don’t know, and I will never know, as I can’t bring myself to watch it again.  For that very reason the below are not verbatim quotes but a summary of the messages given, a rough interpretation of the words Anthony used.  Therefore apologies in advance if they are misconstrued.  My legal pleas out of the way in advance, let’s crack on.
‘What do they offer?  They’re all lower in the rankings’ seems to be the stock answer when pressed on fighting other British light heavyweights.  It seems those arguments don’t stand with Callum Johnson or Joshua Buatsi, both of whom are given moderate respect, but to any other British light heavyweight.  The argument is, Yarde is ranked so highly in the WBO that fighting any of these mere British names would be a step down, a pointless exercise.  So let’s look at the facts.
Over the last 12 months Yarde has fought four times.  The average rating on Boxrec for those boxers is 73.5.  I mean, it’s becoming abundantly clear already why the WBO rank Yarde so highly.  Therefore it must be safe to assume that no British fighter aside from Johnson or Burton is ranked above 73.5 in the world?  If they were then they would presumably offer a better level of opposition than Yarde has faced. 
Wrong.  Wrong multiplied by three in fact.  Liam Conroy (53), Hosea Burton (57) and Jake Ball (73) all sit above the baseline.  Do they sit above Yarde in the illustrious WBO rankings?  No, but then as the number one in the world, it would be pretty difficult to jimmy their way above that without fighting him.  Which he won’t do, as they’re below him.  See the conundrum?  How can you justify fighting anyone apart from the world champion if your argument is that they sit below you in the world rankings?
Perhaps the rankings in questions weren’t those of Boxrec at all but of the WBO.  Fine, but by that logic Yarde can only fight the champion henceforth, Eleider Alvarez.  Best hope he is free this Saturday.  For reference, Yarde isn’t placed in the WBA’s top 15, nor the WBC.  He is however currently number five in the IBF, whose champion is Artur Berterbiev.  Oddly, one and two slots are vacant while three is Dominic Bosel and four is Karo Murat.  Again going back to the logic of not fighting those below your own position, the future can only hold be one of those names. 
It is well documented that Yarde turned down a world title fight last year with Arthur Berterbiev.  Yarde addressed this, says he would have taken it but the team around him chose not to.  Nobody would criticise that move as Yarde is in no way ready for that level of fight and again by his own admission, even if he won it he faces many years of defending it.  With him being so young there is plenty of growing space ahead of him.  In fact Yarde is getting the perfect opportunity to do so this Saturday coming, fighting on the undercard of Wilder vs Fury in America.  Putting aside the conundrum of fighting only those ranked higher but no champions, there are plenty of other good names that could be on the other side of the ring to help Yarde progress.  Which have they picked?
Well that’s difficult to say.  While writing this on Tuesday, there is no opponent announced.  It’s a TBA job, TBA himself looking to cement his spot in the WBO’s top 15 at 175lbs.  We wish him well.
Yarde talks about himself as having international ambitions and that by fighting the UK fighters it does nothing to enhance his value on the world stage.  Therefore I would really like to know what benefit fighting TBA at four days notice will do for his stardom?  Being realistic, this fight sits way down the pecking order of what is already a weak PPV card.  Chances are that Showtime will be more enthused to include Joyce, Hurd, Arreola, Ortiz, Julian Williams and Robert Guerrero over Yarde.  Therefore at best you’re likely looking at a floating position, hoping for some stoppages and a gap to fill on the schedule to make your way onto the TV slot.  Maybe I’m wrong, maybe he will be the main support fight.  We’ll find out Saturday.
Another poignant message that was drilled home is that fans simply don’t understand and are sheep, following the gospel of Eddie Hearn.  Allow us not to stray into political lines here, but it’s safe to say that all Promoters may bend the truth to suit their situation.  In fact the entire rhetoric delivered by Anthony was reminiscent of the interviews his own Promoter Frank Warren has given.  Are people sheep?  Yes of course, some will follow their favoured delivery boys of news.  Some will believe that Yarde is in fact the finest light heavyweight on the planet not holding a world title, simply because Frank and Anthony and the WBO either declared or allude to it.  It works both ways.   However there is also a large percentage that are able to read between the lines and cut the bullshit.  It doesn’t take a PHD in boxing lineage and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Boxrec to understand Yarde sits in an inflated position that is causing a headache to all involved.  Too high, too early.  It would benefit all parties if the WBO would simply give him a reasonable slot in the rankings.  Give him 14th place, let them bask in the glory of being world ranked without the expectation of actually contesting a world title fight.
The selection of the term ‘sheep’ may be more strategic than throwaway.  As a man who himself likes to refer to training in animalistic terms, Yarde can often be heard bellowing ‘Lions in the camp’.  The Romans coined the phrase ‘Lions don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep’.  The picture is complete.  I, you, Hearn or however many others can critique the words and actions of Anthony Yarde until the cows come home (let’s stick in the animal kingdom for now).  However it is nothing but water off a duck’s back (crowbarred that one in, sorry). 
Anthony and his team have a pathway planned.  Whether that is to clean out the domestic challengers of Eastern Europe’s boxing backwaters or to build in more peripheral world title challengers (a Joe Smith,  Sullivan Barrera, Jean Pascal, Issac Chilemba to name a few), the plan isn’t clear to the rest of us sheep.  There is one final part of his interview that he mentions whereby he may well be correct.  If when he hangs his gloves up, Yarde has had an incredible career encompassing world title wins, defences, unifications then there is a good chance that these formative years will be forgotten.  As a boxing fan, I wish him the best with that and hope his ability lights up the division to a point he goes down in history. 
The worry is that he doesn’t.  The worry is that we aren’t being told something. Glass chin?  Delicate body?  Questionable gas tank?  Maybe none, maybe all or maybe some.  It’s fair to say that none of these questions are likely to be answered by Polish truck drivers or left handed welders.  The answers will come when the challenges step up.  The main question now is whether Yarde will be given the chance to answer those questions before a significant title is on the line or whether it will be a true ‘sink or swim’ moment. 
For the record, I am going to predict the latter.  My guess is that no domestic rivals will be fought on the ascension nor any of the potential threats who don’t hold belts.  Why?  It could blow it all apart.  Yarde’s career so far has been a masterclass in PR.  No significant wins, a WBO fringe title and yet is acclaimed as the next big thing.  If someone posed the chin/body/gas tank question and the answer was negative, this whole project is fucked.  Blown apart.  If I were in the driving seat I would rather that happen at world level than European, with the major upside being a world title and legitimacy if the questions were irrelevant.
For now though, no more lions.  In the bin you go.  No more talk from Trainer Tunde Ajayi of ‘timing is everything’.  I’m going back to my vow of not caring.  I shall channel hop away from Yarde fights, try my hardest to avoid the discussions and avoid the rhetoric.  Today’s IFL interview was make or break.  I broke.  We shall see if Yarde does in time.