Anthony Yarde left battered and bruised by Sergey Kovalev but so many positives to take in defeat

Young Yarde was not hurt, just broken on the night by a calculating champion in a fight where hope, joy and then despair were separated by seconds and just a few punches

Steve Bunce
Chelyabinsk, Russia
Sunday 25 August 2019 10:34
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Sergey Kovalev vs Anthony Yarde weigh in

It will be hard to convince Anthony Yarde that losing to Sergey Kovalev in round eleven here on Saturday night at the Traktor Palace Arena was a good thing.

Yarde was throwing his last, desperate punch of the fight when he was caught with a left and sent down heavily. He was on his back, blood smeared across his face, his eyes open and all the fight had been battered out of him by the veteran champion: the returning hometown hero. He was not hurt, just broken on the night by a calculating champion in a fight where hope, joy and then despair were separated by seconds and just a few punches.

It was old-fashioned boxing heartbreak for the East London kid.

Yarde had absolutely nothing left - he was moving like a man wading through four-foot of sewage - when it was over, his tumble was a relief from my seat on the very edge of the canvas. It is possible the last of Yarde vanished in a truly extraordinary eighth round when Kovalev was reeling from corner to corner in utter despair, the type of round that will be discussed for a long, long time. It was a true ‘what if’ round: a round where three more seconds and two more punches might have changed history.

Yarde was not busy enough in rounds one through six, a mix of Kovalev’s craft and Yarde’s own inexperience. The Russian idol, in his 16th world title fight, moved with caution and care, denying Yarde the space to counter. It is possible that the score in rounds was 6-0 at the start of the seventh. It was the end of the niceties, the start of the brawl and Yarde gently moved his feet closer, let his hands go and Kovalev instantly started to look uncomfortable. It was a Yarde round, the first clear one in my opinion.

In the eighth Kovalev, under strict instructions to “jab and not get stupid” from Buddy McGirt, in his corner, suddenly lost his composure, his control of the fight and was caught and on unsteady legs. A blatant low-blow from Kovalev on the referee’s blindside barely stopped Yarde’s assault and he refused the offer of a break to catch his breath: Kovalev was the one that needed the break.

Kovalev was trapped at one point, six feet above my head, and I could see the look of concern in the referee’s eyes as Yarde landed punch after punch - not all clean, but all damaging - and there was a real chance that the fight would be stopped. The bell sounded, the Russian was safe for a minute and each boxer, exhausted, traipsed heavy-legged back to their corners.

The focus seemed to be on Kovalev but Yarde was finished at that point. In his previous 18 fights he had never been more than seven rounds, never lost a round, never been in a fight anything like this.

“One more round like that, one more punch like that and I’m pulling you out,” warned McGirt as Kovalev sat in front of him, sucking in air for survival at the end of round eight. McGirt was not joking, it was not an empty threat: last month McGirt was in the corner in a brutal fight and his boxer, Maxim Dadashev, died in hospital a few days later.

Kovalev was, trust me, a moment in McGirt’s head away from defeat. It was a classic blurring of the fine lines in boxing between decency and obscenity.

In round nine Kovalev was a marvel, moving, landing jab after jab that sent plumes of sweat and blood flying from Yarde’s head, the crowd of 7,500 roared his every feint and move. It was a true champion’s round, a round that makes careers and wins fights, and at the bell the fight had firmly switched back to Kovalev.

By the end Yarde had absolutely nothing left

In round ten, a round of savagery, Yarde proved his heart and chin and desire, but at this level guts is only a brief bloody badge of courage. It was Yarde’s turn to be saved by the bell at the end of the tenth and there was a moment of confusion as the referee, Luis Pabon, pulled Kovalev away; at ringside Frank Warren, Yarde’s promoter, stood up and shook hands with Egis Klimas, Kovalev’s manager - they both thought it was over. It was desperate stuff, truly moving.

Yarde came out for round 11, stood firm, but there was nothing left in his punches or his timing. He was a wounded bull at that moment, dangerously fatigued after the fight of his life and he tried one last looping left hook. Kovalev saw it and bang, that was it. Yarde was down, his fight over.

“You will be a champion one day, you are a good fighter,” Kovalev told Yarde in the ring. Yarde thanked him, clear-eyed as I spoke to the pair of them but clearly heartbroken. “I will be back,” he said. And he will and he will be, because of this fight, be so much better.

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