Hannah Rankin column: Beating Artur Beterbiev not ‘impossible’ for Anthony Yarde

Artur Beterbiev faces off with Anthony Yarde in the ring
Anthony Yarde (right) has 23 wins and two losses in his 25-fight professional career
Venue: OVO Arena, Wembley At your place: Saturday, January 28
Coverages: Follow live text coverage and reaction on BBC Sport website & app from 21:00 GMT on Saturday, 28 January.

Boxing analyst and light-middleweight contender Hannah Rankin writes for BBC Sport about Anthony Yarde’s world title tilt against unified light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev on Saturday in London.

Beterbiev is unbeaten in 18 fights and holds the WBO, WBC and IBF world titles. Yarde is a big underdog against the Russian, despite having home advantage.

Can the Briton become world champion at the second time of asking? Or will Beterbiev prove too powerful?

Anthony Yarde is so often underrated. The Londoner goes into his fight with Artur Beterbiev as a massive underdog.

People think Beterbiev will walk through the yard. He is the WBC, WBO and IBF light-heavyweight champion and has 18 knockouts in 18 wins. It is a remarkable record.

But we have seen grit, determination and real flurries of brilliance from Yarde in the past. A Yarde win would be a big upset, but it wouldn’t go down in the history books as a massive upset.

Yarde hasn’t come from nowhere, he has earned this spot. He has an explosive skillset and power in both hands.

He is a good fighter who has been tested on the world stage. This isn’t mission impossible. But it will be one people will remember because it could be a cracker.

What is so impressive about Yarde is the rate at which he has improved since making his pro debut in 2015. He has grown from having minimal amateur experience to competing on the world stage.

The Sergey Kovalev fight in 2019 showed those flashes of brilliance from Yarde.

You really saw some serious skills and that was his first step on the big stage in a world title fight, and it was in Russia, don’t forget.

In the end his fitness levels let him down, he emptied the tank too quickly. But he wasn’t left wanting in that fight ability-wise, it was an exciting fight to watch and he showed he belonged at that level.

I think we will see much more of that, a better version of that Yarde, in the fight with Beterbiev.

Yarde has improved since the Kovalev fight. He pushes forward more now, and is less likely to wait for his opponent.

He pushes the pace more himself and that shows his confidence, he has been in with bigger opponents and knows he has got a chin. He is very strong and a big puncher too.

You see that now in all of his fights. He was able to hurt Kovalev and then he blew Lyndon Arthur away in theirs rematch 13 months ago.

We have seen his power at an elite level, and his chin too.

Those two things are what everyone says Beterbiev has. That is why this fight is so exciting, they are similar. They have similar attributes.

However, Beterbiev is a better opponent than Kovalev was five years ago.

Artur Beterbiev lands a punch on Joe Smith
Artur Beterbiev (right) has only once been taken to the 12th round

Kovalev was on the turn then in his career. But Beterbiev is going from strength to strength.

Yes, he has been in some wars and you could argue his body might be feeling the weight of that.

He is not a one-punch knockout artist. It takes him seven, eight rounds to knock someone out. There is an accumulative effect, relentless pressure. He slowly unravels people.

Beterbiev has got a steadfast mindset where he is unmovable – that is where his ‘monster’ reputation comes from.

He is obviously very skilled boxing-wise, but also has an unbreakable Gennady Golovkin-esque feel to him.

He has built up that kind of aura. It doesn’t matter what you hit him with, he still comes forward. You see him take punches but he comes back with three more of his own.

His opponents eventually wilt under the pressure. He will try to do the same with Yarde. He won’t change his style.

But he will have to put a lot of work in to get to that point. Beterbiev is a harder fight than Kovalev was for Yarde, for sure.

Beterbiev isn’t declining. Fighting in London won’t deter him either. He hasn’t shown any major weaknesses in his previous fights and you can only assume he will be the best version of himself on Saturday.

Nonetheless, I give Yarde a good chance. He has got power, he is a big puncher. And Beterbiev is open to be hit.

He is not super slick in his upper body movement but has good feet.

Callum Johnson knocked him down in theirs fight in 2018and Jeff Page Jr did the same at the very start of Beterbiev’s career.

Anthony Yarde celebrates beating Lyndon Arthur
Yarde has stuck with his coach Tunde Ajayi (right) through wins and defeats

This fight could come down to who lasts longer. Yarde is a big puncher, has more hand speed and can be very explosive.

If Yarde can get going he can put the pressure on. One good punch can change the entire fight. Like it nearly did in the Kovalev fight in round eight, that was a big punch from Yarde and his opponent did well to get through the round.

Beterbiev and Yarde have great finishing instincts, so if one of them senses the other is hurt, they will pounce.

Yarde can’t afford to go on the back foot all the time, Beterbiev is too good on the front foot and he may see the Briton retreating to the ropes as weakness.

Counter-punching Beterbiev is a risky game too, considering his ability to take a punch and respond in volume.

I think Beterbiev will win this fight on points, but you can’t rule Yarde out. There will be knockdowns, and there could be a knockdown on both sides.

At first I was very much leaning towards a Beterbiev knockout in the later rounds, but Yarde has got such a solid chin.

I don’t think he will be found wanting in the fitness levels for this one. It could go the distance, although in that case Yarde could get outworked.

However, it is not an impossible task. Being the big underdog gives you that extra fire to prove people wrong. It gives you an extra gear to push a little harder.

You always want to be the favourite, but being the underdog takes some of the pressure off. The favorite has to perform.

But if you are the underdog and come through to take the win, it is so much more special.

Not just for Yarde, but for his team and his coach Tunde Ajayi. Together they have built from nothing to world level. That creates an unbreakable bond between coach and fighter. I’m not surprised Yarde has stuck with Ajayi even after defeats.

Winning silences everyone who ever doubted you.

I’m sure that will be Yarde’s approach. He has been the underdog of his entire career. Nobody ever expected anything from him. He won’t be fazed one bit.

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