Anthony Yarde faces the toughest test of his unbeaten 18-fight career as he heads into Russia’s industrial heartland next weekend in a bold bid to dethrone Sergey Kovalev from the World Boxing Organisation light heavyweight crown.
Kovalev defends the title he first won way back in 2013 from Nathan Cleverly in Cardiff, in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, where his father was a welder and his mother used to drive a forklift truck.
Brought up in old Soviet Russia, in an area where much of the population are blue collar workers, and where the city was once dubbed ‘Tankograd’ due to the manufacture, decades ago, of T-34 tanks and Katyusha rocket launchers, Kovalev has found riches fighting in the United States.
Times have changed, but there is steel running through the heart and will of 36-year-old Kovalev, whose long career features one draw and three defeats, twice by the brilliance of the now retired American standout Andre Ward.
But there is a sense that Hackney’s Yarde will need a touch of genius, more than simply the power that has brought him 17 knockouts from 18 fights to claim what would rank as an outstanding scalp in his first world title challenge.
The quiet Kovalev – known as ‘Krusher’ for his power and with a 76 per cent KO ratio from his 33 victories in 37 contests – has fought for more than just personal accomplishments.
He has been open about part of his desire to better his wider family’s standing in life, having brought his parents to the USA.
Prior to the Ward defeats, he had claimed three of the four light-heavyweight belts. Indeed, Kovalev was the man to make a slumbering light-heavyweight division ‘live’ in the last five years.
Yarde is certainly up for the challenge, and has shown his determination in taking this step up against a formidable champion in his own back yard.
The 27-year-old Londoner – who has fought 51 rounds to Kovalev’s 162 as a professional – is predicting a knockout victory, and is prepared to go into the trenches.
Yarde told The Telegraph: “What’s in my mind is tunnel vision, winning by KO. “However it happens, or whenever it happens, nobody knows. I haven’t got a magic wand so I can’t tell you how.
“Even this fight, I’m not treating it any different. I’m still not going to want to take any punishment and dish out as much punishment as I can in as short a space as I can. I’m not going to be reckless.”
Tunde Ajayi, Yarde’s trainer and manager, played down Kovalev’s tough upbringing, and said that he believes the timing is perfect.
“Look, Kovalev is fighting in his home town, but his home is now California, let’s get that right. Paul Young has a beautiful song, ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home. He’s been westernised. The tractor days are gone. He’s waking up in silk pyjamas.”
In other words, according to Tunde, as ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler once said, in silk pyjamas there are no runs at 5am, with the British fighter and trainer believing that the hardened edge of Kovalev has gone.
Yarde has excellent fundamentals, but must now apply them for the first time at an elite level, against an accomplished opponent, who is competing in his 16th world title contest.
The Briton will certainly never been hit as hard, and experience may be the key factor.
But if the 27-year-old Londoner produces his best qualities on the night, and he has the skillset, he could return from Russia with the spoils, and a famous underdog victory to launch him on the world stage.
Sergey Kovalev vs Anthony Yarde for the WBO light heavyweight title is live on BT Sport on Saturday August 24