One of the best fights in recent memory was preceded by farcical scenes between a new generation of ‘boxers’
Boxing will always match the sublime alongside the ridiculous. It goes with the territory. It’s a business as much as a sport, you see.
On Saturday night, in a match-up which had largely gone under the radar, Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde, two monster punchers, fought to a standstill in an eight-round light-heavyweight title war at Wembley Arena. It was thrilling, pulsating and definitive. A battle of power, skill, and then eventually – will. Two proud warriors not given to saying too much; yet roaring loudly with their hands. In last week’s build up, there was nary a word of animosity. Just respect for the other man.
When the Chechnyan, who now resides in Canada, stopped Yarde, from East London, in the eighth round, it brought the house down. And it will live long in the memory, for both men indulged in a dong-ding contest of see-sawing fortunes in a flurry of heavy hands. Beterbiev, who lives by the three Fs – family, faith, fighting – made Yarde his latest ring victim, held on to his three world titles belts, and has the highly impressive resume of 19 fights, 19 wins, and 19 stoppages. When the 38-year-old ends his career, he will be ranked as a modern great. Yarde, indeed, showed himself to be a true warrior, and will come again at world level.
An hour earlier, there was an altogether different scene in that Wembley ring. A farce, in some ways. But Jake Paul, the YouTube influencer turned boxer, and Tommy Fury – brother of world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury – indulged in a WWE-like shoving showdown to publicise their grudge fight on February 26 in Saudi Arabia. A phalanx of security guards pulling them apart.
Paul playing the heel; Fury pulling his shirt off. The two men went nose to nose. And no prizes for guessing which fight will generate many millions of pounds. Paul is set to earn an eight figure purse for the on-off challenge he has set Fury, whose fame has come from the TV series Love Island, as well as his family’s reputation in pugilism, who will himself earn a few million quid for putting his name on the line.
There is jeopardy, too, for Fury, who is the underdog with the bookies, and can ill-afford a defeat against Paul who has been boxing just three years. But this is where boxing sits at present, the sport’s appeal and drama having been ‘ambushed’ – in a sense – by a new generation of YouTube stars and influencers with many millions of subscribers. It will grow and grow, especially as the broadcasters and the promoters are now realising that there is money to be made with fights that can entertain the audience that follow these stars from another firmament – and a new generation.
In a sense, Paul versus Fury is a crossover fight, involving a blurring of the lines between boxing and influencers, and given the fact that Queensberry Promotions, Top Rank, ESPN and BT Sport are aligned with this contest shows the new wave. Just two weeks ago, broadcaster DAZN signed a five-year deal with the YouTube boxer KSI, with thirty events and six pay per view events in that package. But enough on that, for now.
Back to the main event at Wembley on Saturday night, where Yarde – up on two of the three judges cards going into the eighth round (68-65, 67-66, 66-67) almost pulled off the improbable to pursue and aggressively counter punch his foe who has carried an aura of impregnability and invincibility in the heavyweight division in his six-year reign as a world champion. Almost.
Yarde, once spotted by Tessa Sanderson as a potential world champion javelin thrower, a man who played academy football, and who came to boxing late at the age of 18, after some of his early years around inner city gangs, remains a success story of huge proportions. Yarde remains a credit to the sport, in every sense. Whatever Yarde goes on to achieve, he will always be remembered for this ring war.
What a night it was. And indeed, there could be more to come on these shores with Beterbiev, given that Liverpudlian Callum Smith – the mandatory challenger for the WBC belt that Beterbiev holds – could step into the ring with the champion this year.
I sat down for a one-on-one interview with Beterbiev this week and one thing stuck with me. He told me if he could have his life over again, he would not be a boxer. Why? “Because I really don’t like hurting people…” said the thoroughly decent human being with freakish power in his hands.
Funny old sport, isn’t it?
This article first appeared on Telegraph.co.uk