Despite Artur Beterbiev's eighth-round stoppage of Anthony Yarde on Saturday, which pushed the unified light heavyweight champion's record to a pristine 19-0 with 19 knockouts, there was nothing inevitable about his victory. Yarde, who had been out of his depth in his first title shot against Sergey Kovalev in 2019, fought at an infinitely higher-level on Saturday. Throwing hellacious power punches, exhibiting tremendous heart and refusing to yield, Yarde pushed Beterbiev to the brink in a thrilling fight.
From the opening moments of the bout, Yarde looked to land his blistering counter left hook and he often stung Beterbiev with lead right hands and short uppercuts on the inside. Yarde's accuracy and power were enough that he often forced Beterbiev to step away from the pocket to reset the action.
|Yarde (left) throwing his left hook|
Photo courtesy of Top Rank
In fact, Beterbiev was most successful on the night as a counterpuncher, a trait not usually associated with him. Beterbiev used his underrated footwork to draw leads from Yarde and then would follow with sharp straight rights or left hooks. These moments illustrated that Beterbiev is far cleverer than his reputation suggests. Yes, he is a wrecking machine, but there's a significant amount of craft to his game.
On more than one occasion, Beterbiev would retreat to the ropes where Yarde was able to get through with big power shots, but Beterbiev knew that Yarde couldn't match his agility and punch volume in close quarters. Beterbiev would then expertly turn Yarde on the ropes and go to town on his head and body. These sequences often occurred at the end of rounds, where Beterbiev had a little extra in reserve; Yarde was fortunate to hear the final bell a couple of times.
But Yarde was resilient. When there were numerous times that he could have folded, he kept firing back. And his shots didn't reek of desperation; they were practiced blows designed for the expressed purpose of keeping Beterbiev at bay.
In addition, Yarde's previous issues with his gas tank didn't manifest in this fight. Sure, he spent probably too much time on the ropes, but he often fought his way off them and we also must give credit to Beterbiev for putting Yarde in that position. Despite Beterbiev's reputation as being slow, man, can that guy cut off a ring! In truth, Beterbiev is one of those rare fighters with faster feet than hands. I was impressed all fight with his footwork. He constantly made little adjustments with quick lateral movement to find punching angles or to reset that action. And his movement was always purposeful, designed with the sole purpose to win the fight.
Ultimately, what did Yarde in was not his lack of ability or a poor gas tank, but a crafty boxing move. At the start of the eighth, Yarde bent to his right to throw a lead right uppercut and was a little too far out of range for that shot. Recognizing this, Beterbiev immediately unfurled a devastating chopping right hand to the side of Yarde's head. Beterbiev’s punch got there first, sending Yarde to the canvas. Although Yarde beat the count, his trainer, Tunde Ajayi, saw how damaged he was and wisely stopped the fight.
|Beterbiev with his belts after the victory|
Photo courtesy of Top Rank
Beterbiev the Puncher delivered, but the final blow was a result of Beterbiev the Seasoned Boxer, recognizing the opportunity presented by Yarde's split-second error at judging range. That's the fine margin we're talking about and it's why Beterbiev is among the best fighters in the sport. His power will never be overlooked, but his ability to throw the right punch at the right time earned him the victory. Of course, he's a puncher, but in that final moment he once again displayed the makeup of an intelligent boxer. Yarde made a specific mistake, and Beterbiev had the pattern recognition from years of seasoning and the skillset to end the fight from that one ill-advised move from Yarde.
Beterbiev-Yarde was top-shelf prizefighting. It featured thrilling momentum swings and two potential rounds of the year (the fifth and the seventh). Both combatants illustrated their manifold gifts. At the end, Beterbiev had a little too much savvy and craft, and it was that as much as his sledgehammers in his hands that made the difference.
Ultimately, Beterbiev's victory was comprehensive, but not comfortable. He will remember how hard Yarde pushed him, and we will too. It was an example of championship boxing at its finest.