Sergey Kovalev v Anthony Yarde: British fighter faces 'brutal' test in Russia

Anthony Yarde has never faced an opponent of Sergey Kovalev's calibre
Anthony Yarde has never faced an opponent of Sergey Kovalev's calibre
Sergey Kovalev v Anthony Yarde
Venue: Traktor Sport Palace, Chelyabinsk Date: Saturday, 24 August
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Anthony Yarde faces "one of the most severe tests ever for a British boxer on the road" when he challenges Sergey Kovalev on Saturday, according to the 5 Live Boxing team.

Yarde, 28, has travelled to Kovalev's home city of Chelyabinsk in a bid to claim the WBO world light-heavyweight title from the decorated Russian.

Kovalev - a three-time world champion at light-heavyweight - even has a gift shop dedicated to him in the city according to 5 Live analyst Steve Bunce.

Here, Bunce, 5 Live Boxing's Mike Costello and big names including Tyson Fury and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson have their say on a fight which even brings an obscure training system under the spotlight.

'This is extreme'

Bunce points to the status Kovalev enjoys in Chelyabinsk
Bunce points to the status Kovalev enjoys in Chelyabinsk

Yarde has won all 18 of his fights - 17 via knockout - but is underdog with the bookmakers in what will be his first world title bout.

Kovalev, 36, has fought for a world title in each of his last 15 outings and has three defeats in a 37-fight career, two of which came against pound-for-pound great Andre Ward.

Bunce told the 5 Live Boxing podcast: "This is not just Russia, it's the far eastern part of Russia to fight the great Kovalev - an enormous task, one I would argue is one of the most severe tests ever for a British boxer on the road.

"I'll tell you this though, this kid Yarde doesn't care, his trainer doesn't care. If anything, the man inconvenienced is Kovalev. He will be leaving the delights of his homes in Los Angeles to fly home to where every man and his dog will want a piece of their icon, their idol.

"I am bothered that Yarde gets a fair crack of the whip. History tells you that the more severe the place you travel to, it's harder to come away with a win. I would say this is extreme. I think this is a brutal ask for young Yarde."

Yarde wants Rock finale

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has given Yarde the green light to use a celebratory pose he adopted in WWE
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson has given Yarde the green light to use a celebratory pose he adopted in WWE

Kovalev has much riding on a victory, not least a potential fight with boxing's best-paid fighter Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez next.

Yarde meanwhile has been in Twitter conversation with WWE legend Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson about the prospect of using a pose and one of his catchphrases in the ring should he win.

"There hasn't been any fear or butterflies or nerves," Yarde told 5 Live Boxing. "It's not that I am taking him lightly, I know how big the occasion is.

"On paper I am still a novice at the embryonic stage of my career. I had 12 amateur fights, 11 didn't go three rounds. I've had 18 professional fights, 17 finished in the distance. So in terms of how much time I have in the ring I am very limited in experience. I have never gone 12 rounds or fought the calibre of Kovalev.

"But there will always be doubts until it's done. When you truly believe in something and are working towards it, for me it is just inevitable. All that is in my mind is Yarde winning by knockout. That will be on the news and in the papers and is all that exists in my mind."

'System 9'

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Anthony Yarde's workout

Kovalev shot to prominence when he ruthlessly dismantled Britain's Nathan Cleverly in four rounds in Cardiff in 2013 to claim a world title for the first time.

The win changed his life and that of his promoter Egis Klimas, who had moved to the US as a Lithuanian immigrant in the 1980s and found work folding Pizza Hut boxes before forging a path to success.

Yarde is still seeking such a breakthrough win but his trainer Tunde Ajayi insists a self-devised system to teach the sport means his fighter is ready.

Ajayi's system - named 'System 9' - has been mocked by many. It involves minimal sparring, endless repetition during pad workouts and, he says, can never be completed, meaning a fighter can't reach a ceiling while following it.

He has at times likened it to following a grading system used in karate.

"I have never judged Anthony on his opponents or his fights, I base things on where he is in the system," explains Ajayi. "I know for him to compete at a certain level he needs to be at a certain point in the system. A year with me is like five years in traditional boxing and Anthony has put in the work."

Costello added: "Tunde has come in for a lot of stick and this fight could be the endorsement of all he has been saying about building a fighter to a world title.

"The main thing for me is sparring. He says in limiting sparring it minimises damage but everyone I have spoken to says it is absolutely crucial. As with any trainer in any sport, he needs an endorsement. If Yarde wins there will be people queuing at his door."

Bunce said: "I hate to sound old school but you have to spar and there has to be a degree of hard contact in the build-up to a fight of this magnitude. I think there are some hard spars that go on behind closed doors, maybe just not six weeks' worth. My one fear here is if Anthony Yarde just falls short people will try to crush Tunde."

'The highest level' - predictions

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Watch Anthony Yarde do 'the human flag'

Tyson Fury: I really do fancy Yarde. I think Kovalev is on the slide. A good young man should beat a good older one. I fancy Yarde to stop him.

Deontay Wilder: I like Yarde, everything about him. I like Kovalev too but I think he has been there so I am going with the young kid, Yarde.

Joe Calzaghe: Yarde is an experienced fighter but I think it might be a bit too soon for him. I think Kovalev has a bit too much experience.

Mike Costello: What we have seen from Yarde on the outside is not enough to beat Sergey Kovalev there is no doubt about that. Yarde is very keen on leading off with a left hook but that is dangerous. Somebody like Kovalev, if sharp, will find room for that right hand over the top. Yarde will find the level and accuracy of punching coming at him so much greater than he has faced before and Kovalev also has a high work rate.

Andre Ward: At the highest level, it doesn't matter how good you do pad work, how big your muscles are, you have to show you have the conditioning, show you have the IQ, you have to show you can take it and dish it out. Your team will be under pressure and in Russia too, you will be under pressure. I see Kovalev winning, maybe stopping him.

Carl Frampton: Yarde looks the part. It's alright looking the part against lesser opposition. I hope he does it but if I had £1 to stick on either I'd stick it on Kovalev.

Kovalev has contested a world title in each of his last 15 fights
Kovalev has contested a world title in each of his last 15 fights

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