Anthony Yarde was sitting a couple of ringside seats away in the hallowed environs of Madison Square Garden last June as we witnessed one of the most savage destructions of a world champion since Iron Mike Tyson at his most fearsome.
The monstrous reputation of Artur Beterbiev had preceded his first bite at the Big Apple but a perfect all-win professional record of knock-outs was no preparation for the devouring of the native New Yorker who was about to become the 18th casualty of his merciless fists.
Joe Smith Jr had himself inflicted the first, career ending stoppage of the legendary Bernard Hopkins en route to winning the WB0 world light heavyweight title.
Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde go head-to-head at the weigh in for Saturday’s showdown
It was his misfortune that this should be one the belts Berterbiev is hell-bent on collecting on his way to becoming the undisputed champion of that notoriously ferocious division.
Smith came out with all guns blazing only to be mown down by witheringly accurate fire inside two rounds.
It was akin to watching a prize-ring version of the Charge Of The Light Brigade.
Our English boy Anthony could have been forgiven for covering his eyes, But this Yarde bird grew up amid thuggery aplenty in East London’s gangland streets.
The fearsome Russian insists he’s a ‘fun guy’ who turns into an angry ‘beast’ for fights
His is a familiar story of turf wars, knives, guns and nights in police cells survived by finding boxing as a pathway to societal reform. Hence he reports himself unafraid by the prospect of confronting the self-professed Beast from the East at Wembley Arena this Saturday night.
We had flown the Atlantic to take stock of Beterbiev live and up close. As we stood to reflect on the carnage just wrought, Yarde calmly confirmed his willingness to go through with this weekend’s challenge for the WBC and IBF titles as well as that newly-won WBO belt.
‘Yes , this guy’s good,’ he said. ‘Very good, Powerful, Dangerous. But he doesn’t scare me. I’ve seen ways for me to beat him. I, too, have the punch to knock anyone out. And he doesn’t have my speed. Honestly, I see him as my opportunity.’
This, in fact, is Yarde’ second world title chance. With similar optimism and strength of nerve he travelled to Russia only to fall just short of upsetting Sergy Kovalev when stopped late while arguably ahead in the scoring.
Unbeaten Beterbiev currently holds the WBC, IBF titles and WBO light-heavyweight belts
The brevity of his amateur career was cited as the root cause of that failure. That remains a nagging factor in comparison with Bertebiev’s huge pre-professional experience.
Also, while Krusher Kovalev was in decline, this Beast From The East is in his prime. Even at 37. The strength of mind and body to which he was born in the Soviet bleakness of Dagestan, of Chechnyan descent, has been preserved by his strict adherence to the alcohol and drug free Muslim way of life. And by his fierce, often angry, nigh on manic dedication to the physical and mental pursuit of greatness in the ring.
Yarde boasts an impressive ratio of 22 stoppages in his 23 victories but also has two defeats
Bertebiev’s English has improved since he transferred his wife, his four children, his life and his home town as a boxer to Montreal. Even so he misunderstood a question I put to him, wrongly taking it as a slight. His smile gave way to an intense stare as he said: ‘Are you really daring to criticise something about me?’
Not me gu’nor. Mercifully, he grasped my rapid explanation. When he came to London for the announcement of the Yarde fight he explained his Jekyll and Hyde demeanour: ‘| am a fun guy. But when I am hungry coming up to a fight, then I stop being fun. Three days before a fight I stop eating completely and I get angrier and angrier and angrier. Even my friends and family stay away from me in those three days. They know I will be angry because I am hungry. Then I go into the fight as a beast.
‘When it is over I am human again. I want to be good at my job as a boxer now and I want to be a good person for my whole life. Both. And a fun guy. But don’t tell anyone that. Let them think I’m scary all the time. It’s our secret.’
What is no secret is his abiding, perpetual angst for his fellow Russian and rival light-heavyweight champion. Dmitry Bivol sprang to prominence with his shock defeat of Mexican legend Canelo Alvarez in a defence of his WBA title. What Bertebiev does not forgive is that instead of fighting him Bivol has portrayed a differing version of their history .
‘He claims we sparred as amateurs and were friends on the Russian team and that he wants to fight me for the undisputed championship,’ says Bertebiev. ‘He lies. I would never spar with anyone smaller than me, which he was then. He has never been my friend. I have always disliked him. Now, after four years of false promises to fight me, I hate him.’
He does not hate Yarde. He sees Hackney’s mandatory title challenger as an obstacle which must be swatted aside so he might force Bivol into the same ring before they both grow old.
The only world champion with a100 per cent KO record respects that Yarde, too, boasts an impressive ratio of 22 stoppages in his 23 victories but points also to two defeats. And when the Londoner’s speed of hand and foot Is mentioned the countenance darkens and he says: ‘He will find out on Saturday how fast I am.’
It always requires bravery for any boxer to climb through those ropes but what Yarde is attempting now amounts to unflinching courage almost beyond the call of duty.
Should he come through this exposure to violence as unscathed as when he escaped the mean streets of his youth, he will have pulled off an heroic upset far more sensational than that with which Liam Smith shocked Chris Eubank Jr seven days earlier.
*Bertebiev v Yarde will be televised live this Saturday night on BT Sport.