By Alan Hubbard
A couple of years ago at one of Frank Warren’s charity boxing nights I introduced Anthony Yarde to John Conteh and told him: If you turn out to be half as good a this fella you will be a world champion.
The pair struck up an instant rapport as fellow light-heavyweights, and Conteh, now a sprightly 67, and an MBE, said he had been deeply impressed by what he had seen and heard of the equally personable east Londoner.
In some ways they are alike in terms of temperament and talent and like the Conteh of old Yarde can box and bang.
There is no finer example of a good life after boxing than the former world light-heavyweight champion who retired from the ring to become a brilliant raconteur, great golfer and tireless charity worker while retaining his Scouse charm and handsome looks – and, give a pound or two, the physique of his fighting 39-fight heyday in the seventies.
I grew up journalistically with the Liverpool larruper and watched him progress from amateur champion to Commonwealth Games champion, British and European champion and finally world champion, a title he defended three times.
Unequivocally I say he is the finest British boxer I have seen over the last 50 years or so, nudging just ahead of Joe Calzaghe and Ken Buchanan.
Joining my six of the best are Lennox Lewis, Howard Winstone and Dave Charnley with Ricky Hatton, Nigel Benn and now Josh Warrington and Tyson Fury completing my top ten.
Those of us if a certain vintage will recall what a tremendous fighter Conteh was. Currently there are some 17 weight divisions with around a hundred fighters claiming titles plus a myriad of sanctioning bodies and three ringside judges.
In John’s day there were just eleven divisions each represented by a single champion and only two governing authorities, the WBC and WBA. And they fought over 15 rounds with the referee (in Britain anyway) the sole arbiter.
And what a torrid, pulsating 15 rounds they were when the smooth, stylish Merseysider, then aged 23, won the WBC light-heavyweight title against the Argentinean tough guy Jorge Ahumada at Wembley on October 1 1974, referee Harry Gibbs – surely the best there has ever been – holding his alarm aloft.
Conteh, mixed it with some of the best 175-pound warriors of his generation in a nine-year career that had more than its share of controversies inside and outside the ropes.
Never mind Chris Eubank. In my view Conteh, at his peak, was Simply The Best.
And it is good to see him still in there punching his weight in life after boxing.
One would like to be able to say the same of the likeable 27-year-old Yarde in a couple of decades.
I have liked him from the off. He is a muscular fitness fanatic, a talented footballer and athlete who had trials at QPR and was a sub-11-second 100m sprinter; probably more athletic than Conteh and under the excellent Tunde Ajayi, the unconventional trainer he calls ‘Uncle’, he is now on his way to developing the Scouser’s ringcraft and charisma.
Tunde says of Yarde: “There’s a misconception that he’s just a monster puncher and all the other contenders have more skills than him. That’s only because Anthony hasn’t come out of first gear yet. Down the road, against elite opposition, you’ll see the best skills ever from him.”
Next up for Yarde (17-0 with 16 ko’s or stoppages) is the tricky and tough bearded man from Baltimore, Travis Reeves, who has suffered only one defeat in his last 17 fights, that in a challenge for the IBO world title against Karo Murat. He last fought in January at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, where he recorded a unanimous points victory over Lanell Bellows. The fight takes place on Friday 8th March at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall, live on BT Sport.
One would assume given that Yarde is number one in the WBO rankings, that perhaps a date with the Russian powerhouse Sergey Kovalev, who has regained the title, is soon to be on the table.
However, time is on Yarde’s side and he referenced Anthony Joshua when mapping out his own career.
He told BT:”Talk about experience, Anthony Joshua won an Olympic gold medal and he fought for a world title in his fourth year as a professional.
“He had loads of amateur fights, loads of experience. I’m still in my third year as a professional and already people are talking about me fighting for a world title, so there’s no need for me to rush.”
As they say, the best things come to those who wait.
TIP FOR THE TOP: Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren’s latest recruit is a cheeky chappie from South London, Denzel Bentley, (8-0) a quick-firing middleweight (8-0) with a hand grenade in his fists and a quip on his lips. Royal Albert Hall fans will like him a lot when he debuts there under the burgeoning Queensberry banner on Friday March 8. Bentley blasted out his first two pro opponents in a total of 88 seconds and his third in just 98 seconds. All but one of his eight bouts have failed to go beyond the second round. Just don’t blink.