By Alan Hubbard
John Conteh MBE, the smooth-as-silk Scouser who held the 175lb world championship from 1974-1978 is surely the finest light heavyweight Britain has ever produced and arguably the best of British boxers from the post war years.
So he is eminently qualified to give Anthony Yarde the benefit of his wisdom as the 27-year-old Londoner prepares in Russia to challenge WBO title holder Sergei ‘Krusher’ Kovalev this Saturday night. And Conteh’s sage message can be boiled down to just three words: “Get stuck in!“
“What he has to do is go for it from the bell and don’t let up.” argues Conteh. “Keep on him and at him. Let him know who’s boss from the start so come out punching and just don’t stop. Not only will that catch the eye of the judges but it might well flummox Kovalev who won’t be used to be being roughed up.
“ I have not I have not seen that much of Yarde since his early days but he impressed me as a really good fighter with all the qualities of a potential world champion.
“He can punch and box but of course so so can Kovalev but what Yarde must do is make the most of the nine years advantage he has over the Russian. You can see he is super fit he and is unlikely to run out of stamina whereas Kovalev might if it goes into the championship rounds.
“I give Yarde more than a fighting chance. It will be difficult for him as he is fighting in Kovalev’s home town and I know all about facing ppoinents in that situation myself. You must ignore the crowd and concentrate only on the man in front of you.
“Kovalev may have had twice as many fights but he is 36 now and the legs may not be what are used to be. So I’d say to Anthony, go for it and give it your best shot. Get right under his skin.
“It could be a terrific fight and if he perseveres he can do, it.But he must be the constant aggressor and try not to take a backwards step.”
In other words Yarde must not give Kovalev an inch.
Conteh‘s wise words virtually echo those given by Frank Warren in his column here this week. He points out that twice-beaten Kovalev does not always respond well to pressure or to someone who has the temerity to hit back.
I agree with their assessments. Ultimate victorybis ultiumately in Yarde;s powerful hands.
Yarde is a is a different type of fighter to Conteh, now a successful, after-dinner raconteur, keen golfer, charity auctioneer, and at 68 as trim and handsome as ever at only a few pounds over his fighting weight. But they both have the same inbuilt self-confidence and determination.
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.
Conteh retired after winning one final fight – his 39th – against American James Dixon in home-town Liverpool in May 1980.
Never mind Chris Eubank. In my view Conteh, at his peak, was simply the best British boxer I have seen. I rank him at the head of a superb bunch of five, together with lightweights Dave Charnley and Ken Buchanan, featherweight Naseem Hamed and super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe.
Ok, so there are arguments for others including Eubank, Nigel Benn, Howard Winstone, Ricky Hatton and Carl Froch but for me Conteh remains the outstanding British fighter of the post-war generation. And it is good to see him still in there punching.
And in there punching is exactly where Yarde must bein the Russian industrial city of Chelyabinsk. deep in the heart ofvthe Urals, a thousand miles or so from Moscow..around tea time here on Saturday evening.
A natural athlete who has a speed of a sprinter and the deft footwork of a footballer(botyh of which he was) ,has been brave enough to take this fight on Kovalev’s doorstep. Now he must continue in the same courageous front-foot mode and be the aggressor throughout what seems destined to be a pulsating punch-up for BT viewers to savour.
The Krusher is not quite the savage brute he was when he came here to dismantled Nathan Cleverely,. But he can still bang.
Providing he can evade those jaw-rattling and rib cracking left and right hooks which come from Krusher with love I believe Yarde can secure a stunning stoppage victory late in the fight.
But if it goes to a points decision my fear that we may see a repeat of the sort of arithmetic jiggery-pokery which tarnished the Wilder-Fury fight.
Sergey Kovalev v Anthony Yarde for the WBO world light heavyweight title is live and exclusive on BT Sport 2 from 5pm on Saturday