Leaning on the cable, Anthony Yarde looked towards his corner, as if to say that he no longer wanted to return to combat.
In front of him, behind the referee, stood Artur Beterbiev, ready to continue his operation of destruction. Not a butcher’s shop, but a surgical intervention, meticulous and relentless.
There was just over a minute left in the eighth round and the referee asked Yarde to take a few steps forward. The latter obeyed, but the heart was gone. The British boxer did the best he could to dodge his opponent’s last furious charges before his trainer Tunde Ajayi resigned himself and climbed the steps to tell the referee to put an end to hostilities.
To the general amazement of the 20,000 or so vociferous supporters gathered at Wembley Arena in London, who were elated by the solid opposition offered by their favourite, the final of the evening ended thus.
Beterbiev dropped to his knees, savoring his 19e victory and his 19e K.-O., an unprecedented sequence in current boxing at this level. After this mandatory defense, the 38-year-old Montrealer therefore retained his three light heavyweight world champion belts (175 lb), those of the WBC, the IBF and the WBO.
“One day, I hope I will be a good boxer…”, joked Beterbiev on the microphone of BT TV a few minutes after the confrontation. Or maybe he was serious.
The 31-year-old Yarde (23-3) proved to be a high-calibre rival, not backing down from the blows of his dangerous opponent during the bulk of the duel scheduled for 12 rounds.
During the tight first three rounds, each of Yarde’s strikes that hit the target was met with a salvo of approval. In the fourth, however, he bent his knees for the first time when the Quebecer hit him in the face with a left hook and a straight back hand.
The Londoner did not back down. During the break, coach Marc Ramsay urged Beterbiev to play it safe: “You don’t need to rally that much; you only need to control it right now. »
On the restart, the champion was pinched with a solid straight from the right, but he finished the assault by clubbing Yarde in the corner.
The sixth was the most hotly contested. Beterbiev hit with a left hook, while Yarde, who started bleeding from his right eye, booked a left to the nose of his assailant. In the seventh, a header opened the left brow bone of the Canadian, who continued to punish his rival in the corner.
As active as at the start of the clash, the Chechen by birth continued to weave his web until a breaking wave caused this sudden stop with 59 seconds to go in the eighth. A bit like he did against Joe Smith Jr. at Madison Square Garden last year, where the coach of the American had also thrown in the towel.
How difficult was this fight? “All fights are different,” Beterbiev told BT TV. The feelings are different, the preparation is different. Every boxer is also different. I can’t say that I had a bad fight, but if I did it again, I would like to do better. But I feel good. »
The father of the family assured not to have been surprised or shaken by his opponent, who bowed by K.-O. for the third time in his career.
“In this category, all boxers can hit hard. That’s what Anthony did. He’s young [31 ans]. I turned professional at 28. He has time. I wish him well in the future. »
“If I’m honest, we were prepared for all his moves,” he added. That’s why I kept coming back. We expected these blows. »
To the surprise of most observers, two out of three judges gave Yarde the lead after the first seven rounds (68-65, 67-66, 66-67). Ramsay had even warned his protege after the sixth assault. The statistics of the CompuBox computer system, however, favored the champion in almost all categories except power shots.
Yvon Michel, for whom Beterbiev was well ahead, had his explanation. “You have to consider that there were 20,000 spectators who were screaming when Yarde struck,” said the man who analyzed the fight on RDS2. “When Artur hit, it didn’t scream. Boxing is not math. the feeling is there for many. »
The veteran promoter believes Beterbiev was able to adjust after realizing Yarde had a good chin in the fourth. “He was patient, he moved, gave himself angles. He let Yarde think he had chances before popping up at the right time and smashing him. »
“With the quality of the opponents he had in his career, these 19 knockouts. in 19 outings make Artur a unique and exceptional guy”, praised Yvon Michel, still amazed by what he had just seen.
With this victory, Beterbiev erases the bad memory of his previous stay in the British capital, when he lost in the quarter-finals at the 2012 Olympics. “Now I have good memories of London. It’s a beautiful city. »
His next challenge? “I’m waiting for my next job…” Everyone hopes to see him compete against the Russian Dmitrii Bivol, holder of the WBA belt.
“This job would be more pleasant than another. I want Bivol,” concluded Beterbiev, all smiles.
The evening was marked by a surprise among the light heavyweights. Argentinian Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna (29-10) passed the K.-O. in the fifth assault to the undefeated Briton Karol Itauma (9-1), shaken by a right to the head. Maderna, beaten by Beterbiev at the Bell Center in 2016, therefore gets his hands on the vacant WBC international belt.
In his first pro fight, heavyweight Moses Itauma, 18, was more successful than his big brother by laying down Czech Marcel Bode (2-2) in two punches, 23 seconds after the first bell rang …
The duel between Ukrainian Artem Dalakian (22-0, 15 KOs) and Costa Rican David Jimenez (12-1) was the most interesting of the undercard. Dalakian, who is still training in Kyiv, won by unanimous decision after 12 rounds to retain his WBA world flyweight belt.