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Struck by family tragedy, Anthony Yarde defiantly resumes quest for a world title
The Beast makes his first televised ring appearance since losing a WBO light-heavyweight world title fight against Sergey Kovalev last August exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD this Saturday night.
“One thing I’ve learned is to separate emotion from what you’re doing in the boxing ring,” Anthony Yarde told BBC 5Live in May.
On Saturday night, he faces arguably the toughest test of that mentality as he returns to action for the first time since being struck by family tragedy five months ago.
In a year that has heaped misery on millions, the Hackney fighter’s story stands out among many as one of the most painful in 2020 so far.
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On April 3, Yarde announced the crushing news his grandmother had passed away from coronavirus just a week after losing his father to the virus.
"It’s one of those things you have to get by,” he explained.
"No-one expected it or is prepared to deal with it, so you just have to get past it."
A little over a year ago, Yarde’s father was alongside him in the remote Russian town of Chelyabinsk watching his son’s maiden world title attempt against the great Sergey Kovalev.
Lockdown has taught me tomorrow is not promised
- Anthony Yarde
Now Yarde goes into a potentially dangerous showdown against game domestic rival Dec Spellman fighting in his father’s memory – an unimaginable position barely 12 months ago.
“When it comes to anything that causes an emotional trigger I try to clear my head.
"Nine times out of 10 the smarter or mentally focused fighter comes out on top."
Even for a man who practises this mindset, Yarde could be forgiven for finding the idea of returning to the ring daunting given what he has endured during lockdown.
“They [his father and grandmother] passed three days apart. It was a very bad situation for everyone really,” Yarde revealed during a chat with BT Sport’s Steve Bunce in June.
“Everyone had to stay as close as they could. There were ups and downs throughout the whole thing but you’ve just got to keep going.
“It’s been a rollercoaster to be honest. But I see it as another opportunity to strengthen myself mentally and physically.
“One thing that lockdown has taught me is that tomorrow is not promised.
“Work every day and enjoy every day as it could be your last. That’s not even me thinking negatively, I’m a positive person. That’s just reality. We keep it moving man.”
Like many other fighters across the boxing world, Yarde’s professional future has been in constant flux during the course of the pandemic.
A long-awaited April 11 showdown against domestic light heavyweight rival and reigning Commonwealth champion Lyndon Arthur was moved to July before being shelved until a later date in 2020.
In the meantime, Arthur blew off the cobwebs with a dominant 12-round win over Dec Spelman at the BT Sport Studios on July 31 – a performance Yarde will be aiming to emulate when he faces Spelman in the same venue this weekend.
“The Beast” came within a whisker of world championship glory in Russia last summer when only his inexperience prevented him from finding the finish during a pivotal, pulsating, eighth round.
“I said I was going to hurt Kovalev at some point, which I did, and that I was going to go for it.
“I’m not ashamed, I’m not embarrassed, I’m not in regret about the way I did things. The only thing I think I should have done differently was how composed I was once I hurt him. That’s the only little tweak I would have made.
“I would rather it happened the way it did than it went to points and I believed in my heart that I won but they gave the decision to him.”
On the face of it, Dec Spelman’s 16-4 record might show a steady but unspectacular fighter awaiting Yarde his weekend – but it could be canny matchmaking on behalf of Frank Warren in allowing Yarde to demonstrate his learnings from the Kovalev fight against a man who has never been stopped.
But despite entering the ring on Saturday night at the BT Sport Studios a heavy betting favourite to defeat Scunthorpe’s Spelman, Yarde knows the job is not done until his hand is raised in victory.
“I feel like every fight is a dangerous fight. I’ve always had that mentality,” he said.
“You can’t take anyone lightly. You can’t feel like you’re gonna fight this guy and fight this guy next. If you have a mentality as a boxer, you have to stay active, keeping winning your fights, keep learning. But if you’re having a fight just to pass time or get someone out of the way, that’s not a good mentality.
“I personally believe any fight is risky. Boxing is not like football or basketball. Every fight could potentially be a boxer’s last fight.
“Don’t take anything for granted. Fight for the right reasons.”
Watch Anthony Yarde v Dec Spelman on BT Sport 1 HD and BT Sport Ultimate from 7.30pm.