Light heavyweight unified champion Artur Beterbiev puts his three world titles on the line when he faces Anthony Yarde on Saturday (ESPN+, 3:30 p.m. ET).
Beterbiev seems unbeatable, with 18 knockouts in 18 fights, 13 of those inside five rounds. Yarde has won his last three fights by stoppage and is seven years younger than the champ, but does he have the right game plan — and the tools — to beat Beterbiev?
Former two division champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. wrote letters to each fighter to offer what he would consider the game plan and breaks down their paths to victory.
Dear Mr. Beterbiev,
I highly anticipate your upcoming match against Antony Yarde. Champ, your last performance against Joe Smith Jr. was by far the best performance of your career. You finally put it all together. You used lateral movement, which helped you defensively and assisted in your offensive setups.
As you are probably aware, Yarde is a quick twitch boxer/puncher who likes to dictate the pace by coming forward to initiate his offense. Instead of committing immediately, use your lateral movement and draw him in to set up your counters. First, of course, you must control the space between you and him with a solid jab. Yarde will use preset slot changes A, B and C with head movement out at a distance. You can time his head movement with your strong jab, primarily because Yarde uses his jab more as a rangefinder than as a primary weapon. Look out for the left hook of Yarde, as he tends to sweep with it sparingly to catch you coming inside. Feinting him will help throw him off timing and will allow you to eventually set him up with a right hand. Please note that Yarde’s head usually stays on the line of fire when throwing the left hook. So take advantage of the opportunity.
As you know, timing can beat speed, and so can altering tempo and rhythm during sequences upon separation. The spontaneous attack is something you do very well — it’s natural and intuitive — but don’t hesitate to go to Yarde’s body early as Yarde isn’t the best at defending against body shots. Straight right hands to Yarde’s midsection will take his awareness away from his head and shift it to protect his body. Perhaps his head will then be exposed for your looping right hand. Champ, adjust your tempo round by round, slowly evaluating your punch output and pressure. Yarde tends to fade in the second half due to his heavy muscle tone. His technique will fail him, too. His reflexes will slowly diminish, his footwork will slow down, and he will become more of a stationary target due to the pressure and heavy shots accumulated. As his batteries continue to drain out, Yarde will fight back, but just like someone in quicksand, the more he fights, the worse off it will be for him. Your objective should be to get mid-range to the inside, where Yarde is limited and vulnerable. The jab is the key to opening the gate for your divine assaults.
Good luck champ,
Timothy Bradley Jr.
Dear Mr. Yarde,
You should be extremely excited about this opportunity. You have earned this fight and can very well pull this one off with your boxing skills and proper strategy. I understand that you and your team may already have a game plan, but I’ve decided to create my own that I would like to share with you. Mr. Yarde, it will not be easy. You must rely on your mind and strength to stay strong throughout the 12 rounds to earn the win. You were born with first-alert reflexes and quick twitch muscles to avoid whatever nature throws at you, so use them to create offense and defense.
To succeed early, you should use your swift hands and fast-blazing combinations to gain control and contain Beterbiev. Get respect and keep him at bay momentarily. It would help if you project confidence, one that could send Beterbiev the message that ‘I am here to win and I’m faster and more athletic than you.’ It’s essential to gain a physiological edge right away. The only response you will receive in return from Beterbiev is more aggression or a slight shift in his tempo. Please stay alert but also relaxed at the same time. Doing so will help you see the openings as they concur.
Believe it or not, you have the gift to slow down the pace of a fight with your upper body feints and indirect hand gestures, and by having your feet set to punch momentarily in spots to give off the impression of a skilled chess match. Perhaps, your heavy hands and reflexes assist in this ability. The more space between you and Beterbiev, the better. This will give you sufficient time to evaluate and see Beterbiev’s punches as he rushes in, so be sure to counter them. You need to anticipate his jab followed by shuffling feet as Beterbiev looks to get inside and tries to follow up with a looping right. Beterbiev makes many mistakes but gets away with them because of his punching power.
Your escape routes when retreating should vary but moving toward and out (to your right) from Beterbiev’s right hand should help you avoid and steer clear of his provocative attack. Exiting the weak side (towards Beterbiev’s jab hand) as often as possible will take away the right hand upstairs but open up the hook for Beterbiev. So hold the phone — put your hand to your ear to block — anticipate it, and get underneath it. I hope you’ve been working on your jab, as it is a much-needed asset because not having a stiff, sound jab will be to your disadvantage and allow Beterbiev to leap inside with his own jab to set up his devastating looping or straight right hand.
Beterbiev’s right hand is a lethal punch that can wrap around your head or someplace near or on your ear. That will cause an unwanted response, and I assure you, you don’t want to feel it.
Nevertheless, it would be best if you took a few things from Oleksandr Gvozdyk as he was up on the scorecards against Beterbiev at the time of the stoppage. First, he precisely attacked Beterbiev with straight punches to the midsection. Second, Gvozdyk changed levels often with combination and movement after that (to the right). Finally, Gvozdyk mounted his attacks by occupying the head with sharp three-piece combos, forcing Beterbiev into a high guard and exposing his body, which allowed Gvozdyk to land clean shots and keep him off balance.
So keep your punches tight with your chin tucked. Do not lead with hooks or stand still for more than two seconds at a time. When he gets too close, find a window to step inside to tie him up and quickly walk him back to the center of the ring and release and fire. Please refrain from the ropes at all costs. And demand the fight to be fought in the center of the ring. Good luck!
Timothy Bradley Jr.