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Anthony Yarde KOs Marko Nikolic in three, paves way for Joshua Buatsi clash; Sheeraz blitzes Williams


Anthony Yarde is in position to take on domestic rival Joshua Buatsi following his third-round KO of Marko Nikolic. Photo: @Queensberry

by Declan Warrington | 

In the days before his date with Marko Nikolic, Anthony Yarde spoke of his desire to fight Joshua Buatsi.

The Ring’s No. 4-rated light heavyweight also spoke of his belief that, in contrast to each of Artur Beterbiev’s other 19 professional opponents, as a consequence of defeat he had considerably improved.

If by stopping the 34-year-old Nikolic in three rounds he indeed demonstrated further signs of improvement, victory brought him considerably closer to fighting Buatsi, who watched his light heavyweight rival from ringside at London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday in a show of intent.

At the conclusion of Yarde’s 25th victory Buatsi was present, and participated, as Yarde spoke on camera. Buatsi is promoted by BOXXER and Yarde – as he always has been – by Frank Warren; their joint-interview was clearly coordinated by TNT Sports, the broadcaster aligned with Warren, and unfolded as seamlessly as the occasions Yarde has appeared on BOXXER’s broadcaster, Sky Sports.

The indications are that their promoters and television networks can be satisfied to allow them to fight this summer in the most appealing rivalry that exists at 175 pounds outside of that between Russian world titleholders Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol.

Beyond them representing domestic rivals, a fight between Buatsi, The Ring’s No. 3-rated 175 pounder, and Yarde would appeal on the grounds of both entering their primes and appearing so evenly matched that after Buatsi’s recent victory over Dan Azeez, Buatsi appeared the favorite, and that Yarde challenged that in victory over Nikolic. Bivol, similarly, had looked the favorite over Beterbiev until in January, Beterbiev stopped Callum Smith.

A victory for Buatsi or Yarde would not only prove the most significant of their promising careers but make them the likeliest to next fight Bivol or Beterbiev. They also represent the opponent likeliest to make the other as ready as they possibly can be for the world’s two leading light heavyweights, such is, beyond the division’s number one and two fighters, the gulf in class that exists.

“I would be at home if I didn’t have interest [in fighting Yarde],” said the 30-year-old Buatsi, having apologized for the perceived “ambush”. “I’m here because I think this should be next. I’m down for it and I’m sure his team feel the same way.

“My answer’s simple and short. I’m ready.”

Whether he has already been preparing himself for Buatsi or whether a more natural evolution was what was unfolding, Yarde – in contrast to the one-dimensional-but-explosive fighter seen in the years before his defeat in 2019 by Sergey Kovalev – showed that he is continuing to improve. His biggest weakness has ultimately been his lack of amateur experience but against Nikolic he showed an increased willingness to target the body, throw combinations, and quicker and more cultured feet.

“This fight between me and ‘JB’ is 100 times bigger [than Buatsi-Azeez],” he responded. “Me and him have both got mutual respect but we’re both fighters; we’ve both agreed to get it cracking. We’ve said it behind the scenes.

“We spoke; we always had in our mind we’d fight. We’d get it cracking. He’s a respectful person; he had a victory.

“I’m ready whenever. It’s about making the deal. If me and Joshua Buatsi could fight for a world title that’d be perfect. If not that’s fine.”

Yarde’s increased mobility had contributed to him impressing with the right hook he landed to Nikolic’s body before then ducking a left at the conclusion of the opening round.

He hurt him again in the second with a right hand the Serbian appeared too willing to go down from, and after Nikolic swung and fell short with a wild right hand, dropped him again with a left to the body that meant he only returned to his feet at nine.

The end came one minute and 15 seconds into the third round, when after a right to the body Nikolic made it back to his feet in eight and watched the referee Lee Every intervene to rescue him from further punishment.

Yarde had impressed on the undercard of one of two significant promotions staged three miles apart on the same evening in London, but there was little question that shortly before his promoter insisted the sought-after fight with Buatsi ought to be staged in a stadium, Yarde – perhaps benefitting from, aged 32, weighing in at 177.7lbs – had been responsible for the biggest show of intent.

Hamzah Sheeraz, The Ring’s No. 10-rated middleweight, later provided the latest demonstration of his vast potential when on the occasion of what was expected to prove the most difficult fight of his career he stopped Liam Williams inside a round.

The middleweight is widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest prospects, and concerns had existed, pre-fight, about the punch resistance Williams may or may not have retained.

Williams – 31 and from Wales – had lost on each of the occasions he had attempted to step up in class, against Chris Eubank Jnr, Demetrius Andrade, and twice Liam Smith, but if he had previously been competitive and resilient, against Sheeraz he looked old.

He was first dropped by a jab, and when the 24-year-old Sheeraz then dropped him more heavily with a powerful right uppercut, Williams’ experienced trainer Gary Lockett started to shake his head to encourage him from fighting on.

Lockett was as aware as any that his fighter no longer possessed the durability required to test a fighter with Sheeraz’s intent and hunger; when he watched him struggling to defend himself and continuing to get hurt, he rightly withdrew him two minutes and 36 seconds in.

“He reminds me of Tommy Hearns, he’s probably got the best jab [around],” Warren said of Sheeraz, before talking up a fight with Eubank Jnr he’s aware is unlikely to take place. “He doesn’t feel you out with it; he takes your head off.”

“The game plan with Ricky [Funez, my trainer] is round by round,” said Sheeraz, who also revealed he hadn’t expected such a swift win. “To base everything off my jab – my jab is my power shot as you saw.”

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