Krushed! Champion Sergey Kovalev KOs Anthony Yarde in the 11th to retain WBO world title in Russia
The referee dispensed with the count in the eleventh after a battered and bruised Yarde was sent crashing to the canvas by a straight left from Kovalev, who completed a successful first defense in his third reign as world champion at 'Traktor' Ice Arena.
It was a classic case of experience against youth in Chelyabinsk, the city close to Russia’s Ural mountains which Kovalev calls home, and on the night Kovalev’s familiarity with the championship rounds and concussive knockout power decided the outcome.
Before the fight, many had not unfairly questioned Yarde’s credibility as a world-level fighter, having earned his shot at the champion via gaining the regional WBO inter-continental belt, bypassing the more traditional route of British and European titles.
Nevertheless, Yarde exuded confidence as he danced slowly down to the ring during his entrance, cooly nodding his head to the music and taking his time, donning a black and gold robe. Kovalev’s appearance in the arena was much more tense, but he too looked sure of himself as he waded through the cries of support from the crowd.
After the respective national anthems chimed out, the ring announcer completed the traditional drawn out introductions of the men in either corner, and the long awaited action was underway.
It was an expectedly cagey first round, with Kovalev coming forward finding range, and Yarde content to box on the back foot and fire off crisp single shots, which occasionally found their target, along with a right hook to the body.
In the second, Kovalev seemed to find his range with the jab, pawing at Yarde’s head and forcing the Londonder to come forward. In the third, the fight opened up with both from the bell landing quick sharp shots, the crowd came alive with shouts of ‘Seryoga’, the diminutive Russian for Sergey, to support their man.
The bout got more intriguing in the fourth round, as Yarde seemed to be holding his own with the champ despite pre-fight doubts of his ability to stick with Kovalev, who was more and more successful coming forward with laser-like straight shots.
Yarde showed the older man no respect by throwing a huge left hook that thudded against the glove of Kovalev, the sound of the punch being more dramatic than its damage.
In the fifth, Yarde got through to Kovalev with a right hand that forced the champion to open up and then proceeded to rip away body shots to the Russian, prompting a lull in the crowd’s intense support. In the final minute of the round Kovalev got through with what looked like the cleaner shots although a Yarde left hand snapped Kovalev’s head to the side.
Kovalev’s better timing showed in the sixth round as he made Yarde miss and when he did the Russian countered well. Yarde seemed to grow in confidence in the following round, jumping into thudding body shots with Kovalev pinned on the ropes, which seemed to very much take their toll on the champion.
Almost no one expected the fight to reach the eighth round, but when it did, it was Yarde who seemed the stronger, landing right hand shots straight down the pipe that eventually stumbled the champion.
From there, Yarde refused to let up and seemed to land at will, battering the champion from pillar to post and landing at will to body and head with devastating effect. For a moment it looked as though the referee would step in and stop the action as Kovalev was bludgeoned into the ropes, breathing with his mouth open and at times appearing to turn away from the rampant Yarde, who seemed as fresh as in the first round.
Yarde was confident enough to roll his shoulder and even look away from his opponent into the crowd.
Kovalev managed to recoup in the ninth and as the fight entered the championship rounds, the Russian did regain some ground, firing off a scorching combination to the head of Yarde who was now sporting a bulge above his right eye, which Kovalev rightly targeted.
It was then Yarde’s turn to be thrown around the ring as Kovalev picked off his man and a fierce onslaught in the final minute almost forced Yarde to crumble under the pressure. When the referee stepped in to call time on the round, the crowd thought the action had been brought to a halt, prompting wild cheers.
In the eleventh round Yarde was looking worn and feeling every bit of inexperience he gave away to Kovalev, who pressed and pressed, cutting off the ring at every opportunity and backing his man up.
The 28-year-old, now with a grotesque mouse over either eye, looked not at the crowd this time but at his corner, his eyes seeming to plead with them to save him from further punishment or at least find an answer to Kovalev’s heavy artillery.
That answer never came and a particularly crushing combination followed by a straight left sent Yarde crashing to the floor and the referee didn’t grant the challenger a chance to rise - he had seen enough. The fight was over and a valiant effort from Yarde ended in defeat at the hands of one of the game’s most feared punchers.
After the fight, Kovalev addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support and dedicating the win to Maxim Dadashev, a former Russian boxer and friend of Kovalev who died after sustaining injuries in a fight in July.
Yarde will surely come again at world level but for Kovalev, the Krusher’s run as world champion continues and now a possible fight with superstar Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez looms.
By Danny Armstrong in Chelyabinsk