It was not until the week of last December’s fight with Lyndon Arthur that the true effects of a horrific nine months hit Anthony Yarde.
The light heavyweight was on the comeback trail and preparing for a defining test – a year after suffering the first defeat of his career against then WBO champion Sergey Kovalev.
But Yarde couldn’t keep the thoughts of grief far from his mind. He had lost his father and three grandparents to coronavirus within days of each other in March 2020.
He kept telling himself, “be professional, be professional”, as his fight night with fellow Briton Arthur approached. Yarde had competed in and won a fight just six months after the deaths. That bout helped to keep his mind off the loss, but finally the pain caught up with him.
“Everything that happened that year, it all hit me at the wrong time,” Yarde said.
“Sometimes you get a delayed reaction and it was only in fight week when I started thinking about it consistently.
“I started having tears and battling myself to say, ‘No, I need to be professional and I can’t think about my emotions right now.'”
Arthur was given a split-decision win in a fight that lacked any real action. Yarde was devastated by the result. Looking back on the bout, he cannot recognise himself. “Timid” is how he describes his performance.
“I’m very inexperienced in the ring and usually my mentality helps me a lot,” Yarde said. “But in the fight, I even went back to the wrong corner about three times because my head wasn’t there.
“In the ring, I can’t even explain it. It’s like I wasn’t there. I felt so comfortable but when I watched it back, I couldn’t believe it. When I was in there, it was like a daze.”
So Yarde took himself and his immediate family away. Halfway through a two-week holiday in Mexico, where he would walk on the beach at night and worry about “mermaids” emerging out of the ocean, Yarde began to feel like himself again.
“I honestly feel it’s about giving yourself the time to understand what’s happened and process what’s happened,” Yarde said.
“After a week, I felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted off me. As soon as I got back to London, I called Tunde [Ajayi, Yarde’s coach] and said we needed to have a meeting.
“We all met up and discussed changes that needed to happen. It was a three-hour conversation. I looked at everyone and said, ‘If everyone is carrying on in this journey then you need to be on the same page as me because I’m ready to work’.”
Now Yarde has an opportunity to wipe out the “mark” on his record left by Arthur. His rival will be supremely confident in the rematch, having insisted he beat Yarde with one hand tied behind his back because of an arm injury.
“I went into that fight with two shoulder injuries and a groin problem, but us as fighters, we never speak about it because we’re athletes and this is a battle game,” Yarde said in response.
“I genuinely don’t believe Lyndon has the beating of me in terms of any attribute except for myself. The only reason that fight was so close is because of myself.”
Manchester’s Arthur has a different view. He is confident he can knock out Yarde once he manoeuvres what he expects to be a fast start from the Londoner. “He can’t outbox me so he’s going to have to rush me. He’s going to have to change, but he’ll gas,” Arthur predicted.
Yarde laughed off his opponent’s assessment, saying: “In my career, I’ve not shown any problems with my fitness or my abilities.”
But the 30-year-old has “learned his lesson”, as he puts it. He concedes he should never have been fighting so soon after the death of his father and grandmother and expects if he had gone straight into the rematch, it would have produced the same result.
Yarde says he holds no ill will towards Arthur. He accepts the result, even if he still thinks he won the first fight. He sent Arthur a message after the fight congratulating him, saying: “I know what it means for his career.”
The 30-year-old has not gutted his team as many expected after the second loss of his career. Instead he added former fighter and respected trainer James Cook to his coaching ranks.
“As soon as things go wrong, suddenly I’m a bad boxer who needs to change my team. Everyone becomes an expert,” Yarde said.
“We live in the Floyd Mayweather era. People need to understand Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Julio Cesar Chavez – all these legends had their ups and downs.”
Ultimately Yarde puts the defeat down to his own “decision-making” during the fight made worse by a clouded mind that was on everything but the opponent in front of him.
Yarde, though, was happy to hear Arthur admit to being hurt with a body shot in the final rounds. It gives the Londoner confidence that now he is fully focused, with his “mental screw” back in place, he can gain revenge over his domestic rival.
“There’s no doubt [the loss] was a blessing,” Yarde said.
“With the Kovalev fight, I feel I got too much credit. I didn’t win the fight. I went in there and gave it my all. This fight was completely different because I didn’t give it my all.
“The Beast has come back. They haven’t got me angry, but I’ve learned my lesson.
“I’ll be more of myself. You’re going to get spurts of explosive action. You’re going to get smarter boxing skills and more changes.”