Watch out for Anthony Yarde. The rising star of boxing has the chops, the smarts and the charisma of a major contender, an icon of the future. Photography: William Cooper-Mitchell.
Anthony Yarde, boxer, The Beast, glides into Peacock Gym, east London all relaxed confidence. He wears a black, wide-lapelled, sheepskin coat, like a 1970s gangster, like Apollo Creed. “Hey champ,” someone says. The star arrives. Make no mistake.
Even if you don’t like boxing, you have to respect boxers. Even people who hate boxing adore Muhammad Ali or think Mike Tyson was hilarious in The Hangover. Despite some of the lunkheads who climb into the ring, boxing has nobility: you need balls to invite another man to swing his fists at you in a 25-square-metre cage. Kudos to photographer Will who climbed into the ring during training, risking fists and elbows to the face to capture shots exclusively for Disorder magazine. “Can you just slow down a bit?” Will quips.
Contrary to the boxer stereotype, Anthony has brains. He has good manners and is a warm, welcoming host. He trains every day, even Christmas. He trains harder than Floyd Mayweather Jr., according to his manager Tunde Ajayi, who knows the former world champ. Tunde has created a new system for training boxers. Anthony spars, but not full out. Tunde says: “So many boxers are punch-drunk before they even have a fight.” The rhythm when Anthony and Tunde work the pads together is like drumming, like a scene from the film Whiplash, minus the abuse. Anthony spars with fighters of different weights and pace: he’s a Light Heavyweight who hits like a Mack truck, but can move lightning fast, ducking under swings, away from punches. He has more variety than Britain’s Got Talent. He dangles his head out as bait but never gets struck. His skill permits him bravado and cheek. Hit and not be hit. Nine professional fights. Eight knockouts in under three rounds. Undefeated.
At 25, Anthony is more than a pugilist; he is a natural athlete. He trained as a runner with Olympic legend Tessa Sanderson. He played rugby, played football. But boxing caught his imagination. Naturally his mum was delighted. Not. He lives with her in Forest Gate, loves her unconditionally, took her last name: Yarde.
“What makes me different as a boxer? The way I think. As human beings the way we think makes everyone unique. Some people are followers, some people are leaders. There are very, very few leaders in the world. Usually leaders become successful. And I’ve always had my own way of thinking,” says Anthony. “When you get in the ring with somebody, it’s you against them. I see it as like an exam. You do your homework at home, study hard and then you take the exam and you pass or you fail. I dedicate myself to the training.”
He is taken with the movie Creed, even though the guy gets hit in the head a lot, not Anthony’s style. “The storyline is very similar to mine,” he says. “Obviously my dad wasn’t a boxer. But how [Adonis Johnson Creed] didn’t want to live off anybody else’s name. He quit his job to follow his dream. I did that. I had a decent job. I worked for a mortgage company called HBOS. It was good money. But it was not me. That’s why when I walk in the gym I’m happy.”
Like Adonis, Anthony is a relative latecomer to the sport, five years later than most kids start with boxing. But he reckons it’s an asset: “Timing is everything. You have to be very mature to be a boxer. Cos when you go out in front of thousands of people and you’re fighting someone on TV, it’s not an easy task. You have to be mentally ready to do that. You have to be mentally ready to take criticism, mentally ready to take pressure, mentally ready to take expectations, mentally ready not to disappoint anybody or let yourself down. Ask anybody. Boxing has a reputation for being an unforgiving, brutal sport. There’s one or two ways it can go, very good or very bad.”
Anthony is ambitious, not just for his career but for his legend: “I don’t just want to be a unified world champion; I want to be a remembered world champion. There’s so many world champions. There was a world champion in the gym today but you probably wouldn’t ever recognise him. That’s just boxing. But I want to be a remembered world champion, remembered for skill, courage, flair, excitement, good heart. Everything.”