Over the Christmas period we saw an interesting match up being speculated on featuring English Light Heavyweight Anthony Yarde (17-0, 16) and American based Cuban veteran Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14). That bout didn't get much further than speculation, started by Barrera, but was an interesting match up all the same.
Sadly it was turned down with Yarde's defenders suggesting he wasn't ready, he needed more experience, he needed seasoning take on someone like Barrera.
The Englishman's lack of an amateur career was also put forward as to why taking the bout at this stage would be foolish, with Yarde's amateur career only lasting for about 12 fights.
That got me into thinking about other fighters who lack much in terms of amateur credentials, and how they have been developed. The one that stood out the most was Japan's Masayuki Ito (24-1-1, 12), the current WBO Super Featherweight champion. Ito had 0 amateur fights, and was developed through a very different professional system to the one that has brought Yarde to the point where he is. In fact Yarde, as the WBO's #1 contender, is technically next in line for a WBO world title fight, but supposedly isn't ready for a grizzled veteran like Barrera.
As mentioned Yarde had 12 amateur fights before beginning his professional career in 2015, at the age of 23, and he scored 4 wins during that year, going 4-0 (3). All of those wins came against fighters with losing records, little ambition and who were there to pick up losses and supposedly teach Yarde a few things before losing. They included the then 0-11 Curtis Gargano, who is now 0-51-1, and the then 3-10-2 Tamas Danko, who is now 3-22-2.
Ito on the other hand debuted in 2009, aged 18, and only fought once that year. It wasn't until November 2010 that he would be 4-0. By that point he had most faced domestic novices, who didn't have much of a career afterwards, there was one who had a winning record when Ito faced him but on the whole those opponents were hard to make any sort of note about.
Ito's 5th bout however was a draw with the then 4-0 Tsuyoshi Tameda, in a Rookie of the Year bout, that was a big step up and we've since seen Tameda carve out a name for himself as a big puncher on the Japanese domestic scene. That compares very favourably with Yarde's 5th opponent, David Sipos, an Hungarian who tends to lose whenever he fights outside of Nyíregyhaza, Hungary.
The Rookie of the Year competition is really the building ground for a lot of Japanese fighters. It's a domestic tournament that pits novices against each other, developing the talent of fighters. It's lead to over 20 world champions, with Ito being the most recent, and is a great proving ground for fighters to fight opponents at a similar experience level. In 2012 Ito would win the tournament whilst advancing his record to 9-0-1, 3. Within 10 fights Ito had become Rookie of the Year, had fought to a draw with Tameda and would actually beat Masaru Sueyoshi and Kosuke Saka. Sueyoshi, then 3-0, is the current Japanese Super Featherweigth champion whilst Saka, then 6-0, is a now former Japanese Featherweight champion.
By his 10th fight Yarde had beaten just 1 opponent with a winning record, stopping the then 22-10 Ferenc Albert inside a round. His other 9 opponents all had either losing records, or 50-50 records at best. There was no unbeaten fighters on his ledger, no hungry youngsters looking to build themselves up, just domestic journeymen or very limited visitors.
Interestingly Yarde would claim his first title in his 11th bout, winning the British Area Light Heavyweight title by stopping Chris Hobbs. Hobbs was 6-1-1 and was an obvious step up for Yarde. Yarde would then begin collecting minor WBO titles, beating Richard Baranyi for the WBO European title and Norbery Nemesapati for the WBO Inter-Continental title. Those titles have since been defended against Nikola Sjekloca, Tony Averlant, Dariusz Sek and Walter Gabriel Sequeira as he's climbed up the WBO rankings use those belts as a launch pad for his #1 ranking.
On paper wins over the likes of Baranyi, then 18-1, Nemesapati, then 25-6, and Sjekloca, then 32-4-1, were really good wins. Since then however none have done anything. Baranyi has lost 2 of his 3 bouts, Nemespati hasn't fought, and had lost 4 of his previous 8 suggesting his best days were behind him, and Sjekloca has picked up 3 low key wins. They were all credible wins, but the reality is that none of them have shown any ambition since. It could be that Yarde beat it out of them, or it could be that they were all just starting to slide.
Essentially leads us to where we are now with Yarde. 17-0 (16) with no wins over notable domestic opponents, a string of wins over fringe European level fighters on the slide, and a lack of real substance. A fighter with power and talent, but no real experience and no real desire to change that.
Ito's 12th bout would be a win against Taiki Minimoto, the now reigning Japanese Featherweight champion and his following bout would be his first title bout, a win over Jeffrey Arienza for the WBC Youth Lightweight title. Ito wouldn't defend the belt and would instead go on to face domestic foes. Those domestic foes included the big punching Masao Nakamura in what was Ito's 16th fight. He was the under-dog going into that bout but pulled off an upset win over the former OPBF champion to make fans really sit up, that was his 17th bout and he was still just 23. In his 18th bout he challenged Japanese champion Rikki Naito, and lost a razor thin decision to Naito.
Since losing to Naito we've seen almost every fight from Ito being a step forward. He would win the OPBF title just 6 months after losing to Naito, and would unify it with the WBO Asia Pacific title 16 months later by beating Takuya Watanabe. He would notch up wins a variety of opponents, such as the skilled Shingo Eto, the hard hitting Lorenzo Villanueva and the teak tough Vergil Puton. Every bout served a purpose, other than to add to the number in the win column. Those bouts prepared him for this summer's win over Christopher Diaz for the WBO world title, which it's self was an upset.
It's far to say that after 4 bouts both were similar. Neither had done anything. Ito would then take the lead, winning the Rookie of the Year crown. Ito would continue to face stiff competition but Yarde arguably went above him, winning his first title and his first international before Ito had. Ito however faced challengers who wanted to take the belt from him, unified against a live opponent and took on fighters who fought with ambition, rather than the desire to survive. Whilst Yarde had over-taken Ito in terms of where they were he hadn't developed like Ito had.
There is, of course, time for Yarde to catch up. He's fit his first 18 fights into the same amount of time that it took Ito to fight 9 fights. The difference there however is that Ito debuted as a teenager, he had time on his side, Yarde was in his mid 20's, and hasn't got that huge amount of time to waste treading water.
We would love to see Yarde take a big step up in February, when he returns to the ring, but the feeling is that if Barrera is too seasoned then Yarde won't be in with a top fighter. Instead we may need to wait until he is 28, 29 or even 30 before he fights a top name. It's a shame given that the UK scene at 175lbs has had fighters like Hosea Burton, Frank Buglioni, Callum Johnson, Ricky Summers, Bob Ajisafe and Charlie Schofield all in it in recent years, and now has Joshua Buatsi rising incredibly quickly though the ranks. The fact Yarde failed to face any top domestic fighters is a massive shame, yet it was facing top domestic competition, at the same point in their careers, that has helped make Ito the fighter he is today.
We're not saying Yarde should jump in with Barrera, but it would certainly do his career the world of good to have opponents who have 3 months to prepare, who are ambitious and come to win. Whether that's a top domestic foe, a top European fighter or a fringe world class fighter, he needs someone to give him a fight, and to do it before fans turn away.
We might get proven wrong, Yarde might be able to deliver at the top, but the Light Heavyweight division is expected to become red hot in the coming years, and with the likes of Dmitry Bivol, Marcus Browne and the aforementioned Buatsi all in or around the top there's not going to be a generational shift to open the door to Yarde. In fact if anything the division could be overcrowded with top Super Middleweights like Callum Smith, Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez and David Ramirez all expected to move up sooner rather than later.
(Images courtesy of Frank Warren.com, Boxmob.jp)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).