Artur Beterbiev could be in a situation like Deontay Wilder was, warns Anthony Yarde’s trainer

It’s been almost a year since Artur Beterbiev extinguished the violent challenge of Anthony Yarde in London.

The 19-0 (19 KOs) world light-heavyweight champion overcame an inspired Yarde in one of the best fights of 2023, and Beterbiev fights for the first time since, around a year on, when he fights Callum Smith in Quebec on Saturday (January 13).

Smith, the former world super-middleweight champion from Liverpool, moved up in weight in 2021 after losing his titles to Canelo, but he – like Beterbiev – has struggled with inactivity.

Beterbiev-Yarde was a physical, violent tussle, and the man who was in the opposite corner from Beterbiev that night, Tunde Ajayi – Yarde’s trainer – is keen to see what the battle took out of the 38-year-old champion. 

“Put it like this, with the [Deontay] Wilder situation, I want to see the effects of the Tyson [Fury] trilogy [on Wilder], because I know that effected Tyson; those three fights effected Tyson in some way,” Ajayi explained. “Obviously Tyson hasn’t lost, but we still hadn’t seen the effects of the Tyson trilogy on Wilder, because he’d only boxed for about two minutes [against Robert Helenius] since the third fight. I said I would be able to ascertain after three rounds after the [Joseph] Parker fight and after three rounds I said, ‘He’ [Wilder]s done’, and it’s the same with Beterbiev.” 

Yarde did not box again for eight months after Beterbiev, but he is younger and arguably has a far lower mileage than the former Russian amateur star. 

“I want to see the effects of the Yarde fight [on Beterbiev],” Ajayi added. “If he’s not affected, then I don’t see this [Smith] fight going passed halfway, in Beterbiev’s favour. If he’s affected, then Callum Smith’s in with a good shout. We’re talking about a disruptive force in Beterbiev. We can’t say his best days are behind him, because he seems to be getting better, but that [Yarde] fight was a hard, hard fight, on both kids [Beterbiev and Yarde]. But Ant’s the younger person and Beterbiev is nearing the age of 40 now, so we just don’t know.”

Beterbiev-Smith had been due to take place in August, but Beterbiev suffered a bone infection in his jaw that pushed the bout right back until next weekend. It means Smith has been out of the ring some 17 months, too.

“I think the rest… they’ve played that one well,” Ajayi continued, discussing Beterbiev’s team. “They’ve done the same thing with us. The first fight was cancelled, they pushed the date back to January and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’ve done the same thing again. They’ve cancelled the original date and got this fight in January to give Beterbiev proper time to rest his body, recuperate and go again. That’s either a coincidence or a smart gameplan.”

There are a lot of moving parts at 175lbs. Dimitrii Bivol has reportedly signed to fight Beterbiev, should he get through Smith. But Yarde is set for a return later this month before setting his sights on a major bout and, early in February, Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez meet in a hot all-London battle.

“It's funny how history repeats itself,” Ajayi smiled. “If you remember, we were standing in the way of [Sergey] Kovalev v Canelo [Kovalev stopped Yarde a few weeks before boxing the Mexican], and now Smith is standing in the way of Bivol and Beterviev, and these bookmakers don’t usually get things wrong. I’m sure Callum isn’t worried about that, but they’ve already set up the next fight, which they’d done with Wilder and Anthony Joshua, but we saw what happened there. It’s all interesting.” 

Ajayi wants major fights for his charge, Yarde. He wants Yarde to be among the winners of whoever is left standing between Smith, Beterbiev, Bivol, Azeez and Buatsi. Smith has his own plans, of course, and wants to kick-on and unify against Bivol after scalping Beterbiev in Quebec.

And Ajayi thinks the 29-1 Liverpool star has the potential to cause an upset.

“I do rate him,” Ajayi said of Smith. “You’re as good as the person in front of you and you can only get certain shots off dependent on the person in front of you. Now if you look at it, I look at Smith’s biggest win and really it’s against George Groves, who was at the end of his career – and George was like a one-armed man [with shoulder injuries]. I look at it like his [Smith’s] two best fights are British title fights [Groves and John Ryder]. I don’t know how good he is. He never showed up against Canelo. Canelo is a smaller guy who really just punched him up for 12 rounds, so you’re talking about someone [in Beterbiev] who’s got 100 per cent KO ratio in the weight above. I’m interested to see how good Callum Smith is. I’ve always rated him. I think he’s a brilliant fighter. But it’s like Ant [Yarde], Ant got his credit because he’s given Beterbiev the hardest fight of his career. Now Callum Smith is in that situation where, hopefully, he’s in the right place at the right time, and he brings it home for the Brits, because it’s all exciting for the British guys if Callum Smith wins.”