Patient Anthony Yarde rejected Dmitrii Bivol shot as he looks to build, and would welcome a Chris Billam-Smith fight

Anthony Yarde turned down a December shot at Dmitrii Bivol because he wanted more than five weeks to prepare.

Yarde, trained by outspoken coach Tunde Ajayi, was offered the slot that was eventually filled by Lyndon Arthur, who did well to survive the full 12 rounds with Bivol last month.

Yarde has already had two world title fights, making both Sergey Kovalev and Artur Beterbiev work for victories but ultimately coming up short.

Yarde is 24-3 with 23 stoppage wins. His other loss came to Arthur, when Yarde was beset by personal problems, and the Londoner subsequently avenged that loss in destructive style, stopping Arthur in four rounds.

Yarde last fought in September, crushing an outgunned Jorge Silva in two, but Ajayi had hoped Yarde would box again before the end of 2023.

“We are in the gym now,” said Ajayi. “We are going to fight in February. March at the latest. It has to be. One million per cent. We were promised a date in December, it never materialised and I’m very upset about that, because Ant was ready to go. We’re not inactive fighters. We’re in the gym every day, we’re training and we’re ready to fight.”

Yarde lost in Russia to Kovalev in 2019 and to Beterbiev in London a year ago. His stock rose in both defeats, and there are plenty of options domestically and further afield for the heavy-hitting Londoner. But, at 32, he is picking his fights. 

“We were offered the Bivol shot, before Lyndon Arthur, but we’re professionals,” Ajayi added, before saying that both Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez had declined the Bivol shot. “We’re not taking fights at five weeks’ notice against a world-class fighter. No. It’s not a money grab. We don’t need to money grab. We turned down Bivol but in terms of the Saudi offer we got offered that first and we said, ‘No. No way. Not five weeks. Give us a proper camp and we’ll take it’. But the next fight is not that type of fight anyway. The next fight is another runout and then a big fight [will follow]. We were never expecting a 12-round fight. The next fight is scheduled for 10 rounds and we’re ready to go.”

Ajayi has an overview of Yarde’s career. He doesn’t want him going from hard fight into hard fight. He knows his fighter needs ring sharpness, but that can come by getting rounds under his belt without always having a war. The Beterbiev battle was a brutal war, and for many the fight of 2023.

For Yarde, it is about titles. Beterbiev and Bivol may box later this year, but Beterbiev must first get by Callum Smith later this month. Then, it is likely the belt would fragment and Yarde should be firmly in the mix. 

However, Ajayi knows his fighter is big at 175lbs and he would not mind seeing Yarde move up to cruiserweight sooner than later. While Yarde wants to fight the likes of Bivol and Buatsi, Ajayi said Yarde would happily share a ring with WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith. 

It seems as though the Bournemouth fighter could rematch Richard Riakporhe in the spring, and face Lawrence Okolie again in the summer, but Yarde could be tempted by the chance to fight for the cruiser belt if the opportunity arose.

“We would take that,” Ajayi said of a chance to fight Billam-Smith. “We would take that fight. I said for years, Ant’s a cruiserweight, he’s just a disciplined light-heavyweight. Ant would take that fight in a heartbeat. We aren’t diverting from the plan. The plan is to win a world title at light-heavy and then move up to cruiserweight and do the same thing up there. 

“We’re on that mission and we need to get busy. We need to get active. We’re not fighting in a world championship in our next fight. We’re not. We’re doing what we said, which we set out, last year in September, so another fight, another 10-rounder and then we’re ready to go. We didn’t get the 10-rounder we were promised so we’re still going to have another 10-rounder, then we’re ready to go.” 

But the sometimes-controversial Ajayi is full of admiration for Billam-Smith, who had an incredible 2023, beating Okolie for the title and defending it against seasoned Mateusz Masternak. 

“He's a good fighter,” Ajayi continued, discussing the Bournemouth hero. “A very good fighter. Do you know why he’s a good fighter? Because he’s very dedicated, and I always side with dedication more than talent. He’s going to be a hard, hard person to beat, because of that will and that determination and desire and I wish him nothing but the best, as long as he doesn’t come up against us. He’s a good fighter. I like him.”