Anthony Yarde wants Joshua Buatsi bout as the boxing business at light-heavyweight picks up

Dimitrii Bivol, Artur Beterbiev, Callum Smith, Anthony Yarde, Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez… The action at light-heavyweight is coming thick and fast.

Bivol defended his WBA title against Lyndon Arthur last month in Saudi Arabia. Beterbiev takes on Smith in Quebec on Sunday to defend the WBC, WBO and IBF belts. Yarde is set to box later this month in London and the rescheduled bout between Buatsi and Azeez will take place in Wembley Arena on February 3.

There are a lot of moving parts, with Bivol claiming he has signed to fight Beterbiev in Saudi providing the three-belt champion gets through Liverpool’s Smith on Saturday.

Meanwhile, London’s Anthony Yarde is waiting in the wings. 

He has boxed just once since losing a bruising Fight of the Year contender to Beterbiev a year ago, and he and Buatsi – a 2016 Olympic bronze medallist – have been rumoured rivals for years. They know one another and have been pictured together before. Buatsi-Yarde would do big business in the UK, and Buatsi would need to get by tough former sparring partner Azeez first.

But Yarde’s trainer, Tunde Ajayi, said the Buatsi fight is one Yarde has always been open to.

“Ant went on Sky [Sports] and said, ‘Let’s fight’,” explained Ajayi. “Listen, it’s always been Buatsi’s side – maybe not Buatsi personally – but Buatsi’s side that have tried to push for that fight and for me it was always like, ‘Why would an Olympian that’s come up with so much want to be fighting a 12-fight amateur novice who’s already fought for world titles when you haven’t even fought for one world title?’ So that doesn’t make sense. But Ant wants the fight. He believes the time is now. So providing Buatsi can get through Dan [Azeez] – which I don’t think is going to be as easy as everyone thinks – then we see where we are after that. We want world titles and stuff, but it’s the fight everyone has asked for for years; the TV companies, everybody wants it. It’s always been timing for us.”

Buatsi’s amateur pedigree, as highlighted by Ajayi, sets him apart. But Yarde has learned the hard way, in losing title fights in Russia against Sergey Kovalev and in London against Beterbiev. Many would say his stock rose in both defeats. He was also outpointed by Lyndon Arthur, but avenged that loss with a stunning stoppage win. 

But Ajayi contends that Buatsi might be on a different path to Yarde, and therefore they could be headed in different directions.

“Virgil Hunter [who trains Buatsi] said, ‘Why should we give Yarde a chance if we’re No. 1 for Bivol?’ So I don’t know,” Ajayi added. “The trainer is saying that, the fighter is saying he’s ready, the TV company is saying it’s ready, but then – if Azeez wins – where does that leave it? The whole game of the light-heavyweight division is so interesting. Let’s say Beterbiev beats Smith, he fights Bivol in March, which I don’t think is going to happen [the fight, not the win], the winner of that… obviously the belts become fragmented and by the end of the year, hopefully you get an all-British world title fight, whether that is Callum Smith, Dan Azeez against Yarde, Buatsi against Yarde, it’s all Yarde. It’s always Yarde. It’s going to be Yarde against someone else for that vacant title, if the script goes the way the powers that be want it to go.”