Ilford puncher Anthony Yarde claims he was forced to join the professional code simply to secure competition.
Eleven big knockouts in 12 amateur fights left rival light-heavies scurrying to the other side of the street whenever his name was mentioned.
In frustration, the 23 year old unarmed assassin penned a pro deal with promoter Frank Warren and he kickstarts his ‘punch for pay’ career in a four rounder at the SSE Arena in Wembley this Saturday.
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Remaining tickets are available from Eventim on 0844 249 1000 or www.eventim.co.uk and SSE Arena, Wembley, on 0844 815 0815 or www.ssearena.co.uk (Disabled Line 0208 782 5629).
Last Friday, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with the Tunde Ajayi trained demolition man to discuss his background and aspirations.
You were a relatively late entrant to boxing. What sports did you participate in, earlier in life?
Actually football was my main focus. I had trials at QPR and played non league for Tunbridge Wells and Wimbledon. But I was scouted for athletics from school and started going to a club in Newham where I was coached by Tessa Sanderson, the former Olympic (javelin) champion.
I was a sprinter. By the age of 16, I was running under 11 seconds for the 100 metres and I was also putting the shot. But if I’m honest, though I enjoyed competing, I only did the training because I felt I had to rather than because I wanted to. Breaking a toe gave me a convenient excuse to stop.
What fuelled your interest in boxing?
Growing up in Stratford and Forest Gate, there were always arguments and, though I’m ashamed to admit it now, I was a very hot headed, bad tempered kid. When I was maybe 12 or 13, two kids tried to steal from me in the streets. In self defence, I hit one and he dropped to the floor, was down for quite a while. The other shied away. That’s when it first dawned I had power.
I was actually big into wrestling before the boxing and, after school, I’d do loads of press ups and stuff with dumb bells to beef up like the WWE guys. But when I was 14, I saw a documentary on Mike Tyson which really intrigued me. I become obsessed with him and started watching fights on the Internet. A football friend said: ‘You’re always talking about boxing. Why don’t you just go and do it?!’
Tell us about your amateur career. You lost just once in 12 bouts and none of your victims lasted the distance!
Around 14, I’d dabbled at a boxing gym in Leyton, just for fitness, but finally started seriously at the Omnibus ABC based at the TKO Gym in Canning Town when I was about 16. I knew I was capable of knockouts with one punch from my street altercations. Before the amateurs, I’d had three white collar fights and won by knockout each time.
The coach there Tony Cesay (the former ABA champion) liked me a lot and gave me plenty of attention, noticed I had natural ability.
My athletics background helped make me explosive but initially I was far too stiff and muscular. Though I hit the bags very hard, I could only punch throw short, quick bursts for a limited time period. I always intended being a heavyweight but it became necessary to lose weight.
I was very raw, just launched haymakers. Tony got me sparring ABA fighters far more advanced than me so I had to learn a jab, become more skilful, hit but not be hit.
But I was a workaholic, training every day, very committed. I don’t like defeat in anything. It that regard, Floyd Mayweather is my template. I started to mould my style on guys like Ali, Mayweather, the Sugar Rays rather than the big punchers.
Clearly you had great potential. Weren’t you tempted to focus on making the GB squad and trying out for the Olympics?
After a few knockouts, my name got around the circuit and it became a joke. About ten successive opponents pulled out last minute, after I’d struggled to make weight.
Personally, I saw the amateurs as a learning curve and would fight anybody. I just wanted as much experience as quickly as possible. But far too many around my weight class were just hell bent on protecting their records. When I entered the Senior ABAs, the officials claimed they’d lost my card! After winning the Haringey Cup, I’d had enough of it.
As a pro you’re coached by ‘Stamina For Sale’ guru Tunde Ajayi. What are his qualities?
Growing up, I didn’t have much contact with my dad. I grew up around women. In addition to mum I’ve two older sisters. My little brother only arrived five years ago.
So Tunde has assumed the role of father figure in my life. He’s the man who instilled the values of discipline and hard work. We’re both hot tempered but have grown to understand each other and now there’s a lot of love there. His training methods revolve around repetition of the basics. The man’s a genius.
And he’s so well connected. In 2013, Tunde took me over to the Mayweather Gym in Vegas prior to Floyd’s fight with Robert Guerrero. I got to watch Floyd train, had a pad session with his Uncle Roger and did some sparring with Anthony Tabiti, a 9-0 cruiserweight over there.
(Ex IBF/WBO heavyweight title challenger) Eddie Chambers tweeted I was the best amateur he’d seen come out of the UK. I really enjoyed the whole experience.
What are your initial aspirations as a professional boxer?
I’ve a strong belief in God and myself. There’s no limits to what I can achieve. Ultimately, I want to be healthy, wealthy and happy.
I’m going to start out at light-heavy and see how I go. I mostly spar heavier guys including (British cruiserweight king) Ovill McKenzie. He tells me I’m strong.
Between now and the end of the year I’d like four fights; more if there’s a few early knockouts. Though I come with a lot of noise, people need to remember I only had 12 amateur bouts. I’ve very little experience so need to learn as much as I can, enjoy myself and embrace my opportunities. One life, one chance!
Finally, what are your thoughts and expectations ahead of your pro debut at Wembley on Saturday?
It’s going to be crazy. I’m confident in my ability but I’m very, very nervous for the occasion.
Wembley is one of the biggest, most prestigious venues. Handling my nerves is going to be a good challenge. Hopefully, I can take my time and have fun, that’s the main thing.
I just want to be pleased with my performance. It doesn’t matter what round but, of course, I definitely want a knockout!