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Boxing returns to Royal Albert Hall with mediocrity and mismatches

Anthony Yarde and Daniel Dubois headline Friday’s show as 1/100 favourites.

Boxing at the 02 Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has been a contributor at Bad Left Hook since 2018.

London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall hosts a boxing show for just the second time in nearly twenty years this Friday, as heavyweight Daniel Dubois and light-heavyweight Anthony Yarde look to edge closer to world level in a card to be streamed on ESPN+.

Not since Billy Joe Saunders stopped Tony Hill for the vacant Commonwealth middleweight title in 2012 has the concert hall in South Kensington been used for such an event, with Frank Buglioni and Bradley Skeete also recording wins on that Queensberry Promotions card.

It’s been a long time coming. Steeped in history, the 5,000+ seats from the Italianate structure have witnessed a vast spectrum of events since its opening in 1871. Proms, opera, ballets, rock concerts and award ceremonies have all found a home inside the intricate walls of one of Britain’s most treasured buildings, but the distinct dichotomy between the grandiose velvet chairs and the claret stained ring makes the Royal Albert Hall one of the most beautifully contradictory venues for our beloved sport.

1918 was the first year that boxing was invited to South Kensington’s jewel in the crown. The contestants were Soldiers and Sailors of His Majesty’s Forces – The British Empire vs. The American Services, however, this led the way to a series of events to follow suit.

Prizefighting was permitted for the first time in 1925 and having enjoyed huge revenues from Box Office takings incomparable to venues across the country, the Royal Albert Hall was soon gaining a reputation as becoming one of the best venues for pugilism. No spectator was too far from the ring, with the intimate feeling to the Hall a relative novelty in its design.

The list of legends to step inside the ropes is as compelling as it is endless. From Henry Cooper’s ten-year span fighting four times between 1955-1965 to Muhammad Ali’s ‘Farewell to London’ exhibition in 1979, the precedent was set for more to follow.

Lennox Lewis, Herbie Hide, Michael Watson, Ricky Hatton, Nigel Benn, Joe Calzaghe, Naseem Hamed and Lloyd Honeyghan all graced the squared circle, with Marco Antonio Barrera’s first-round destruction of Paul Lloyd in 1999 the most recent memory of world championship boxing inside the venue, where the Baby Faced Assassin defended his WBO super-bantamweight title with ease.

This return has been long overdue, with Frank Warren, once again, responsible for bringing boxing back to the Hall. In many ways, the narrative surrounding the venue for this card has worked wonders to bypass the mediocrity of the two headline fights.

So, it’s Friday afternoon and you’re about to clock off work. You see there is a Friday Fight Night and you fancy a flutter on the outcome of the headlines bouts.

”£10 should do it.”

A £10 double on Daniel Dubois and Anthony Yarde to both get the better of Razvan Cojanu and Travis Reeves will return you... 20 pence, plus your £10 stake.

Now, I don’t want to get too hung up on the odds on both Dubois and Yarde to get a victory on Friday, but the level of opposition that two of Warren’s signature fighters are continuing to face is becoming a farce. At 9-0, Dubois may get a pass — especially if we are to believe that Warren plans to throw him in with domestic stablemate Nathan Gorman later this year — but Anthony Yarde’s lack of progression is beginning to become a trite point. One I’ll make anyway.

Warren has been on the spin this week as he spoke to iFLTV about the credibility of Yarde’s opponent Travis Reeves on Friday night. “I was looking at his record and the guys’ records that he’s fought over the last few fights”, Warren said. “They come in with good records, tough guys that have never been stopped. The name of the game is him to look good against a good opponent in Travis Reeves.”

Reeves last five opponents have lost a combined 32 fights; Yarde’s last five opponents have lost, even more surprisingly, on 26 occasions. Yarde may be sitting on his WBO mandatory position “waiting” for Sergey Kovalev, but his lack of experience at B- and even C-level will find him come up short when he is even slightly tested.

There are qualities to Yarde’s game that can’t be ignored. His athleticism allows him to throw dangerous combinations on the inside, with high-intensity work rate able to blast out a string of tomato cans early in his career. When he exchanges, he is more than likely going to come out on top, but when he takes a breather his defence and footwork are shown up. His jab goes missing far too often and as soon as he is forced to dance with many of the technicians at 175-pounds we will see the true flaws to Yarde’s game.

It’s hard to lay the blame solely at Warren’s door when assessing the lack of progression in Yarde’s career to date. The 27-year-old ‘Beast’ has often alluded to favouring taking small steps in his career to make sure everything runs smoothly; whether the Kovalev fight is made following a win over Travis Reeves on Friday will give us a better insight to the hunger of the camp and management.

Domestic rival Callum Johnson looks to have vacated the 175-pounds British strap in another quest for glory stateside this weekend — Yarde should be targeting the British before making the huge jump into a meeting with ‘Krusher’. As usual with Warren, WBO trinkets have taken precedence with Yarde holding the WBO Inter-Continental strap having previously won the WBO European.

There isn’t much that Yarde can do on Friday for more knowledge to be gained about the unbeaten Brit. Luckily, in many people’s eyes, this particular Friday Fight Night will be overshadowed by the spectacle that is boxing’s return to the Royal Albert Hall.

If the walls of the 147-year-old building could talk on Friday night, the voices of greatness would reverberate off the “mushroom” acoustic diffusers that hang iconically from the domed ceiling, directly into the ring of which Yarde will occupy. If this sense of history doesn’t give his team a call for future greatness then nothing will. Let this be the last evening of spoon-fed opposition. Let’s see what he’s really made of.

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