A few of boxing’s big names have picked up a summer job and this weekend they’re looking to do the business.
Unbeaten British prospect Anthony Yarde travels to deepest, darkest Russia for his first world championship shot against the tsar of the light heavyweight division, Sergey Kovalev.
In Mexico, pound-for-pound talent Juan Francisco Estrada meets America’s Dewayne Beamon, while Filip Hrgovic, Liam Smith and Jono Carroll are all looking to have productive vacations with wins on the undercard.
You have to admit that Yarde has stones. When the inexperienced 28-year-old was offered the chance to fight Kovalev in his home city – 1700km further east than this side of Moscow – nobody thought he’d take it. Yet, this Saturday Yarde fights for the light heavyweight world title in Chelyabinsk.
As a professional, Yarde has steam-rollered his mediocre opponents, winning 18 from 18 with 17 victories coming early. The best way to beat Kovalev is going toe-to-toe, but you need a granite chin as well as the minerals to trade with ‘Krusher’.
This might also be the best time to face Kovalev – the Soviet slugger is 36, he’s lost three of his last six and he’s got problems with the law – but going to his patch is still a massive gamble.
Yarde has little amateur background and he’s barely travelled as a pro, so preparing for a fight in Siberia could come as a shock. And there’s always a chance the local chef, taxi driver or event organiser tries to make things a bit uncomfortable – his bags have already gone missing from the airport.
If it was in London then Yarde might even be favourite, but as it stands he’s a 13/8 outsider.
Kovalev has been in championship fights since 2013 and he has substantial amateur pedigree from years before that. The Russian’s new trainer wants him to use his skills, but the big shots are still there if he needs them.
The coach of Yarde, Tunde Ajayi, has a unique perspective on boxing – and life in general – but he’ll send his man out there in great condition and full of confidence. If Kovalev’s legs have gone or he’s too distracted by shenanigans outside of boxing, then Yarde can take advantage of ‘Krusher’s’ delicate body and take him out in rounds 5-8 at 5/1.
But Sergey won’t quit easily in front of his countrymen and this guy matched all-time great Andre Ward in 2016. I think Yarde’s team have been naïve negotiating the terms of this bout and the Hackney man will be too naïve in the ring too – either Kovalev will be too good or the judges might be swayed to give him the nod anyway.
Bet of the bout: Kovalev on points at 7/2.
The undercard action comes in the shape of two hulking cruiserweights – Russia’s Papin and Congo’s Makabu. The home fighter was a renowned global kickboxing champion, while the travelling boxer is best known for coming up short in a world championship contest against Tony Bellew.
The knockout rate of these two is stunning – Papin has 10 stoppage wins from 11 bouts and Makabu has 23 from 24 victories – and I reckon there will be another early finish.
You can back the Russian to win at 5/6, but look out for the odds on Papin to win in rounds 1-6.
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth staying up for the action in Mexico, then let me tell you the headline bout is going to be a humdinger.
Home favourite Estrada is an elite champion and his American challenger is strong and brave enough to make it a proper scrap.
Beamon has stacked up a record of 16-1-1, but the 34-year-old is a championship rookie, and he hasn’t got the skill level to cause an upset. Estrada’s KO rate has dropped off a significantly in recent years and I am betting that ‘El Gallo’ wins by decision at 3/1.
The top of the heavyweight division is hot right now, but the rising stars of the glamour division are bubbling up nicely. Hrgovic won the Olympic bronze medal in 2016 and he’s 8-0 in the paid ranks.
The Croatian’s opponent this weekend is stocky Mexican banger Heredia and Hrgovic can finish the job in rounds 3-4 at 7/5.
You might think that if a former champion is boxing in the prelims of a foreign card he must be in a tick-over bout, but Liam Smith’s opponent is actually a solid competitor and a Mexican native.
I expect Smith to have too much, but I am taking the chunky odds on ‘Beefy’ winning on points.
Carroll is also making an appearance on the busy card in Hermosillo, and he’s another foreign fighter facing a tough local lad. The Irishman is great to watch because he’s always in wars, but a boxing like that this weekend could go either way.
Back the generous 33/1 on a draw in this one.
* All odds correct at time of posting.