Callum Johnson, who had to withdraw from this coming Saturday’s WBO title shot with light heavyweight champion Joe Smith after getting Covid-19 on Wednesday, may find himself at the back of the queue.

Johnson, 36, was due to fly out to New York this weekend ahead of the January 15 fight at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona. Top Rank have lined up a late replacement for Smith but Johnson was a voluntary and he might not get another chance.

That’s because the WBO’s No. 1 ranked contender is Anthony Yarde and his trainer, Tunde Ajayi, said that they will have no hesitation fighting Smith in Yarde’s next fight.

“We are next in line,” asserted Ajayai from Dubai, where he is training the light-heavyweight contender. “Johnson was a voluntary anyway. He’s not a mandatory, they picked him. I’d never be disrespectful and say he doesn’t deserve the shot because I think Callum more than anyone deserves a bit of luck. It just so happens he was a voluntary and never a mandatory, so it’s all left down to the promoters, and the WBO has said we’re next, so it is what it is.”

That might sound hard on Johnson, who always wanted the Smith fight and who had completed a full camp before Covid came and took his dreams away but Ajayi said Yarde has no intention of missing out on Smith to let Johnson back in line.

“Why would we?” he asked rhetorically. “We are next in line. That’s how it goes. It’s us. I’m in the Anthony Yarde business. That’s just how it goes. Remember last year, this was the position we were supposed to be in. We want to forget about 2020 but we came back, did what we were supposed to do last year and we’re in the position now. We’ve earned our right, we’ve knocked off the No. 1, who was Lyndon [Arthur], and we gave Lyndon the opportunity first of all. We didn’t need to fight Lyndon but nobody expected the things which occurred to occur with Anthony and his family and all those deaths. He [Arthur] took the opportunity but there was a rematch clause and we settled the score. We’re in the position. It’s us. We’re not waiting for nobody. If that’s what the WBO calls and that’s what Frank as the promoter says we have to do then we’ll fight.”

Ajayi was referring to several losses the Yarde family had due to Covid-19, in a year that wound up with him suffering the second defeat of his career – to Lyndon Arthur, having lost to Sergey Kovalev in Russia.

Tunde said they were not contacted about being Johnson’s stand-in next week, but said they would have no interest in having the fight as a late replacement when they are sat in the No. 1 position with the WBO.

“We went out to Russia,” Tunde continued. “We’ve done it the hard way. Nobody’s given us any favours. We’re not about to jump in at a week’s notice. I wouldn’t do that as Anthony’s manager. People keep forgetting that I’m the manager, people overlook the fact, I’m manager and trainer. It [Smith-Yarde] is a big fight. We were lined up to fight the winner so it isn’t like we’ve been given a golden ticket because we’ve earned this spot, that’s how it goes.”

British fight fans hope the best light-heavyweights in the country all fight one another. Arthur is still in the mix, Dan Azeez arrived last month with a big win over Hosea Burton, and there’s Joshua Buatsi, Johnson and Craig Richards.

“Nobody ain’t just getting us in Britain for fighting nobodies,” Ajayi went on. “They’ve got to fight people. They’ve got to fight a Callum Johnson or they’ve got to fight each other. Why not Dan Azeez against Buatsi? I don’t think Craig Richards will call us out. I used to train him but this is boxing and if a world title is on the line, then sometimes you’ve got to put your friendships to one side but people have to earn their right the way we earned our right.”

Even so, Ajayi doesn’t believe those all-UK contests will happen soon.

“People are always going to want the best of British to fight each other but only just now are we seeing Kell Brook against [Amir] Khan,” he added. “We never got Wayne Alexander against Steve Roberts or Richard Williams. Boxing doesn’t change. It’s always the same narrative. In the business, it’s got to be right for everybody. Of course, people earn their way in to positions and you don’t just fight because the people say, ‘Let’s fight.’” It doesn’t work like that. They [the big fights] always happen at the end, they don’t do it at the beginning. Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson, the list goes on and on. Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather, and then you get the new guys fighting the old guard, Saul Alvarez-Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez-Shane Mosely. There’s a methodology of how boxing works and if you’re talking about British light-heavyweights, who apart from us has fought the guys? We took on an unbeaten fighter in Lyndon Arthur. We went over to Russia. There aren’t many British fighters who have stepped up to the plate the way we have.”