Late in 2022, a video clip circulated around social media by Queenberry’s Dev Sanhi showed light heavyweight champ Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde using the carnival punching power machine. 

Like millions of macho folks at fairgrounds across the world and those inebriated by booze and testosterone have done in the past, the two pros swung with all their might and rattled the machine. Yarde’s score read 989, impressive enough that he celebrated with his arms in the air. Beterbiev’s read 805, prompting a rare smile from the champion, one that indicated that the machine shouldn’t be taken seriously. (Writer’s note: This became very obvious to me when my score was somehow within double digits of Lucas Browne when taking our turns on the machine last year in Melbourne.)

Nonetheless, it was a tongue-in-cheek way of arousing excitement in the light heavyweight title bout between two frightening punchers. A machine can merely measure force through whatever algorithm was programmed when the device was patented in the United States in 1996. The way knockouts materialize is much more complex than just brute force—although it helps—and that’s an equation both Beterbiev and Yarde have solved in their careers. When they step in the ring this weekend in a bout aired on ESPN+ in the United States and BT Sport in the UK, it will nonetheless be viewed as a referendum on who is the bigger puncher, perhaps the most barbarically intriguing pre-fight query that can surround a fight. 

Puncher vs. Puncher matchups have produced some of the most memorable slugfests in boxing history. George Foreman-Ron Lyle, Gerald McClellan-Julian Jackson, Wilfredo Gomez-Carlos Zarate, these are the types of fights that remain in our minds not because of how incredible they were and they burned themselves into our brains, but also because in the years afterwards, they were exciting and short—digestible, violent bouts that we come back to on YouTube or our tape collections again and again. 

Beterbiev in particular will be regarded as one of this generation’s most fearsome punchers whenever his career comes to an end. He is the only current champion boasting a 100% knockout ratio, ending all 18 of his bouts before judges were tasked with rendering a decision because he’d rendered his opponents incapacitated. That said, if one were to lend any credence at all to the validity of the punching power machine, it might make a little sense that Beterbiev scored lower than Yarde. The 38-year old is indeed a devastating puncher, but not necessarily a one-punch knockout artist. He’s not a sinewy, snappy long-range power puncher in the model of Thomas Hearns, for example. Many of Beterbiev’s stoppages have come as a result of a clubbing, mauling, inescapable ambush. Some of the shots that floor his opponents aren’t delivered with textbook form, but much of what he’s doing leading up to that point is quietly brilliant. 

“The first thing you see is power, but he’s way more sophisticated,” said Beterbiev’s trainer Marc Ramsay in 2021. “He knows how to box and his technique’s good. Artur has a little more sophisticated boxing.”

In the broadcast of his most recent win over Joe Smith Jr., another titanic puncher, ESPN commentator Andre Ward summed up the night: “Joe Smith got hit by the power, he panicked, and whatever game plan went out the window. He accepted the fact that he was going to get knocked out. That's the kind of power Artur Beterbiev has.”

If Beterbiev has the kind of power that forces opponents into making bad decisions, then Yarde has the kind of power that can mask some of his own shortcomings. Yarde has knocked out all but one of the opponents he’s defeated, and his power has propelled him to compete with, and defeat, fighters he was presumed to be out of his depth against entirely. In August of 2019, Yarde was one punch away from winning the WBO light heavyweight title from Sergey Kovalev. Not one punch away in the sense that every boxer has a puncher’s chance, but one additional hard shot could have finished a wobbling Kovalev off in the 8th round, or in the 9th after Kovalev’s trainer Buddy McGirt threatened to stop the bout in between rounds if he took any more significant punishment. It was a fight Yarde was a sizeable underdog coming into, with very little on his resume to suggest he could be up for that type of challenge, but his ability to crack, even with a low punch output, had him seconds away from glory. 

Then, in 2021, after being outboxed by Lyndon Arthur the previous year and written off as a fighter who hadn’t developed appreciably in the skill department, returned to knock Arthur out in the fourth round of their rematch. 

Yarde is, in some ways, an experiment in how far God-given ability can take someone in boxing. A self-described “natural athlete,” Yarde was an elite football player, a sub-11 sprinter and shotput competitor who once trained under 1984 javelin gold medalist Tessa Sanderson. He claims he spars very little, if at all, and famously avoids weight training, using only bodyweight exercises, focusing heavily on explosive lower body movements to bolster his strength. As a teenager, he found himself getting into skirmishes on the street, and just as often ended them rather suddenly. “It wasn’t people my age either, it was older men, and that was when I got the reputation of having a big punch,” Yarde told Boxing News’ Matt Christie in 2017. “I was knocking them out with one punch.” But the altercations started getting significantly more dangerous, as Yarde has described having guns pulled on him more than once. At 18, he was working as a debt collector, and after hearing a mother’s story about how her children hadn’t eaten in three days, he walked over to his boss and told her that he would be quitting to pursue boxing. She laughed in his face, but Yarde had the power and the audacity to follow through with it, even without an amateur career to speak of. 

“In a way, and I don't like to use this word, but delusion can be a good thing, it can be a bad thing, but when you genuinely believe in something, if you're putting in the effort to progress, you're going to progress more than someone who doesn't think they can do it,” Yarde once said. 

Hard hitters have to house a degree of delusion, the temporary belief that the risks you’ll take—winding up for a haymaker, barreling to the inside—to land your best shot are worth it, both because they believe they can land first, but that the other person can’t possibly hit as hard as they can. When two people with that mindset step into the ring together, that’s when we get our most delectable brawls. As the great Pat Putnam wrote about Foreman-Lyle, “if the cause of scientific boxing was not advanced, a good time was had by all.”

And if it’s a good time Yarde is looking for, Beterbiev would appear to be in the same mood. 

“If Anthony wants (an) aggressive fight, he can do it,” Beterbiev said in a pre-fight interview with IFL TV. “If they want this fight, no problem. We’re going to do it.”

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.