“I’m the most complete heavyweight in boxing,” Tony Yoka told me last week ahead of his third fight in just over six months. The Frenchman is unbeaten in the pros after turning over in 2017 off the back of a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Yoka fights Joel Djeko for the European heavyweight title on Friday, with the bout being shown live from Nantes on ESPN+ (Mar. 5, 2:40 pm ET). He believes he’s now the all-rounder of the division, and credits his trainer Virgil Hunter for the adjustments he’s been able to make in the paid ranks.
“Hunter is fantastic. He’s the coach that I really needed in my career. I was with a Cuban trainer when I was an amateur, which made me very technical and tactical. I saw in Hunter the trainer that can turn me into the perfect heavyweight. I liked his work with Andre Ward and the style that he gave him. I’ve got that power now after improving how I sit down on my punches.”
Yoka — unlike many of his peers — has been able to stay active despite the ongoing pandemic. The 28-year-old was due to make his Top Rank debut inside Madison Square Garden last March until COVID-19 stuck a pin in the world’s plans. Wins over Johann Duhaupas and Christian Hammer ended his 2020 in style, but he believes the best is yet to come as he begins to go through the gears of the division.
“This year will be so important for my career,” he said. “If I win this fight I’ll be looking at some of the guys in the top 10 for a fight around September. I’m ready now to make my move. It’s probably too soon and unviable for me to get in there with the ‘big three’ [Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury] but I’ll be looking at the level below — Joe Joyce, Dillian Whyte or Derek Chisora.”
Yoka was an extremely successful amateur, earning notable victories over Joseph Parker, Joyce, and Filip Hrgovic. However, those days are behind them, and Yoka believes he’s the man that has made the necessary adjustments to become successful as a professional.
“The thing is, guys like Hrgovic haven’t changed since their amateur days, and they still fight with the same style,” he explained. “I guess it’s benefited me being younger when I turned over, unlike someone of Joe Joyce’s age, that I have been able to adapt my game so well. When you are fighting 12 rounds for a belt, you know that someone is going to get knocked down, you can’t fight how you used to just to win points.”
And what about at the very top of the tree? Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn is adamant that Tyson Fury vs Anthony Joshua is close to being finalised, and Yoka is tipping the “Gypsy King”.
“For me, and I’ve said it for years, Fury is the best heavyweight in the world right now. He’s the rightful number one. Joshua will have a lot of work to do in camp in order to win this fight. We are heavyweights and you never know, but I see it more 60-40 for Fury at the moment.”
First, however, comes this Friday, and Yoka promises me he won’t overlook an opponent.
“I don’t know too much about Djeko to be honest,” he admitted. “I know he trains in the UK and he’s coming up from cruiserweight so we are expecting him to be fast. He’s also pretty tall and has some skill.”
With plenty of moving and shaking going on across the heavyweight landscape, there’s certainly room for a dark horse of the division to begin his charge. Yoka’s convinced that the time is now.