son of a king, friend of Joshua, sparring of Fury… Things to know about Martin Bakole, opponent of Tony Yoka


Eight months after his last appearance in a ring, Tony Yoka made his twelfth pro fight this Saturday evening at Bercy against Martin Bakole. Presentation of the Congolese who will try to stop the rise of the 2016 Olympic heavyweight champion and who will oppose him with a challenge not easy to meet in the ring.

It should have been another, Carlos Takam, for a shock of Franco-French generations evaporated after an injury to the former world challenger. It will be Martin Bakole. Less seller for the general Parisian public. But more dangerous and a bigger step for Tony Yoka’s twelfth pro fight this Saturday night, his first at Bercy.

The Congolese, 28 years old (two less than Tony), 198 centimeters (three less than Tony), offensive right-hander with an explosive jab, 17 victories since his professional debut in 2014 against a single defeat in 2018 against the solid Michael Hunter, has a particularity: he is the son of a king of the province of Kananga. But the boy preferred the rings to the reign.

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His dignitary father gave birth to boxers: Bakole is the little brother of WBC light-heavyweight champion Ilunga Makabu, whom he followed in 2016 in Great Britain (Makabu had faced Tony Bellew at Goodison Park, Everton stadium) where he is preparing under the orders of Billy Nelson. His coach had made the punchline to talk about his foal at the Sun at the end of 2020, referring to the “most avoided heavyweight on the planet”. He had an argument. “Boxers are smart. They know. When he manhandles someone in sparring, the guy goes home and thinks he has no interest in fighting them. And he hasn’t even shown yet. 75% of what he’s really capable of.”

Ray sparring-partners, Bakole displays some references. It has been a lot for star Anthony Joshua, who has become a great friend outside the boxing rings. Ditto with Tyson Fury, again recently for the fight of the “Gypsy King” against Dillian Whyte, or the Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk before the fight where he dethroned Joshua. All came out impressed by his talent between the ropes. Some would even vote Bakole. “If you look on social networks you can see a video Tyson (Fury), recalled the Congolese this Friday at the weigh-in at the microphone of RMC Sport. He assured that I was going to put Yoka KO because I want and the determination.”

“I apologize for that but I had to do it”

Thirteenth in the world ranking of the BoxRec site (Tony is fifteenth), in the top 15 of three of the four major organizations (like Tony, and the same, all except the WBO), Bakole will present a big challenge to Yoka, who speaks rightly of his “toughest opponent from the start”. “He is strong, tall, slender, details the Frenchman, he weighs more than 120 kilos (125 against 109 at the weigh-in, editor’s note), he is very powerful and tough on pain. He is an opponent who will give me strength. hard and we will have to be wary of it until the end.” The two opponents share a victim in the ring, the Belgian Ali Baghouz, beaten by the two a month apart at the end of 2017 with a knockout a round earlier for the first.

They also share a country, the Congo, of nationality for Bakole, of origin for Yoka, where the battles of Bakole are closely followed. “My father came to France at the end of the 80s, recalls Yoka, and the fact of knowing that this fight is so followed at home is special.” The respect between the two, like that strong hug after the face-to-face weigh-in, is palpable. But he had seemed to disappear for a time after the Filip Hrgovic affair. First scheduled for January 15, the Yoka-Bakole fight had been postponed due to sanitary gauges which did not guarantee the good financial balance of the event.

At the same time, the IBF were looking for an opponent for the Croatian, beaten by Yoka in the semi-finals in Rio, for a “semi-final” with world challenger status to the winner. The French accepted, ideal opportunity, but Bakole asserted his contractual rights with the IBF who agreed with him. “I apologize for that but I had to do it,” defends the Congolese. Irritated, Yoka had promised to correct him for making him miss this chance. In Bakole’s defence, the Frenchman’s camp did nothing to make him change his mind, a common situation in a sport that sometimes practices step aside money (money to step aside in favor of another opponent).

“He never contacted me to negotiate about the fight, says the Congolese. He never called my team so we never understood why he accepted another fight. He must honor the contract. never came to see me, I would have understood but he did nothing. It was not respectful. Was I offered money to cancel the fight? Never. didn’t even call.” “I’m not going to say that I don’t blame him anymore, but I moved on, evacuates Yoka. I’m focused on this fight and we must not lose energy.”

“I know I will beat him”

The Frenchman says he is “faster”, “more technical”: “My explosiveness will make the difference when I start to chain shots”. He’s probably right about everything. But Bakole believes in him: “This is Tony’s country. But I know I will beat him”. “Martin will knock him out, promises his coach Billy Nelson. He is capable of beating anyone. Yoka is strong but the bigger it is, the better it is for Martin who sees it as a challenge. Yoka is very good technically but he’s still boxing like an amateur. Martin is way better than anyone he’s ever fought.”

The opposite is also true for a Bakole whose greatest victory is Sergey Kuzmin at the end of 2020 for a WBC International belt. His coach speaks of a “pivotal fight” when Yoka evokes “a turning point”. “We are at the same level of our career, continues the 2016 Olympic champion. Like me, our place is a little higher in the rankings.” Only one will pass the stage, heading for the top 10 and dreams of world greatness.

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