Tony Yoka steady, if not spectacular in win over Joel Tambwe Djeko
Tony Yoka (10-0, 8 KOs) is a fighter with lofty expectations. Even capturing a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, many have predicted greatness. The 28-year-old from Paris, France has the skills and physical ability to potentially be a future star.
His career was put on pause when he served a one-year suspension from June 2017-June 2018 for repeatedly missing drug tests. Now back on track, the Frenchman wants to go down as the future of the heavyweight division. Yoka signed a promotional deal with Top Rank in 2020 and looks at 2021 as the year to take the next step. He is looking to move from a talented prospect to a top-ten contender.
That starts with a fight against Joel Tambwe Djeko (17-3-1. 8 KOs) for the vacant European Union Heavyweight title. On an interesting side note, Yoka spent the majority of a ten-week training camp in California under the tutelage of trainer Virgil Hunter. Fighting most of his career at cruiserweight, Djeko is looking to score what would be considered a sizeable upset.
There was bad blood heading into this contest. During the prefight March 4 weigh-in, the two men engaged in a shoving match after an intense stare-down.
Yoka began the fight patiently moving forward behind the jab. Djeko is a tall, elusive target. He used that height and athleticism to avoid heavy punches. The final minute of round two saw Yoka connect with straight right hands and lefts to the body, but the smaller man showed a good resiliency.
Starting in round four, the bout settled into Djeko using his legs to move, move, and move again. Yes, he sporadically threw flash combinations, but the punches were not meaningful. Yoka was dictating the pace and terms. His punches had more meat. His problem was he had trouble cornering Djeko. You got the impression that if he stepped up the pace, he could make things much easier for him.
Djeko was smart to move and hold when Yoka got close in the center-ring. However, he was not fighting without initiative. That, coupled with his constant movement, made the action repetitive from the middle rounds on. The fight bogged down to a pattern of Yoka marching forward and Djeko doing just enough to hang around. This was not the most exciting contest in the world.
Then suddenly, the pace and punishment started to show in the twelfth and final round. You could see Djeko starting to fatigue as his right eye was showing major damage. Like a pit bull who sees blood, Yoka began to pounce. Punches began pouring in from Yoka, who sensed a possible stoppage. Following a combination finished off by a jab to the right eye while on the ropes, Djeko turned his back in pain. Referee Jean-Robert Laine correctly waved the fight over with 1:20 to go in the round.
In the end, it was a solid but not a spectacular performance. The train keeps on moving toward what he hopes is world title contention. After the fight, Yoka said he would like to step in the ring against the likes of Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois.
By: Michael Wilson Jr.