The four-month delay was well worth the wait for Martin Bakole to earn his biggest win to date.
Tony Yoka was dealt his first career defeat, as he was severely outfought by the visiting Bakole. Yoka was dropped in rounds one and five en-route to a ten-round majority decision in a fight that wasn’t even that close. One judge incredulously had the fight scored 94-94, thankfully overruled by scores of 96-92 and 95-93 for Bakole in their ESPN+ streamed heavyweight bout Saturday evening at Accor Arena in Paris.
The fight was postponed by four months due to Covid restrictions combating the unexpected spread of the Omicron variant preventing a crowd from being permitted to attend on the original January 15 date. The show was pushed back by four months, though with Bakole remaining prepared to shock the world.
Bakole jumped out to as promising a start as could be asked of the visiting fighter. Yoka attempted to keep the hulking Scotland-based Congolese heavyweight at the end of his jab but lacked the equalizer to keep him at bay. Bakole sensed a significant power edge, working his way inside and landing compact hooks to the body.
The fight took a drastic turn in the final 30 seconds of the round when Yoka staggered into the ropes. Bakole followed with a right hand forcing the Frenchman to the canvas for the first time in his pro career. Yoka beat the count but was clearly shaken in barely making it to the bell.
Yoka was able to pump his jab with greater regularity in round two but never to the point of turning a fight into a boxing match. Bakole continued to work the body while coming up top with his own jab.
Bakole drew blood in round three, causing a cut over Yoka’s left eye and also bloodying the nose of the 2016 Olympic Gold medalist. Yoka looked deflated as he made it back to his corner, where head trainer Virgil Hunter urged him to keep his head while insisting that his foe was slowing down.
There was no such evidence to support that claim, as Bakole boxed with increasing confidence in round four. Chants of ‘Tony!’ filled the partisan crowd in Paris, though Yoka was unable to parlay the support into a momentum shift. Bakole continued to stick his jab in Yoka’s face, treating his broken nose as a target.
Bakole opened round five with a pair of left hooks, missing with both but forcing Yoka to box from the outside. Baokel managed to get through moments later with a left hook upstairs. Yoka appeared to take the shot well, only to lose his footing and twist his ankle as he fell to the canvas. The referee made a judgment call and ruled it a knockdown, which Yoka begrudgingly accepted.
Yoka didn’t offer any sense of urgency in round six, seemingly well behind to this point and uncertain of how to turn the tide. Bakole remained poised, poking with his jab and adjusting defensively before Yoka had a chance to let his hands go. Yoka used lateral movement to make Bakole miss, though the streaking heavyweight closed the round with a right hand that worked its way through Yoka’s guard.
Yoka enjoyed his best sequence of the fight at the start of round seven, standing his ground on the inside and driving home an uppercut that found its mark. Bakole took the shot well but was briefly rocked by a right hand to the temple midway through the round. Bakole dropped his hands and walked back, daring Yoka to come forward in the final minute.
The crowd continued to rally behind Yoka in round eight, with the local hero showing signs of life as he was urged to win every round and score at least one knockdown. Bakole stood at center ring, landing body shots in between jabs and right hands from Yoka, who also connected with a one-two down the middle.
Bakole taunted Yoka in round nine, shaking his right hand in the air and daring the Frenchman to come inside. Yoka proceeded with caution, sticking out his jab and then circling to Bakole’s left in a low contact round.
The tenth and final round saw both boxers pose at a time Yoka needed—and was urged—to go for the knockout. Bakole was still landing the more telling blows, stomping his foot on the ground and daring Yoka to fight back. Yoka instead circled the ring, seemingly content to go the distance rather than snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Bakoke swung and badly missed with a right hand at a fleet-footed Yoka (11-1, 9KOs), who chose to box down the stretch and not throw a punch in the final 30 seconds of the fight in accepting his first defeat.
Bakole was joined by his older brother, WBC cruiserweight titlist Ilunga ‘Junior’ Makabu, in the ring at fight’s end prior to the revealing of the judges’ scorecards. The announcement made it official, with Bakole improving—in every sense of the word—to 18-1 (13KOs). The win is his seventh straight since a tenth-round stoppage to second-generation heavyweight contender Michael Hunter II in October 2018.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox