The one heavyweight willing to next face Filip Hrgovic could wind up having to go to the back of the line. has learned that Tony Yoka could be forced to bow out of an ordered final title eliminator with Hrgovic, with the winner of the still-discussed fight to become the IBF heavyweight mandatory challenger to reigning and unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO titlist Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13KOs). Paris’ Yoka accepted an invitation from the New Jersey-based sanctioning body on January 13, at which point he was instructed to begin talks with Croatia’s Hrgovic for a fight between former amateur rivals.

The process is now being challenged by Martin Bakole, who still awaits a rescheduled date for his postponed fight with Yoka (11-0, 9KOs). The two were due to collide January 15 at Accor Hotel Arena in Paris, only for Covid restrictions to shut down the card and leaving event promoter Allstar Boxing France to publicly declare an indefinite postponement.

Bakole and trainer/manager Billy Nelson insist that they have documentation claiming they were assured a rescheduled date in March, as first reported by boxing insider Mike Coppinger. More germane to their appeal was the in-writing guarantee that the event was merely postponed and not outright canceled, which the Scotland-based Congolese heavyweight contends should have disqualified Yoka from being eligible for a title eliminator or any other fight.

The development disrupts any progress made between Yoka’s team—Allstar Boxing France and Top Rank—and Hrgovic’s promoter, Nisse Sauerland of Wasserman Boxing.

Efforts to reach the IBF went unreturned as this goes to publish, though has learned that the sanctioning body is expected to rule on the matter before week’s end.

Should the ruling land in favor of Yoka, it could set up the pro version of their 2016 Rio Olympics meeting. Yoka was awarded an unpopular three-round decision over Hrgovic in the semifinal round of the super heavyweight division, going on to capture an Olympic Gold medal while Hrgovic left Rio with a bronze. Yoka also outpointed Hrgovic in the quarterfinal round of his eventual 2019 World Amateur Championship run.

If Yoka is removed from the mix, the IBF will have to continue down the line of its ranked contenders to find the next available heavyweight both willing to enter negotiations with Hrgovic and is not contractually bound to another fight.

Interestingly, the next ranked heavyweight is Joe Joyce whom Yoka outpointed in the Gold medal round of 2016 Rio. England’s Joyce (13-0, 12KOs) is currently the top-ranked contender with the WBO and is in position to either challenge the winner of the forthcoming Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch or wait out a potential title vacancy.

After Joyce is Germany’s Agit Kabayel (21-0, 13KOs), former unified cruiserweight titlist Murat Gassiev and former WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight titlist Andy Ruiz Jr. (34-2, 22KOs). Further down the list is China’s Zhilei Zhang (21-0-1, 13KOs), the one heavyweight who has been vocal about facing Hrgovic but who would have to wait out rejections from at least five other heavyweights ahead of him to receive such an offer.

Hrgovic (14-0, 12KOs) has been moved at an aggressive pace, though with his competition level quickly leveling off due to an inability to get the top heavyweight contenders in the ring. The 6’6” heavyweight—who trains out of Miami under the tutelage of Pedro Diaz—has been gunning for a shot at a heavyweight title since the pandemic, fighting twice late in 2020 in hopes of next entering a title eliminator.

One was sought with Michael Hunter II, the second-generation heavyweight who ultimately moved in a different direction after not being pleased with the terms of the purse bid which was won by former promoter Matchroom Boxing. Hrgovic has since settled for a pair of wins over unbeaten but obscure heavyweights Marko Randonjic and Emir Ahmatovic, both of whom the undefeated Croatian stopped inside of three rounds.

Yoka has been relatively active since the pandemic, scoring four wins in his native France. The most recent came in a seventh-round knockout of unbeaten but unheralded Petar Milas last September in Paris. The planned fight with Bakole would have been his fifth in a span of 28 months, only for the Omicron variant to force France’s government to take preventive measures which affected the January 15 show.

Bakole (17-1, 13KOs) agreed to the fight in place of an injured Carlos Takam. The 6’6” heavyweight—who is the younger brother of WBC cruiserweight champion Ilunga ‘Junior’ Makabu—is currently riding a six-fight win streak since his lone defeat, a tenth-round stoppage to Michael Hunter II in October 2018.

The hard-hitting Bakole has stopped five of his last six opponents, the lone distance fight coming in a ten-round win over Sergey Kuzmin last December in London. In his most recent start, Bakole needed less than a round to stop Haruna Osamanu in a stay busy fight last September in Dubai.

A ruling from the IBF could leave Bakole to not only face Yoka but—with an upset win—gain favorable position for his own path to a title eliminator in 2022. A contingency plan on his side has yet to be revealed should Yoka be permitted to participate in the IBF final title eliminator.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox