Tony Yoka is prepared to revisit an old rivalry from his amateur days.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that Paris’ Yoka—a 2016 Olympic Gold medalist and current rising heavyweight contender—has accepted an invitation from the IBF to enter talks for a final title eliminator versus Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic. His decision comes just before the three-day deadline to decide whether to pursue such a fight.
“Tony Yoka has formally accepted tonight in writing the challenge to fight Filip Hrgovic in a final IBF Final Eliminator for the heavyweight world championship,” Nisse Sauerland of Wasserman Boxing, Hrgovic’s co-promoter announced Thursday afternoon via social media. “’El Animal has found a dance partner.”
The next step in the process will be for the IBF to formally order the fight. Once that occurs, the two sides will be given fifteen days to negotiate terms to avoid a purse bid hearing. Neither party can enter an agreement for another bout once the eliminator is formally ordered, per IBF rule 9.a.2 (Purse Bids—No Intervening Bouts).
Yoka’s willingness to take it to this point comes on the heels of the same offer being extended to Luis Ortiz and Joseph Parker, both of whom declined for varying reasons.
A pairing between Yoka and Hrgovic comes with a built-in backstory. The familiar amateur rivals last met in the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight semifinals, with Yoka claiming a decision as part of his Gold medal run. Hrgovic went home with a Bronze medal for Croatia, with both boxers turning pro the following year.
Yoka (11-0, 9KOs) also eliminated Hrgovic from the quarterfinal round of the 2019 World Amateur Championships, for which he claimed top honors in the super heavyweight division. Hrgovic previously beat Yoka in the 2010 World Amateur Youth Championships.
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 seen his career surge since the pandemic, posting four wins over mid-level opposition. The run began with a first-round knockout of countryman and former title challenger Johann Duhaupas in September 2020, followed two months later with a ten-round shout of veteran divisional gatekeeper Christian Hammer.
The 2021 campaign for Yoka saw fight twice including a big reception in Paris hometown last September, where he stopped unbeaten but overmatched Petar Milas inside of seven rounds. The win came six months after turning away Joel Djeko whom Yoka stopped in the twelfth and final round of their EBU heavyweight title fight last March in Nantes, France.
The winner of the eventual IBF final eliminator will become the sanctioning body’s mandatory challenger to Oleksandr Usyk (19-0, 13KOs), who also holds the WBA “Super”/WBO/IBO belts. Ukraine’s Usyk obtained the belts in a September 25 win over England’s Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22KOs). A rematch between Usyk and Joshua is currently eyed for the springtime.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox