The next step in the pro career of 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Tony Yoka is now on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.
Efforts to contain the spread of the Omicron variant in France has caused an indefinite postponement for Yoka’s planned showdown with Martin Bakole. The intriguing heavyweight crossroads clash was due to take place January 15 on ESPN+ in the U.S. and Canal+ in France from Accor Hotel Arena in Yoka’s Paris hometown.
Those plans were shut down amidst the latest health mandate from the French government on Monday, limiting indoor events to a maximum of 2,000 people. Accor Arena holds a maximum capacity of 20,300, with event promoter AllStar Boxing France expecting a large enough crowd—if not a sellout—to where the crowd restriction impacts the live gate to the point of having to put the fight on ice.
“The fight between Tony Yoka and Martin Bakole scheduled for January 15 is postponed to a later date,” Jerome Abiteboul, president of AllStar Boxing France confirmed Tuesday. “Following government announcements concerning the limitation of gauges for sporting events, AllStar Boxing is forced to reschedule the evening.”
Yoka—who is co-promoted by Top Rank in the United States—has fought four times since the pandemic, having steadily increased his level of competition over that stretch.
The 6’7” heavyweight made a splash with a first-round knockout of countryman and former title challenger Johann Duhaupas last September in Nanterre, France, followed by a points win over durable Christian Hammer just two months later at H Arena in Nantes, France. The same venue hosted his deepest fight to date, a 12th round stoppage of Joel Djeko this past March. In his most recent start, Yoka stopped unbeaten Petar Milas in the seventh round of their September 10 headliner at Stade Roland Garros in Paris.
Bakole (17-1, 13KOs) is viewed as an upgrade and a significant step in the right direction for Yoka, who has designs of competing at least at the contender level in 2022. The 28-year-old Congolese heavyweight—who is now based out of Scotland and 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.
Included among the hit list for Bakole are stoppage wins over Mariusz Wach and Kevin Johnson, a pair of durable journeymen who both know their way around a ring. 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.
The government ruling—announced by French Prime Minister Jean Castex—is in effect for at least the next three weeks, through January 15 and perhaps beyond. French officials are also seeking approval for a ‘vaccine pass’ which would require citizens to show proof of vaccination to enter establishments which require the nation’s health pass. The measures come in the wake of France reporting more than 100,000 new Covid cases this past Saturday, by far its largest daily total since the start of the pandemic.
Such steps aren’t likely to affect the gate once events are permitted to return to full capacity. France boasts a 78 percent vaccination rate among the 90 percent of citizens eligible.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox