for Tony Yoka, the end of the last illusions

Disarmed and powerless against Ryad Merhy, the Frenchman conceded a third defeat in a row on Saturday at Roland-Garros.

Sitting on a small chair placed at the foot of the ring and on which he tries to fit his 110 kg and his two meters zero one, with a blank look and a marked face around his right eye, Tony Yoka blows into the microphone handed to him Canal+. “I don’t understand. With the team, I thought we had done enough to win even if he (Ryad Mehry, Editor’s note) had some good sequences. I thought I controlled most of the fight with my jab. I don’t necessarily understand…»

I don’t understand

Tony Yoka

A few moments earlier in the Philippe-Chatrier court and in front of around 6,000 spectators, the Frenchman had conceded a new defeat under the whistles, his third in a row in the heavyweight category, against a Belgian who was well within his reach ( 32 victories, including 26 before the limit, 2 defeats) on paper and came from lightweight. A setback on points, by decision of the judges. Two gave his opponent the winner 96-94 while the third ruled in his favor by the same score.

There was so much pressure around this fight with a new coach and a new team. I told myself we were going to do enough to win and I really thought I had done enough. (…) There were so many changes… We were aiming for victory even if it wasn’t a very big victory, to move forward. I don’t even know what to say», murmured, lost, the Rio 2016 Olympic champion.

His coach challenges the judges’ decision

A hot analysis which preceded the unexpected intervention of his coach on the air. Don Charles came to challenge the judges’ decision at the speaker’s microphone. “I would like to know what the judges are looking at. Do they count the shots that are blocked? I would like to know ? 95% of the shots were blocked by Tony’s arms. I have been in boxing for a long time and I am very embarred by this count. We need explanations“, lamented the Briton, believing that Yoka’s jabs had made the difference.

However, there was no photo. The verdict is implacably logical because Yoka showed almost nothing during the ten rounds. “From the first round, you will understand what is going to happen», Yet warned the Frenchman just before entering the ring. The public quickly understood that nothing or almost nothing had changed in the champion’s boxing despite the arrival of a new trainer who was a heavyweight specialist. Disturbed by the explosiveness of his opponent’s small size, the Habs were only too rarely able to take advantage of his arm span by relying on his direct left and a right which never destabilized Merhy when she touched.

Stepping back, not daring to take risks and completely lacking initiative (and desire?), Yoka never managed to accelerate, even being regularly countered by the Belgian fond of short sequences and advancing like a battering ram towards his opponent. In the corner, Don Charles kept asking Yoka to be less wait-and-see as the rounds went on. “Come on champion, the heart of the lion», even pushed him before the last round, appealing to the pride of his foal then without a solution with the gloves. No result.

Whatever the verdict, in the end, victory would have changed almost nothing. Saturday evening, Yoka (11 victories, including 9 before the limit and 3 defeats on points) showed too many shortcomings to one day be able to claim to play the leading roles in the premier category. This setback seems to spell the end of a career. Perhaps not that of the professional boxer who could continue for many years (he is only 31 years old and the maturity of heavyweight is late) but of a contender for a world belt, certainly, even if everything is possible in boxing.

We have already seen improbable turnarounds, boxers who reached the highest level even though they did not necessarily have the skills. Others also arrived at the top much later than expected, but at a time when the heavyweight category was much less dense in very high level boxers. “We’re going to discuss with my team, I don’t think that’s the question to ask now“, explained Yoka when asked about his future and possible retirement.

On Sunday the Frenchman’s detractors are jubilant. Some, who praised him after his promising coronation in Rio seven years ago, boast on social networks, singing the same refrain of “I told you so!”. Yes, Yoka has been lost for years in his boxing, in the management of his career, in the choice of his opponents. But all French boxing is the loser of this evening with the fall of its standard bearer. Yoka had succeeded in rekindling the light around his sport, which was sorely lacking in major promoters and media support in France, particularly television. The future of the champion seems very uncertain even if he still has one fight to fight with the contract binding him to Canal+. It is very likely that at the end of this, the encrypted channel will stop paying fees with the noble art.

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