Nanterre (AFP)

After a year without a fight, Tony Yoka hopes to restart the machine and revive against Johann Duhaupas, Friday in Paris, a Franco-French clash in the queen category of heavyweights which promises after months of palaver and provocations between the two boxers.

The Olympic champion (28) is not afraid to say it: the meeting fixed with Duhaupas at the Defense Arena will be the "hardest fight" of his professional career.

After seven outings and as many successes against small caliber opponents and a last stint in the ring dating back to September 28, 2019 (victory against the German Michael Wallisch by referee stoppage in the 3rd round), the medalist of gold of Rio-2016 will cross the gloves with a boxer certainly at the end of the course (39 years) but with the CV far from being ridiculous.

For his first opposition in 12 rounds, Yoka will have to deal with a former champion of France (2013) and especially a pugilist who had pushed into his entrenchments one of the world stars of heavyweights and one of the most powerful hitters of the planet, the American Deontay Wilder, in September 2015. The Northerner had only given in on the 11th round before losing in the 6th round a year later against the Russian Alexander Povetkin, another reference in the category.

- "Conquest" -

Yoka, launched in a "Conquest" very scripted by Canal +, supposed to lead him to the world title, did not choose the easy way, quite the contrary, but he could hardly escape, especially as the two men, who know each other well from having been sparring partners of each other in the past, have constantly provoked each other in recent months through the media without reaching an agreement.

Which adds even more spice to this 100% tricolor duel.

In February 2019, Yoka, in full inactivity due to his one-year suspension for three breaches of his localization obligations ("no shows"), announced at the microphone of Canal + his desire to rub shoulders with Duhaupas (38 successes including 25 by KO for 5 losses).

The date of December 14, 2019 had even been mentioned for a moment, without success, each camp blaming itself for the failure of the negotiations.

After long verbal battles, the health crisis and the inability for Yoka to return to the United States where he is based ended up changing the situation and precipitated the holding of this long-awaited fight.

- "We're going to hit each other in the face" -

"There are things that have been said that touched my heart and also touched my family," said Duhaupas, who appeared very sharp and who in particular prepared with the former kick-boxer Jérôme Le Banner.

"They made me look like someone I'm not and we're going to sort it out in the ring, we're going to hit each other in the face. This fight, I wanted it from the start. It's a real challenge. I take this fight as if it was a World Championship, it will perhaps be one of my last so I take it very seriously and it is out of the question that I miss it, "insists the Northerner.

For Yoka, it is about "opening big doors in the Top of the international ranking" with the prospect of having a world chance at the end of 2021.

With his suspension and the postponement of his fights due to Covid-19, the Olympic champion, who signed with the powerful American promoter Bob Arum and "should have boxed four-five times" this year, lost time in his progress , but he assures us "not to be behind on the set objectives".

"I'm impatient. I expect a lot of resistance from Johann, but I think I have a good technical palette for a heavyweight, I'm quick and a lot more aggressive since I joined the professionals," he said. .

In the background, there will also be for Yoka the need to make an impression and silence the critics who have not failed since his first steps with the pros.

“I know where I'm going and I know I'm right,” claims the Parisian.

It's up to him to prove it against the "Reptile" Duhaupas.

© 2020 AFP