Heavyweight contender Filip Hrgovic finally has an opponent who is willing to participate in negotiations and face him in an IBF elimination bout for the No.1 position, and it is somebody he is awfully familiar with – Tony Yoka, his amateur rival.
Yoka, who defeated Hrgovic by controversial decision in the super heavyweight semifinals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics on his way to winning the gold medal, on Thursday notified the IBF in writing that he was willing to face Hrgovic for the right to become the organization’s mandatory challenger for the winner of the expected spring rematch between unified world titleholder Oleksandr Usyk and former two-time titleholder Anthony Joshua.
“Be advised that #3 Filip Hrgovic and #5 Tony Yoka are the two highest-ranked available contenders in the IBF heavyweight division and have indicated in writing a willingness to participate in this eliminator,” the IBF wrote in a letter to both camps, a copy of which was obtained by World Boxing News.
“In an effort to determine who the mandatory challenger will be, the IBF is ordering an elimination bout between Filip Hrgovic and Tony Yoka for the number one position. Negotiations should be concluded by January 28.”
Anyone, anytime, ANYPLACE
Vous me connaissez, je ne me suis jamais caché. pic.twitter.com/FbLjZx0XHu
— Tony YOKA (@TonyYoka) January 13, 2022
If they do not make a deal by then the IBF will schedule a purse bid. Also, if either fighter decides not to negotiate they will have their ranking dropped below No. 10 for at least six months and the next ranked fighter will be offered the opportunity to participate in the elimination bout.
“El Animal” Hrgovic and Yoka also are not allowed to participate in any interim bout before the eliminator, which means Yoka has no plans to reschedule a fight with Martin Bakole (17-1, 13 KOs), 28, a Congo native fighting out of Scotland. They were due to meet on January 15 at Accor Arena in Paris, but the card was postponed in late December because the spread of Covid-19 in France caused the government to restrict aspects of sports and cultural events.
It has not been easy to get an IBF-ranked contender to agree to accept the invitation to face 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs), 29, of Croatia, in the elimination bout.
Originally, Michael Hunter turned down the eliminator after initially agreeing to participate in negotiations.
After two-time world title challenger Luis “King Kong” Ortiz knocked out former IBF titlist Charles Martin in the sixth round in a semifinal elimination fight on New Year’s Day, he was ordered to face Hrgovic next. Both sides were given three days to accept participation in negotiations. While Hrgovic immediately accepted, Ortiz, claiming that he injured his left hand against Martin, declined to participate.
The IBF then moved down its ratings and offered former WBO titlist Joseph Parker the chance to take the fight but Parker (30-2, 21 KOs), 30, of New Zealand, also turned it down.
CONFIRMED: @TonyYoka has formally accepted tonight in writing the challenge to fight @Filip_Hrgovic in a final IBF Final Eliminator for the Heavyweight World Championship – El Animal has found a dance partner ???? pic.twitter.com/LB0datFo4H
— Kalle & Nisse Sauerland (@SauerlandBros) January 13, 2022
Yoka (11-0, 9 KOs), 29, however, did not, setting up a fourth meeting with Hrgovic.
“First and foremost we’re just very happy that someone has accepted the position,” Wasserman Boxing promoter Nisse Sauerland, Hrgovic’s co-promoter with Matchroom Boxing, told World Boxing News. “Obviously, the fight isn’t a done deal yet but someone willing to enter the negotiation period and also put their ranking on the line, that’s great.”
Hrgovic and Yoka fought three times in the amateur ranks. Hrgovic won the first meeting 7-4 in the 2010 World Amateur Youth Championships and Yoka won the next two, a 2-1 decision in the quarterfinals on his way to a gold medal at the 2015 World Amateur Championships, and then the heavily disputed 2-1 decision in the 2016 Olympic semifinals in Rio. Yoka went on to claim a similarly controversial decision over Joe Joyce to win the Olympic gold medal.
“Two of the Olympic medalists against each other,” Sauerland said. “Filip won the first (meeting with Tony Yoka) and I thought he won the Olympic fight. They’ve obviously got some history in the amateurs and it’s all going to play out in a final eliminator to see who goes on to fight for a world title. It’s the best versus the best I would say outside (Tyson) Fury, Joshua, Usyk and maybe a couple of others. But it’s the next-gen, a couple of the best, and fair due to both of them for putting it all on the line.”
Award-winning writer Dan Rafael is the Lead Boxing Contributor for World Boxing News. Follow Dan on social media @DanRafael1.