IT might be my imagination, but it seems France’s 2016 Olympic super-heavyweight champion Tony Yoka has either swerved or failed as many performance-enhancing drug tests as he has won fights.
I’m exaggerating, of course, yet there’s certainly a sense Yoka, someone only five pro fights deep, is already sullied by a reputation as a forgetful so-and-so (at best) or a cheat (at worst).
His latest punishment, handed to him on Thursday by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) for missing three tests in less than a year, means he is banned from boxing in France for a one-year period. He can, however, continue boxing elsewhere.
“The AFLD severely sanctions what it recognizes to be an administrative negligence,” said Arnaud Pericard, Yoka’s lawyer.
“This is a disappointing decision in light of the particular circumstances of the case, Tony’s remorse and good faith. It forgets two fundamental principles of French law: the non-automaticity of sanctions and respect for the principle of proportionality.”
Yoka, 25, has, of course, proclaimed his innocence and says the missed tests – July 2016, September 2016 and March 2017 – owe more to simple negligence than any intent. But what we do know for sure is that when the testers went looking for him, he wasn’t to be found in the location he’d specified. Not once, not twice, but three times.
“There was negligence on my part, especially after the Olympics,” admitted Yoka. “But this is not a doping case. There has never been any medication taken.
“I’m told I could box abroad, but I’m not interested. I always said I wanted to box in my country and bring the first world heavyweight championship belt here.”
Mission delayed, Yoka, who last month beat Dave Allen in 10 rounds, will no doubt continue with his pro career, doing so abroad, but needs to go some to clear his name and improve a blotted copybook.
It’s one thing being stupid. It’s another thing being a cheat. Neither, however, are good looks for a professional boxer.
How do you make the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super-middleweight final between George Groves and Callum Smith even more frustrating?
Here’s how. Not content with it being delayed and delayed, on account of a Groves shoulder injury, you then tease the possibility that the final, when it’s eventually announced, won’t take place in England, the home country of both finalists, but will instead be tossed somewhere abroad.
“I’ve heard rumours of Las Vegas and the Middle East. Lots of rumours,” promoter Kalle Sauerland, one of the men behind the tournament, told IFL TV.
“That fight will take place in September and the venue is potentially outside the UK. It’s against the odds it’s in the UK.”
In a sense, this would be in keeping with the final – this alluring, problematic, confusing final – and the topsy-turvy, unpredictable nature of the WBSS itself. But that doesn’t mean it makes much sense, beyond financial, and, what’s more, it would mark a disappointing conclusion to a 168-pound tournament dominated by British fighters and sensible, compelling fights.
It’s disappointing because it has taken so long, and because momentum has been killed along the way, and it’s disappointing most of all because Groves and Smith, two reasonably popular fighters in the UK, will now have their crowning moment either in Saudi Arabia, the United States of America or somewhere else outside their home country.
It was weird enough when cruiserweights Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev were gearing up for an eventually scuppered final in Jeddah. Yet, at least for them that was considered neutral territory. Besides, there was no obvious look-at-me-over-here location screaming out to anyone.
In the case of Groves and Smith, however, it would seem common ground is no longer any good and common sense is nowhere to be found. And that’s a shame.