Tony Yoka has signed with Los Angeles-based promoter Richard Schaefer’s Ringstar Sports. Yoka won the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medal for France — meaning he is expected to follow in the footsteps of fighters such as Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua and win a professional world title.
“It is a great pleasure for me to welcome our first Olympic gold medalist, Tony Yoka, to Ringstar,” Schaefer said in making the announcement on Monday. “Tony’s skills in the ring speak for themselves, and combined with his tremendous charisma, he will transcend boxing and become a global superstar and ambassador for our sport in short order. I am pleased to work with Tony and his team to make his dream of becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world a reality.”
Schaefer told ESPN that the 24-year-old Yoka will come into the pro ranks armed with a lucrative television contact from French broadcaster Canal+, which has been the home for major boxing in the country for many years. Schaefer added that Yoka’s pro debut is penciled in for May 20 at a venue in Paris to be determined.
It’s the second big signing in the past few days for Schaefer, who also signed David Haye (28-2, 26 KOs) of England, a former heavyweight and cruiserweight world titleholder.
At the Rio de Janeiro Games in August, the 6-foot-7 Yoka, who began boxing at age 6, won a controversial split decision against Joe Joyce of Great Britain to win the gold medal. That was the crowning moment of a standout amateur career in which Yoka also won the gold medal at the 2015 world amateur championships, among other tournament wins, and defeated recently crowned pro world titleholder Joseph Parker.
As a professional, Yoka will be trained by the highly respected Virgil Hunter, who is best known for his work with unified light heavyweight world titleholder Andre Ward, an American who was the 2004 Olympic gold medalist.
“I am very excited to embark on the next chapter in boxing and turn professional with Ringstar,” said Yoka, who was taught to box by his father, Victor, a former professional fighter in the Congo. “I am committed to hard work and dedicating myself to the sport as I have done in the past and achieve my ultimate goal of becoming undisputed and unified heavyweight world champion. With Ringstar, I have the best promotional company, and with Virgil Hunter, I have the best trainer in my corner. We will work as a team to get these belts and become the new face of boxing. My first fight will take place in mid-May in France after a three-month training camp with Virgil.”
Said Hunter, who will train Yoka at his base in the Oakland, California, area: “I am thrilled to be able to work with Tony Yoka. He truly is a rare talent who has tremendous potential, and with only 24 years of age, he has the opportunity to become the future of our sport. The fact that he is moving his training camp from France to California shows how committed he is to boxing, and I am committed to helping him fulfill his dream of winning the heavyweight world championship.”
Schaefer has partnered with Jerome Abiteboul, a French businessman who will serve as chief executive of Ringstar France and oversee the events Yoka fights on in his home country.
“I am very pleased to be part of the next chapter of Tony Yoka’s career and help guide him together with Richard and our team from Olympic gold in Rio to the heavyweight championship,” Abiteboul said. “After evaluating many proposals, we decided to sign with Ringstar because Richard’s track record in business and in boxing is unmatched, and we fully share the same philosophy of empowering athletes and entertainers.”
Since his return to boxing last summer, Schaefer, the former longtime CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, has signed seven fighters. In addition to Yoka and Haye, Schaefer has signed several highly regarded amateurs: welterweight Money Powell IV; welterweight Eimantas Stanionis, a 2016 Lithuanian Olympian; 2016 U.S. Olympic lightweight Carlos Balderas and his older brother, bantamweight Jose Balderas; and middleweight Misael Rodriguez, a 2016 Mexican Olympic bronze medalist.
Since he announced he was returning to boxing promotion two years after his split from Golden Boy, Schaefer said he has been contacted by fighters around the world interested in signing with him.
“I must have had by now probably 180 fighters who have contacted me wanting to sign with me, and I’m not making this up,” Schaefer said. “Some are veterans, some are younger guys, some are well-known guys. The bottom line is I have connections everywhere and people can find me. With Tony, it came through a third party that he was interested in talking to me, and then I got to know him and his team, and we got along and we were on the same page.
“In France, he can’t go anywhere without being absolutely mobbed. It’s hard for him to move around in France. He appreciates the fans, but by training in California, Tony can really focus on his training with Virgil.”
As if winning the gold medal wasn’t enough to make Yoka a star in France, he is one-half of the country’s most famous sports couple. His girlfriend is fellow boxer Estelle Mossely, who won Olympic gold in Rio in the women’s lightweight division. They are known in France as the “golden couple,” in part because of a photo that went viral of them in an embrace wrapped in a French flag at the Olympics.
Schaefer said he hopes to have Yoka also fight in the United States from time to time.
“He will fight in France, although we may bring him to the United States to fight as well, maybe once a year,” Schaefer said.
“He’s very charismatic; he speaks English. Once you meet the guy, you know he’s a really special young man. I fell in love with the guy. Now the plan is to bring the heavyweight title to France.”