Gold medalist Yoka to make pro debut in June

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Tony Yoka, the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist from France, will make his professional debut on June 2 at the Palais des Sports in Paris, Ringstar Sports promoter Richard Schaefer announced Friday.

Yoka, 25, who became a national hero in France with his controversial Olympic final victory over England’s Joe Joyce in Rio de Janeiro in August, will face Travis Clark (12-0, 8 KOs), 38, of Morristown, Ohio, in a scheduled six-round bout.

“I can’t wait to step into the ring for the first time as a professional in front of all my fans in Paris,” Yoka said. “This is a dream come true, but it’s also just the first step.”

Yoka has been preparing in California’s Bay Area with noted trainer Virgil Hunter, who is best known for his work as the trainer for unified light heavyweight titleholder Andre Ward.

“I’ve been improving every day in the gym with Virgil Hunter, and I can’t wait to show everybody what I’ve got,” Yoka said. “I know that my team is going to put me into the positions that I want, so it’s up to me to deliver in the ring.”

After the Olympics, Yoka became one of the first fighters to sign with Schaefer, the former longtime CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. Yoka also comes into the pro ranks armed with a lucrative television contract with French network Canal+, which will televise his debut.

“This is truly a momentous occasion to have the 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist making his pro debut in front of his hometown fans,” Schaefer said. “Tony Yoka’s outstanding performance in Rio was just the start of what I know will be a spectacular career. Tony is training with the renowned Virgil Hunter, and along with his swagger and personality outside of the ring, he is putting all the pieces in place with an eye toward becoming a huge star in this sport. I’m excited to help Tony reach his full potential and elevate the French boxing scene to the next level.”

As the super heavyweight gold medalist, there are huge expectations on Yoka to someday win a heavyweight world title, such as others who also won super heavyweight gold in the Olympics, including Lennox Lewis (1988), Wladimir Klitschko (1996) and Anthony Joshua (2012).

The 6-foot-7 Yoka, who began boxing at age 6, is trained by his father, Victor, a former professional boxer in the Congo. Besides the Olympic gold medal, Yoka also won several tournaments in the amateur ranks, including the 2015 world amateur championships.

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