Trainer Don Charles throws the gauntlet down to Olympic champion Tony Yoka

Trainer Don Charles is not giving up on France’s Olympic super-heavyweight champion Tony Yoka, despite the former gold medalist losing his last three fights.

Yoka turned professional in 2017 and is 11-3 in the pros, but has career has stalled following defeats to Martin Bakole, Carlos Takam and, last month, Belgian veteran Ryad Merhy.

Charles has only worked with Yoka for one contest, the Merhy bout in Paris, and the coach, who also works with heavyweight contender Daniel Dubois and who has a long association with Dereck Chisora, admits the job to bring Yoka to contender status is large but not insurmountable.

“It’s a big challenge for me, and I thrive on challenges,” said Charles. “I’ve always been an underdog, all my career as a coach, I’ve always come in as an underdog – if I can’t get an Olympic champion [to win a world title], then something is wrong, his whole setup is wrong. I am here to help and aid this young man. I said to him when we first met, the first meeting that we had, I made him aware that God forbid should he not go ahead and win one of the governing bodies’ world titles, a proper world title, he’ll be the third super-heavyweight to have won a super heavyweight amateur gold [medal], and not [have] converted it to a professional heavyweight championship. We had Tyrell Biggs which was the first one, and then Audley Harrison being the second… In the history of the sport to have won a super-heavyweight gold and not converted it to becoming a heavyweight world champion – Tony Yoka, do you want to be remembered as the third person to have a super-heavyweight Olympic gold and not win a world title? He said, “No, I don’t”. So let’s do something about it. So that’s our quest, to make sure that this young man – he’s 31-years-old – it’s relatively fresh, he doesn’t abuse himself, in any which way - so our mission, my mission, his mission is this: I’m hungry, I’m starving as a coach. I want success, I need success, and I will aid this young man to live his future version of an Olympic gold medalist. 

“Look what Joe Joyce has done with the silver [medal] that he won, look what he’s converted to – not writing Joe off, Joe can dust himself off and come back, and achieve.”

On his way to Olympic gold in Rio in 2018, Yoka defeated Filip Hrgovic and Joyce. The Croat is poised for a world title shot in 2024 and Joyce has had big fights with the likes of Zhilei Zhang and Joseph Parker. 

Like with Dubois, Charles wants time to work on and improve the Frenchman. Despite Yoka’s amateur pedigree, boxing the likes of Cuban Erislandy Savon and Italian Roberto Cammarelle, more work is required to take Yoka throught the heavyweight ranks if he is to fulfil his potential. 

“Again, there’s a new appointment,” Charles said, of having Dubois thrust in against Oleksandr Usyk for their first fight and Yoka having a tough one in their first bout together. “I need to totally restructure him, which is what I found with the first camp – layers. I need him to buy into the ethos of our methods and I need him to trust the process. We’re gelling and that’s the main thing. He understands what I need him to do, how I need him to be. I’m not talking about just physical, mentally – the mentality, and most of it is in the head, for any human being, most of it is in the head.” 

And although Merhy defeated Yoka on a split, Charles felt his fighter deserved the decision on the scorecards.

“The last one, again I’m not one of these moaning coaches, I’d challenge anybody to look at that fight in its entirety,” Charles explained. “In my opinion, I’m not the judges, he [Tony Yoka] did not lose the fight. The worst result they should’ve awarded for that… He’s also the home fighter, a national hero, a national treasure… The worst result they could’ve given us was a draw, I will be complaining, they gave it to the away fighter because whenever he threw punches, the other chap threw them in batches – if he threw six punches, four would be blocked and two would penetrate – but they didn’t throw them vigorously. Tony was a good amateur, he won that just with his jab alone, he won that fight. Could he have done better? Yes, he could. I wanted him to do more, he didn’t, so he gave them an excuse to rob him the way they did, which is really uncalled for. And also, since then, I’ve discovered there’s politics - I will say it - within his setup. I won’t expand on that, there’s politics, horrible politics, which is really unacceptable. I will say as much as that – that’s really unacceptable, but they cannot beat us. Tony Yoka is a very good human being first and foremost. He’s a good student of the sport, and I love a challenge – and my goodness they’ve now really given us a challenge – and we will win, they will not beat us. Provided the fighter is willing to do what I want him to do, they cannot beat us.”