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Anthony Joshua's downfall plotted by Martin Bakole - his 'best friend' and African prince turned heavyweight contender

"Martin Bakole is the most avoided heavyweight in the world"

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Watch this vicious knockout from Martin Bakole

When Martin Bakole returns from the specialist food shop that sells African produce in his quaint Scottish village, he will flick through a deluge of personal well-wishes and will expect to find one from Anthony Joshua.

The world champion is a "best friend" and a regular sparring partner but Bakole is eyeing the crown to the heavyweight division - he is no stranger to royal gold, having forsaken a life of sovereignty in Africa for the uphill battle as a boxing contender.

Bakole has just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo where he became a father, welcoming another heir to his family's regal bloodline. Now, back to the day job in a Scottish gym where he will continue chasing down Joshua.

Anthony Joshua, Martin Bakole, Agit Kabayel [pic courtesy of Martin Bakole's official Twitter account]
Image: Bakole and Joshua are regular sparring partners
Martin Bakole
Image: Martin Bakole has 12 KOs in 15 wins

"He could beat Joshua and Tyson Fury tomorrow, no problem," beams Billy Nelson, the trainer and manager who discovered Bakole four years ago and tempted him to remain in a suburb of Airdrie, Scotland.

Bakole's reputation as a heavyweight to keep an eye on is due to a string of explosive knockouts, his regular role sparring Joshua and the bold proclamations of Nelson.

Bakole tells Sky Sports he would love to oblige Joshua's dream of a fight in Africa: "100 percent, of course. It would be a big show, not only for Africa, but for the whole world. Imagine if Joshua fought in Nigeria or my home in Congo…

"We have really good sparring. A lot of people avoid sparring me so when he gives me the chance, I always go. You can't go into a fight without good sparring. I go to Joshua not with the attitude of a sparring partner - I go for myself.

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"I have a very good relationship with Joshua. He is my best friend, we joke on WhatsApp."

Nelson chimes in: "Steel sharpens steel. Joshua is a big, strong guy and so is Martin. Their boxing brains work overtime together and that is the most important thing."

Nelson continues: "The government of his country are very supportive - they will be right behind Martin and especially if he fought Joshua, who has Nigerian family and has always wanted to fight in Africa.

"AJ would want to fight the best African heavyweight. The only other half-decent African heavyweight is Efe Ajagba, and Martin would knock him out inside four rounds."

Ajagba, from Nigeria, is unbeaten in 14 and recently told Sky Sports about his own dream of challenging Joshua: "It would be perfect. Two Nigerian warriors fighting in a title fight".

But Bakole insists: "I am No 1 in Africa. I have been calling Ajagba out. We are No 1 and No 2."

Anthony Joshua
Image: Anthony Joshua is IBF, WBA and WBO champion

Bakole's father is the king of the Kananga province in DR Congo.

"He was a boxer before he was a king," Bakole says.

What a life!

"Not bad," he smiles.

Bakole's older brother Ilunga Makabu is the heir to their father's throne and just so happens to also be the WBC cruiserweight champion.

Tony Bellew had to pick himself up off the canvas at Goodison Park against Makabu to fulfil his world title dream.

Bakole, who came to the UK in support of his brother, soon linked up with Nelson and now calls Scotland home.

"My brother taught me to box. My father taught me to jab and to move," Bakole says.

"[Ilunga Makabu] is a very big inspiration. He brought me to South Africa to box. I learned a lot from sparring him every day. He is everything in boxing to me. I travelled everywhere with him, in his corner.

"He always gives me advice - he asks for the name of my opponents then he has a look at them, and gives advice. But besides boxing he is my big brother, you know?"

Imagine two brothers headlining in their home country's capital Kinshasa, the city which gave to the world The Rumble in the Jungle.

"That would be a dream come true," Bakole smiles. "I tell my coach: 'Imagine if, one day, me and my brother fight in Kinshasa on the same night'.

"When I win the world heavyweight title I want my first title defence to be back in Congo."

Heir to the throne Makabu has won three fights in Kinshasa already and is a hero to the locals.

"But I want to be famous in the UK, everywhere, not just Kinshasa," says Bakole.

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Watch how Bakole stopped Johnson - an opponent Dubois and Hrgovic could not halt

Part of the allure surrounding Bakole is due to the whispers about what he has done away from the cameras.

As well as Joshua, he has shared a ring to spar with Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce (Nelson is adamant that Bakole would comfortably beat the latter duo).

He has won 15 out of 16 fights and is a leading part of a group of emerging heavyweights below the age of 30, including Dubois, Ajagba, Tony Yoka and Filip Hrgovic.

He would happily fight Yoka or Hrgovic tomorrow, Nelson insists.

"Martin is the most avoided heavyweight on the planet," Nelson adds. "He hasn't even shown 75 per cent of what he's really got.

"Boxers are intelligent. They know. When Martin out-skills somebody in sparring they go home and think: 'Why would I fight Bakole wearing 10oz gloves when he hurt, cut or wobbled me wearing 20oz gloves?'"

Bakole chips in: "That's why they avoid me."

The blip in his record came against Michael Hunter two years ago, a shock stoppage defeat and a chink in Bakole's armour.

He has since roared back by ending his next four fights early including against Mariusz Wach, who went the distance with Dillian Whyte, and Kevin Johnson, who couldn't be knocked out by Andy Ruiz Jr, Hrgovic or Dubois.

Bakole is still aged just 27 and, although he isn't ranked by any governing body, one emphatic win usually opens doors in the heavyweight world.

Martin Bakole in action against Michael Hunter at York Hall on October 13, 2018 in London, England.
Image: Michael Hunter is the only opponent to beat Bakole

He plans to make an impact before the end to 2020 but, for now, his priority is to return to the little shop that sells African food to the people of Airdrie, Scotland.

He is a vegetarian, another quirk to the prince who became a heavyweight contender, although Nelson insists he will eat fish sometimes.

His wife and new-born son will visit him soon: "I love to stay in Scotland so they will join me to be close to me."

Have the Scottish people accepted him as one of their own?

"I love them, that's why I decided to live here," he says. "They support me so much. One day I will jump in the ring with a Scottish flag. I am the next king of Scotland!"

Can you be a king in Africa and the UK?

"Of course he can," Nelson interrupts.

"He'll be the king of the world, not just two countries!"

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