Joshua Buatsi can prove he’s the real deal in a genuine acid test against Craig Richards

Prior to Dmitry Bivol shocking the world in Las Vegas last weekend, there were many citing his less-than convincing win over Craig Richards last year when building the case for a routine Canelo Alvarez victory.  

The Mexican pound-for-pound star – who had blasted his way through the super-middleweight division, who had previously stepped up to 175lbs before to dethrone an admittedly over the hill Sergey Kovalev and who had already beaten taller opposition in Callum Smith – would surely be too good for a fighter who failed to make an impression against Craig Richards, right? 

Wrong. The Russian made the iconic Madison Square Garden stage his dance floor as he waltzed his way to an historic victory, with Canelo falling at the first hurdle after embarking on a new journey to light-heavyweight domination. 

.

Dmitry Bivol emphatically defeated pound-for-pound contender Canelo Alvarez last week 

The action in the light-heavyweight division continues on Saturday as Joshua Buatsi (L) and Craig Richards (R) do battle

Of course, the excuses flooded in: Canelo was never a light-heavyweight, Bivol was just too big; there were even some arguing the Mexican’s switch to veganism left him flat and without knockout power.  

But, while there are perhaps elements of truth in those statements, certainly the first two, anyway, the reality is that Bivol was simply too good. And with that, Richards – who fell to a competitive points defeat to the WBA champion last year – gained newfound respect overnight. 

Now, on Saturday night, he and London rival Joshua Buatsi go toe-to-toe in an enticing domestic showdown suddenly deemed more competitive than it once was, with both fighters pushing towards a world title shot in a 175lb division littered with killers. 

While there certainly has been a paradigm shift in the perception of Richards’ abilities, it’s knockout-specialist Buatsi who remains the overwhelming favourite to prevail at the O2 Arena. 

Share

It was he who came out on top when the pair met as amateurs in 2014, albeit in a bout both insist no longer holds any significance. It was also he who went down the Team GB route, defying all prior expectation to claim a bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games. 

And it’s he who has the backing of Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua, who is trained by world renowned coach Virgil Hunter and who is tipped by many to be one of the next big stars in British boxing. 

The 29-year-old – once described by Hearn as the ‘nicest, most dangerous person you could ever meet’ – has rather cruised to 15-0 since turning professional in 2017, with only two of his hapless opponents to date hearing the final bell. 

It was only in his most recent outing, against Ricards Bolotniks last August, that Buatsi went past seven rounds, as he knocked the Latvian out in the 11th round of a momentum-building victory.  

Joshua Buatsi knocked out Latvian Ricards Bolotniks at Matchroom’s Fight Camp on Saturday

Buatsi is closing in on an opportunity at a world title following his 15th successive victory 

After dispatching of an impressively tough, genuinely live opponent, Hearn insisted it was now Buatsi’s turn to take on Bivol, stating ‘Britain has another world champion right here’. 

But with Bivol occupied by Canelo, and with Richards bouncing back from defeat with a stoppage victory over Marek Matyja in October, a deal for the London pair to square off in a thrilling encounter was reached. 

Buatsi, who has on numerous occasions outlined his intention to win a world title in 2022, admitted at their March presser that he now needed to up his level of opposition. 

‘I’m at the point where I want to fight these guys, I want to get into these big fights,’ he said. ‘May 21 is the first stop and when we handle that, we deal with whoever is next.’ 

Richards, on the other hand, insists the moment has come later than it should have for Buatsi, believing the light-heavyweight has had an easy ride to date. 

‘He’s been played safe,’ he said during their recent face-off. ‘Guess what there’s no safety caps on. May 21st, we find out.’

‘Safety cap’s off, the real s***’s here now. Your ego’s your downfall. You believe you’re something special.’

Richards believes Buatsi is in for an awakening having been carefully managed so far

Lawrence Okolie turned professional at the same time and is now looking to unify the cruiserweight division

Joshua Buatsi 

Age: 29

Height: 6ft 2in

Reach: 74.5′ 

Stance: Orthodox

Record: 15-0-0

Knockouts: 13

Rounds: 65

Debut: 2017

Craig Richards 

Age: 32

Height: 6ft 1in

Reach: 73′ 

Stance: Orthodox

Record: 17-2-1

Knockouts: 10

Rounds: 111

Debut: 2015

For a point of comparison, Lawrence Okolie, who also fought at the 2016 Olympics, failing to medal, turned professional just four months before Buatsi and has since won a cruiserweight world title and is now pushing for a unification. 

While Buatsi, according to Richards, has been able to cherry pick his opponents as he builds towards the division’s elite, ‘Spider’ has been forced to go in another direction, coming into a number of his fights as the underdog. 

Though suffering his first professional defeat in 2017, Richards showed exactly what he’s about when stepping into the ring against Frank Buglioni for the vacant British title on just one weeks’ notice. 

Tough nights were also expected in his title fights against Jake Ball and Shakan Pitters, two fighters he knocked out to claim the WBA continental light-heavyweight and the British light-heavyweight belts respectively. 

And it’s this experience gained which Richards insists will stand him in good stead come fight night.

Richards believes the experience he has gained will stand him in good stead for the fight

His most notable performance came in a defeat to WBA light-heavyweight champion Bivol

‘Spider’ deservedly lost but posed more problems than pound-for-pound star Canelo did

‘Obviously I’ve been thrown in the deep end a few times and I’ve just been swimming and swimming,’ he said. ‘I have no regrets because that’s what has put me in this position today, I’ve had a lot of domestic clashes, grudge matches and cross path fights. 

‘That’s all built my experience and ability to be confident enough to go in to win and win on May 21.

‘I believe if I didn’t have those fights, it would be a harder fight, if this fight was scheduled without the experience. 

‘I’m ready to go, that’s what’s made me confident, I’m seeing the growth in myself every fight and every week, every day in gym. I’m just looking forward to going out and perform, showing that experience of the hard route.’

Regardless of how they’ve got here, the impending fight – set to determine Bivol’s mandatory challenger – is now a genuine crossroads moment for both fighters; a loss, particularly for an unbeaten Buatsi, ranked fourth by the WBC, third by the WBA and second by the IBF, would be hugely damaging. 

With victory, either fighter would take another step towards the elite – though the belts are likely to be tied up for some time. 

WBC and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev and WBO titleholder Joe Smith Jr are set to square off in June, with promoter Frank Warren recently claiming Anthony Yarde will take on the winner. 

Light-heavyweights Artur Beterbiev (L) and Joe Smith Jr (R) are set to do battle on June 18 

Callum Smith (right) is now a contender at 175lbs after moving up from super-middleweight

Bivol, meanwhile, insists he’s willing to do battle with Canelo once more, after the Mexican indicated he wants the rematch in the immediate aftermath of his Vegas defeat. 

One name which would certainly generate hype in abundance is Callum Smith, however, who stepped up to 175lb to defeat Lenin Castillo via second-round stoppage in September last year on the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua undercard.  

And Smith – who is set to fight this summer, possibly on the undercard of Joshua’s rematch with Usyk – insists he would be willing to fight the winner of the impending bout, which he thinks will be Buatsi. 

‘I’ll be open to fight anyone,’ he said. ‘I believe I’m the best in Britain and I believe I can become the best in the world. I want to become world champion. If for whatever reason, I knew for sure a world title fight wasn’t gonna come anytime soon then of course I’d fight whoever the next best available opponent was.’

Even beyond Smith, the possible match-ups are endless – even on the domestic scene, with the likes of Lyndon Arthur, Callum Johnson and Dan Azeez all viable opponents. 

For the winner, however, they can forget about the domestic scene and move onto bigger and better things. 

And on Saturday night, we’ll find out exactly how good both Buatsi and Richards are.  

 

Sign up here to watch the fight exclusively on DAZN 

Share

Read more:

  • DAZN