Cool and calm in the ring…but Joshua Buatsi annoyed at claims he had pampered route in professional boxing after sacrifices made to win Olympic bronze

BY RICHARD CAWLEY
richard@slpmedia.co.uk

Joshua Buatsi has been a cool and calm operator in his boxing career. But there is one particular subject that does tend to trigger at least some level of annoyance.

The 29-year-old unbeaten light-heavyweight, highly ranked by all the major governing bodies, takes on fellow South Londoner Craig ‘Spider’ Richards tomorrow as the pair headline Matchroom Boxing’s 02 Arena show.

Richards has claimed that Buatsi, as a bronze medallist for GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has been afforded a more cosseted pathway in the professional ranks.

But Buatsi, raised in Croydon, is quick to point out the sacrifices he made early in his career.

He also walked away with a bronze medal at the European Championships in 2015 as well as winning two English National Championships as an amateur.

Buatsi told the South London Press: “The narrative that Spider kept on saying was that I’ve had it easy. But I said: ‘Okay, let’s break it down. We were both amateurs, both entered the same tournaments and were given the same opportunities’. One went further than the other and went on to get an Olympic medal, which I had to kill myself for.

“I gave up everything in my life at that time to make sure I would qualify. And when I qualified, I had to give up even more to make sure I tried to somehow get a medal.

“The best 32 men in my division were there and I happened to be one that got a medal, I’m forever grateful for that.

“So when people say that other stuff my reaction is: ‘C’mon, I worked hard for that’. Great Britain didn’t select me and say: ‘Josh, we want you to go the Olympics…actually here’s a bronze medal too’. We had to work for it.

“When I joined Great Britain I was still going full-time to uni, so I was going to Sheffield [English Institute Of Sport] every other week, training three times a week with the boys, coming home and then opening my laptop – trying to catch up.

“I was rushing back to London and booking appointments with my teachers and lecturers, trying to understand. I was falling back on coursework.

“Then I said: ‘You know what? This is getting a bit heavy. I need to go part-time’. Bear in mind, at that time, I was being sent to tournaments around the world.

“I got on the Olympic team August 2014 and I won the medal in August 2016. So in January of 2016, approaching the Olympic year, I rang my uni and said: ‘Guys, I’m going to stop uni for a bit. I don’t want you to send me any emails or any letters. I’m having time out. I need to try and concentrate on going to the Olympic Games’.

“I was thinking at that stage ‘I better actually qualify’, because I’d always used boxing as an excuse to my lecturers to give me extensions.

“I needed to qualify so I could let them read it in the papers and know I wasn’t talking rubbish.”

Buatsi was studying a degree in management and sports science at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.

He said: “I moved from London to Sheffield in January [2016], lived up there until April, qualified [for Rio] in April, came back for two weeks and then went back to Sheffield until the Olympic Games. I moved out of my comfort zone.

“When I got the medal I took it to uni and I said: ‘Guys, this why I was asking for a two-week extension while I was in a different country or timezone and couldn’t get the work in on time. This is what I was doing’. I had something tangible to show them.

“Uni was just one aspect. Then there is family and friends – missing out on events and personal life. It was taking a break from anyone and everyone – being really, really selfish. It was a price I had to pay.

“When I came back from the Olympics then my boys were like: ‘Bro, sack off uni. You’ve won a medal, turn pro and make money’.

“But I was like ‘nah man, I’m a year away [from finishing the course]’. Within two weeks of coming back I was back at uni and living a normal life, trying to finish my degree. I got a 2:1, I was four marks off a first.

“Damn, I did all that hustling and bustling and I could’ve got more. But it’s still a good grade.”

Buatsi arguably has more to lose this weekend. Not only is he unbeaten – 13 of his 15 straight victories coming inside the distance – but he is ranked no lower than sixth by the four major governing bodies.

He is number two with the IBF, three with the WBA and four with the WBA. Crystal Palace’s Richards is only in the top-15 of two of those organisations.

A world title shot is still a little way off with Joe Smith Junior and Artur Berterbiev due to meet in a three-belt unification in June.

WBA champion Dmitry Bivol has a contractual obligation to rematch Mexican ring legend Canelo Alvarez after outpointing him earlier this month.

Buatsi is five years into his career in the paid ranks. Did he expect to have fought for a world title by now?

Buatsi said: “Being a professional wasn’t something I had done before, so I can’t say I thought I would have done this or that.

“Every division is different. The light-heavyweight division gets more competitive every year. I’ve got good rankings and I’m heading in the right direction. If you’re heading in the right direction then you’re doing something right.

“I haven’t got anything to criticise myself about, in regards to that.

“Hopefully we will keep the ball rolling [of domestic showdowns]. [Anthony] Yarde and [Lyndon] Arthur did it and now myself and Spider are doing it. Hopefully the other British light-heavyweights can get it on and we can have some kind of rivalry going on.

“It will be good for us and it will be good for the British fans as well.”

Buatsi has not boxed since an 11-round win over Ricards Bolotniks at Matchroom’s Fight Camp show in August.

Those shows during the Covid-19 pandemic were at the company’s Brentwood HQ – effectively the family home of Matchroom supremo Barry Hearn. Now comes being the star attraction, along with Richards, in front of a big crowd.

“It feels amazing,” said Buatsi. “I used to drive past the 02 when there were big events on.

“Not only am I boxing there but I’m headlining there. What can you say against that? It’s a perfect venue for a scrap like this.

“To date he [Richards] is the most important opponent. I say that because he is my next fight and it’s important that I win to progress my career. That’s why I’m looking to take care of business.”

Fighters often hype up contests by engaging in verbal exchanges before the physical trade off in the ring.

Who can forget David Haye wearing a T-shirt with an image of him holding the severed heads of the Klitchsko brothers? Or the metal fence that separated him from Dereck Chisora before they fought at West Ham’s Upton Park? The Hayemaker earned a fortune from landing bouts that caught the public’s imagination.

Buatsi, by contrast, has always cut a respectful figure, shying away from bombast.

“Be true to yourself,” he said.

“If one day I wake up and think ‘this guy is talking a whole load of stuff and I’m going to bite at him’, then I’ll bite at him.

“But, as of now, I don’t feel the need to do that. The beauty of boxing is that you get to settle it in the ring.

“People can do their talking but I’m like ‘okay mate, I’ll see you on the appointed date in eight weeks time and that’s when we get to settle this’.

“I prefer that style a lot more. It comes quite easily and naturally. It’s not something I have to think about ‘ooh, should I bite back or should I not?’”

PICTURES: MARK ROBINSON/MATCHROOM BOXING

 

 


 

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