BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Craig ‘Spider’ Richards has had plenty of time to train and formulate a battleplan for tomorrow’s South London showdown with Joshua Buatsi. But that definitely wasn’t the case for his first big title fight.
The 32-year-old suffered the first of only two defeats in his 20 professional bouts when he was outpointed by British light-heavyweight champion Frank Buglioni in October 2017.
But Richards, who accepted the challenge at only five days notice, enhanced his reputation in defeat.
The Crystal Palace boxer had only fought the weekend before in Belfast against journeyman Norbert Szekeres.
Richards told the South London Press: “I stopped him in three and then in the bar, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Eddie [Hearn, Matchroom Sport chairman] told me someone had dropped out for the Buglioni fight. He asked if I’d fill in.
“It was a weight above at that time, I was still campaigning at super-middleweight, but I trained for two days after getting back from Ireland and we fought.
“I gave Buglioni a decent fight. I came on strong early on but maybe his fitness took over in the latter stages. I was still fighting all the way to the end. He outworked me, which was probably inevitable after taking a fight so short notice.”
Richards feels that some of his most successful nights, like stoppage wins over Jake Ball and Shakan Pitters, the latter winning him the British title, have not garnered him the plaudits he deserves.
It is not something he expects to happen if he can inflict a first loss on Croydon’s Buatsi, who won bronze for GB at the 2016 Olympics and was touted for world title honours when he turned over.
Richards said: “I’d beaten Alan Higgins, then 12-0 with six KOs, earlier in my career but he was not a Matchroom fighter, he was a really good amateur who had some good wins but was coming up the hard way. So when I beat him I didn’t really get any credit for it.
“Ball was a former GB boy and had a lot of hype. There was a massive buzz around him at the time.
“I’m always the underdog with the bookies when I go into a big fight and people say I’m going to get smashed. I got told that when I fought Ball. Then when I won it was: ‘Who is Jake Ball?’ The same with Pitters – he was 14-0 and unbeaten, he’d had won the Ultimate Boxxer tournament. After I beat him it was: ‘Who is Shakan Pitters?’.
“Every time I win, people are disregarding them. I feel this time they can’t now turn around and say: ‘Who is Buatsi?’ Because they have been raving about him.”
Richards had been in talks about facing Germany’s Dominic Boesel (32-3), who holds the IBO world title.
“He’s also ranked number one with the WBA,” explained Richards. “They [Matchroom] said: ‘Instead of that fight would you take this fight [against Buatsi]?’
“There were options on big fights. This was presented to me – the same sort of opportunities but a bigger purse. They wanted this fight and I accepted this fight.
“This is a headline fight and I’ve always wanted to headline the 02. The package was better. I want to be involved in big nights.
“I’ve boxed early on the Kell Brook-Gennady Golovkin card there and also been there to watch Dillian Whyte. I went to a lot of the early Anthony Joshua ones there too.”
Richards’ stock potentially rose earlier this month without a punch being thrown. He lost a unanimous decision to WBA Super world champion Dmitry Bivol last May but two of the judges’ cards only had him losing by one and two rounds respectively.
The Russian produced an upset points win over ring legend Canelo Alvarez this month in Las Vegas.
If Richards can derail Buatsi (15-0) then another world title crack is almost in his grasp.
“There is no disrespect meant to him, I just think I’m a better fighter,” said Richards. “He hits people low, he hits people on the back of the head and he punches off the breaks. He can be pretty dirty at times.
“You know you can’t switch off and you have to be prepared for it.”
Catford’s Ellie Scotney, 24, has youth on her side when she defends her WBA Inter-Continental super-bantamweight title on the Buatsi-Richards undercard.
Scotney (4-0) won a unanimous decision over Jorgelina Guanini at Alexandra Palace in February to claim the vacant belt. Next up is Argentina’s Maria Cecilia Roman, 39.
The South American was outpointed by Australian Ebanie Bridges for the IBF world bantamweight title in March.
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