Friday, 20 May 2022 06:16

Joshua Buatsi v Craig Richards: Olympian 'ready for world title shot'

Joshua Buatsi says he is "ready for a world-title shot", but the light-heavyweight must first overcome Craig Richards in London on Saturday.

Buatsi, who won Olympic bronze in 2016, faces former world-title challenger Richards in one of the biggest British dust-ups of the year at the O2 Arena.

"It's my most important fight to date," unbeaten Buatsi, 29, says.

"Why? Because it's the next one and every fight I want to keep on progressing and winning."

In a division packed with talent, Dmitry Bivol - who beat Richards on points last year - holds the WBA title, while WBC and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev will face WBO champion Joe Smith Jr next month.

"It's just a matter of being ready. I've made it clear to these guys I'm ready," Buatsi adds.

Richards, meanwhile, harbours his own world-title ambitions. "I'm not here to spoil the party, I'm here to fulfil my own dreams and keep moving forward in my career," the 32-year-old says.

Contrasting journeys to world level

After a stellar amateur career, Buatsi signed with Matchroom Boxing in 2017.

Injuries and the pandemic resulted in relative inactivity, as he fought just once in 2020 and twice last year, but the Ghana-born Londoner is content with where he is at in his career.

"When I look at the crop of the 2016 Olympic light-heavyweights, I've got the highest rankings," he says.

"I want to sit here and say I've got a world title next to me but I'm also in the position where I'm getting closer to that.

"I'm here undefeated: good position, good ranking and improving fighter. I'll take that."

Richards says his own boxing journey, without the fanfare and hype of that given to the Olympian, has meant he has had to "earn it the hard way" - and he is relishing the underdog status.

"Buatsi had a good career as an amateur, he won a lot and medalled in the Olympics," he says.

"Of course when they do that, they're tipped for big things, so the promoters invest in them and map them out good and get the rewards for them.

"It's probably the fifth time the bookies have me as an underdog. I just have to shut them up again; let my friends and family win a lot of money."

'I'm not reading too much into Bivol-Richards'

Richards proved his world-level credentials in May 2021 during a close points loss to Bivol - a feat which became more impressive following the Russian's win over pound-for-pound star Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez earlier this month.

"When I boxed him in a close fight, they said that it's not that Craig must be good, but that Bivol must not be good as we thought it was," Richards says.

"But once Bivol beat the pound-for-pound king Canelo, they're like, well, Craig must be good then."

Buatsi, however, says he is "not reading too much" into that performance.

"It's different styles and different opponents," he says. "I'm not one to sit here and start singing praises because he went the distance with Bivol."

Who is the best light-heavyweight in Britain?

With Beterbiev and Smith Jr contesting a unification bout and Bivol potentially re-matching against Alvarez next, the winner of Richards-Buatsi may have to wait a little longer for a world-title shot.

There are plenty of options domestically, though, with Callum Johnson, Callum Smith, Anthony Yarde all ranked highly with the governing bodies.

Buatsi is aiming to to prove his worth as the best in Britain, in addition to tackling global domination.

"All the other guys would put themselves as number one but the only way we would ever know is if we were to fight each other or if somebody got a world title and then singled themselves out," he says.

A fight with fellow Londoner Yarde has been mooted over the past few years, and Buatsi is hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

"We shouldn't be like 40 and saying we should have fought each other when we had the chance," he says. "It would be a missed opportunity. Hopefully we can make it happen."

Richards says he has already proven his worth against top-level British light-heavyweights, however, referencing his stoppage victories over Jake Ball and Shakan Pitters.

"I've had the domestic fights - it's not new to me," he says. "I was the only one mixing it up when nobody else was. I'm at world level now and have to prove it."

[BBC]

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