Chris Oliver previews Saturday’s big fight between Joshua Buatsi & Craig Richards and believes the bout will go the distance.
We have waited a while to see if Joshua Buatsi is really real. But we will finally find out when he faces Craig Richards.
Buatsi was expected to do great things after he became a professional in 2016 following his Olympic bronze medal win. However, his 15-fight career is a slow burner with little momentum. Although his Rio Rio teammate Lawrence Okolie won a title and was able to defend it three times, Buatsi is still a relatively untested pro.
This will all change at the O2 Arena Saturday night, when he faces Richards in a highly anticipated light heavyweight bout.
Although there are no belts, South London bragging rights are certain to be the most important. They grew up only a few miles apart and are familiar with each other. Both have sparred and fought one another as amateurs in 2014 with Buatsi winning. However, things are different now that they are competing in the professional ranks.
There was already a lot of interest in the DAZN-televised bout. But things got even more interesting when Dmitry Bivol defeated Canelo Alvarez, the pound-for-pound king. It was only a year ago when Bivol traveled over to England to face Richards. Although Richards was not given any chance, he took him the distance and the scores were very close. Richards was never in danger of winning the fight but he was very competitive throughout the fight, especially the second half. That is not a small feat against someone like Bivol.
Richards gained a lot of confidence from the performance, and it showed when he was the first to stop Marek Mateja with a sixth round TKO in his only subsequent fight in October. Although he was only able to fight for a short time, the 32-year old looked very different from his opponent in 2019. We can expect to see him improve and we will be seeing an even better version here of the man from Crystal Palace.
Buatsi, a hot 2/9 favorite to beat Richards, is very up against Richards according to the layers. These prohibitive odds of Buatsi winning the ‘jolly” are based more on his Olympic achievements, reputation, and what he has done since removing the vest.
Buatsi has handled his moderate opposition with the same grace and professionalism that a person of his pedigree would expect, stopping 13 of his 15 victims. He was however rocked in the seventh round by Marko Calic, who used his power to end the argument. Croydon resident, however, recorded his most impressive win by ending Richard Bolotniks’ seven-fight winning streak. He was defeated over 11 rounds. However, the Latvian fighter had previously lost five times (from 24 fights) before and has never threatened being world-class.
Buatsi’s talent is unquestioned and his strong hands are obvious. This could be the beginning of Buatsi’s career. It will be a great start for the Buatsi hype train if he can demonstrate the improvements he has made since joining with US trainer Virgil Hunter, and win against Richards. Richards could be stopped from getting in his groove and scoring big using his powerful hooks, overhand rights and not allowing him to keep the distance.
Richards may be the antidote to that power, with his great jab. Buatsi will have trouble getting past that if Richards gets into his groove. We witnessed him out-jab Bivol on occasion, and it was his left-hand that caused Canelo so much trouble a fortnight back. Richards can keep the pace steady and stay out of harm’s path if it isn’t too fast. His right hand, however, can explode if he lets it go.
Buatsi wins another victory in the distance at 8/11. It may be that Buatsi sees a different Olympian now that he is facing a real threat. But that must be taken with trust. I find it a little too short. This could be closer than the odds suggest. It would not surprise me if the underdog wins, just as Bivol was on May 7 at the same price.
Buatsi was unable to stop Bolotniks after 11 rounds. I think the 6/4 offer is a good deal for Buatsi’s fight to win the title. Richards can sometimes be negative, which may not go down well among the judges. However, he can look after himself and that jab of mine could keep there from being too much action at close quarters. This could be an interesting and informative contest, rather than one that is enthralling. I think we might have more scorecard discussions after this one.