In his toughest test to date, rising light-heavyweight star Joshua Buatsi gradually broke down a granite-like Ricards Bolotniks to score a stirring 11th round stoppage at Matchroom’s Fight Camp in Brentwood on Saturday.
Golden Contract winner Bolotniks (18-6-1, 5 KOs) was implausibly tough, soaking up Buatsi’s best shots and surviving a knockdown and torrid assault in the sixth to push the South Londoner all the way before he was gunned down in the penultimate round.
Buatsi (15-0, 13 KOs) finished matters with a perfectly delivered right hand and the exhausted Bolotniks, who had poured his heart and soul into the contest, was unable to beat the count.
Now WBA No.2 Buatsi can perhaps look forward to a title shot against WBA Super champion Dmitry Bivol in another move up in class. Bolotniks certainly provided an invaluable education as the Croydon man eyes that next step.
“Most importantly, I have to thank God for the victory, different fighters have different things that work for them, I made it clear to you lot that that’s what works for me,” Buatsi told DAZN afterwards. “In my changing room, I don’t need to hear anything, don’t tell me what I did in camp, tell me what is written in the Bible. That’s what gears me up when I walk down there, what’s written in the Bible.
“I’m grateful; Bolotniks big credit to him, he pushed me. I think he said, ‘Josh hasn’t been past seven rounds before so after seven we’ll see’. I was there until 11 and landed a good shot. I worked every round, but I want to congratulate him – he’s a good champion.
“When I sat down [after a lung-busting sixth-round], I said, ‘Buatsi, who told you to empty the tank, you’ve got six left?’ but I’ve worked hard. You see in camp the sparring is hard; big credit to my sparring partners, they know who they are.
“I’ve got a great team, I’ve got a promoter [Eddie Hearn] who believes in me, he’s been pushing for fights like this because he knows I can do it. Tonight, I went out there and showed people I can do it, we just build from here.
“We all make sacrifices, I don’t want to single myself out, everyone sacrifices to be where they want to be in life. For me, yeah, I sacrificed, I’m always away from my family and I truly miss them but most importantly I want to get to the top. I feel like I’m in the right team with the right people, I’ve got a great promoter who gives me the opportunities I need. I’ll keep sacrificing.”
This proved to be a stout test for Buatsi and he passed it with flying colours. The Rio 2016 bronze medallist began on the front foot, pushing pressure fighter Bolotniks into reverse with a thudding jab. Just as Buatsi seemed in a groove, Bolotniks sneaked in a hurtful right hand. The dangerous Latvian was having his moments and far from overawed.
In the second round, Buatsi continued to ram home his left lead, looking to set up an overhand right and working the Latvian downstairs. Yet the hulking Bolotniks was biding his time and still threatening on the counter with that right hand.
Buatsi was in with a spirited opponent and couldn’t miss a beat. He retained his focus in a more measured third before ramping it up in the fourth and letting his heavy hands go. Bolotniks was cut over both eyes and now in some distress after a bright start. There was a respite of sorts when referee Howard Foster warned Buatsi for a low shot on Bolotniks’ high shorts.
The pattern continued in the fifth; Buatsi’s jolting jab was pushing Bolotniks back though the Latvian was still a factor, firing off a decent right uppercut as he looked to stem the approaching steam train.
Suddenly, the fight seemed on the brink of a swift conclusion when a left hook dropped Bolotniks heavily in the sixth. Noted as a clinical finisher, Buatsi pounced thereafter and pounded Bolotniks all over the ring but ‘The Lion’ hung in there and had the temerity to land a crunching left uppercut before the bell. Buatsi breathed heavily after his exertions and looked to have almost punched himself out.
A revived Bolotniks worked the body efficiently in a far better seventh for the visitor before Buatsi aimed another low shot to force a further intervention. “Cut it out,” warned referee Foster. “Or a point will come off.”
In the eighth, Bolotniks complained about another blow south of the border and a point was, indeed, deducted by the third man. The dogged Bolotniks wasn’t budging and his threat level was increasing as he began to drive Buatsi back. A left hook to the body made the touted Buatsi wince – he was in a serious fight.
Bolotniks was taking Buatsi into unfamiliar, deep waters. But the Croydon man responded with some stout bodywork later in the ninth. A pinpoint left hook buzzed Bolotniks near the bell. Buatsi dug in and his thudding shots had Bolotniks in reverse in the 10th. They traded lusty blows, but now Buatsi was working the Latvian over, up and down.
The incredibly tough Bolotniks had taken some ridiculous punishment and dished a bit out in return, but was somehow still there in the 11th. He was even outworking Buatsi early in the round, still dreaming the impossible dream. But in the second half of the session Buatsi had recharged. He seized the initiative once more and, as Bolotniks backed off, he detonated a devastating right hand that demolished the Latvian just like that.
A world title shot cannot be too far away for the exciting, marketable and humble Londoner of Ghanaian origin.
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.