Joshua Buatsi is another step closer to a world title shot after beating Craig Richards in a WBA light-heavyweight world title eliminator at The O2, London on Saturday night.
In a tense yet engrossing battle the two South Londoners gave those watching plenty to talk about as each played their part in a highly competitive fight.
Buatsi (16-0, 13 KOs) got the nod on all three scorecards though which read 116-112 and 115-113 (twice) to give the 2016 Olympic Bronze Medallist a unanimous decision, maintaining his unbeaten record.
The winner made a fast start in the opening round as he did in the fourth too, spring out the traps to unsettle Richards (17-3-1, 10 KOs) who is notorious for slow beginnings. Buatsi seemed eager to impress and would on occasion explode near the end of rounds with onslaughts that caught the eye.
Richards was relaxed and did his best work from distance and gave the 29-year-old a stern examination at times. Shots landed from wide and distance upsetting Buatsi’s tactics but it never felt enough on each occasion.
The fight took a breather in the seventh round after an intense six rounds which Buatsi got the better of. Those three minutes suited Richards and he utilised his boxing skills in the eighth, but the aggressive Buatsi wanted it on the inside where he looked the much stronger man.
The 32-year-old underdog was gaining confidence, his nickname (‘Spider’) was being chanted but Buatsi knew when to flick the switch and turn the noise down. He began to club Richards with right hands and in a split second looked like ending the fight on more than one occasion with bursts of action that proved how dangerous he can be.
Richards needed a strong second half to the fight and he delivered but it was too little, too late. Thrilling exchanges near the end of the fourth and eighth sessions had the crowd roaring and gasping. It was light heavyweights trading off South London style. Buatsi and Richards rolled into the 12th and threw leather till the final bell much to the approval of the supporters.
The scores gave a correct reflection. Buatsi deserved the win. He got going early and attempted to suffocate the fight out of Richards. The winner moves forward but the loser doesn’t necessarily take giant steps back. ‘Spider’ proved himself once more, but he may be kicking himself.
As for Buatsi he delivered the goods throughout and ticked more boxes on his development sheet. Five years of promise since his professional debut has now led him to the cusp of a world title shot. And WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol may be next.