Joshua Buatsi edged closer to a world title shot after winning a unanimous points decision over Craig Richards in an eliminator for Dmitry Bivol’s WBA light-heavyweight belt on Saturday.
Buatsi (16-0, 13 KOs), 29, a bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympics, rarely employs the judges but he could not uproot south London rival Richards (17-3-1, 10 KOs) with his power at the O2 Arena in London, England.
“He gave me 12 hard rounds, maximum respect to him,” Buatsi said.
Buatsi has been working hard at trainer Virgil Hunter’s gym in Oakland, California, in his campaign to land a first world light-heavyweight title shot, and his quality and power shots earned him scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113 after a close, entertaining encounter.
“I want the world title next, we’re ready now,” Buatsi said.
Buatsi went into the fight No 3 with the WBA governing body, and after this win is due at shot at WBA world champion Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), 31, of Russia, whose stunning display earlier this month earned him an upset, unanimous points win over the sport’s top star, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs), of Mexico. Alvarez is considering either an autumn rematch with Bivol or a third meeting with Gennadiy Golovkin, known as “GGG”.
Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn, who promotes Bivol and Buatsi, said: “If Bivol fights GGG next, and Bivol is looking for a big fight, then I would love to bring him to the O2 for a big fight against Joshua. If Dmitry Bivol is available at the end of the year, that’s the way to go.”
Richards, 32, from Crystal Palace, gave Bivol a competitive fight a year ago, losing unanimous decision, and was again on form to give Buatsi his toughest test and denied him the statement win he craved.
“I thought I did enough, I thought I finished strong, but congratulations to Josh, he’s a hell of a fighter,” Richards said.
Both tried to establish their jab in the first round. Richards, known as “Spider”, was looking composed until Buatsi suddenly changed pace and launched an attack with his opponent on the ropes in the last 20 seconds of the round.
Buatsi, who has lived in Croydon since his family moved to England when he was aged nine, landed big shots late in the opening round and unloaded more heavy punches at close range in the second round. Richards responded with quality of his own throughout the second, and clipped Buatsi with a left hand as he put together a combination in the third round.
Neither established any clear authority early on, and both landed left hooks in a good fourth round.
Buatsi was more explosive and successful at close range, as he was in a strong finish to the fourth round.
Richards looked better when he was able to fight at long range, but he was put under intense pressure halfway through the fifth round when he was again caught on the ropes.
Buatsi could not sustain the attack, and in the sixth landed a series of big right hands before again easing off. Richards boxed neatly through the seventh round and then left Buatsi in trouble and on unsteady legs at the end of the eighth round after the best exchange of the fight. A right uppercut from Richards unsettled Buatsi, and Richards then unloaded a series of punches as he sensed an opportunity. But Buatsi fired back on the counter with a vicious right, which Richards admirably shrugged off to continue his attack.
Buatsi ambushed Richards with a sudden, sustained attack in round ten and then had to contend with a strong finish from his local rival.