Joshua Buatsi edged Craig Richards thriller but still has work to do

Joshua Buatsi showed enough class and resolve to edge a thrilling South London scrap with Craig Richards, but if it’s Dmitry Bivol next he still has work to do… the 175lbs juggernaut would have punished similar lapses in concentration

  • Joshua Buatsi earned a unanimous decision win vs Craig Richards on Saturday 
  • The 29-year-old got the better of an enthralling scrap with his South London rival
  • Promoter Eddie Hearn insists a world-title showdown could come next for him
  • Yet, Buatsi still has work to do if he is to topple WBA champion Dmitry Bivol
  • Richards stiffened his legs on several occasions and gave him plenty of trouble
  • Bivol would have taken advantage of similar shortcomings and made him pay

It was Joshua Buatsi whose hand was raised as expected, but only at the end of an enthralling, swashbuckling slug-fest with Craig Richards inside a boisterous O2 Arena.

Buatsi, who has ambitions to go on from here and conquer the light-heavyweight division, seemed too quick and slick for Richards early on in this South London derby. His speed and timing was causing the latter problems and a potential shut-out was not beyond the realm of possibility.

That was before Richards turned the tables in the middle of the contest, derailing Buatsi’s momentum and at one stage even leaving him out on his feet after stiffening his legs with a series of pinpoint blows. It served as a timely reminder for the pre-fight favourite that he still has plenty of work to do if he wants to mix it with Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev, the division’s top dogs.

Joshua Buatsi earned a unanimous decision win against Craig Richards on Saturday night

There are many positives for Virgil Hunter, Buatsi’s esteemed American trainer, to take from the display in what was undoubtedly the toughest test of his career to date. Richards is as game as they come, with a chin seemingly made of steel, and his nip-and-tuck points defeat against Bivol last year is considerably more impressive now the Russian has outclassed Canelo Alvarez.

Buatsi showcased his quality on regular occasions, with a ramrod jab and some blistering combinations overwhelming Richards at times. There is no doubting the talent he possesses.  

Yet, for a fighter who has genuine aims to topple a Bivol or a Beterbiev in the not-so distant future, he took a little too much punishment to head into one of those blockbuster encounters with realistic confidence of prevailing. 

That’s not to say he didn’t prove his own heart and resolve here. In the eighth round, Richards made his greatest breakthrough of the bout with a flurry of thudding shots, sending his destabilised and dazed opponent stumbling back towards the ropes. Though Buatsi, unfazed despite the barrage of punches coming his way, kept coming, kept swinging and kept believing he could shift momentum back in his favour. Eventually, he did exactly that.

But Richards more than made him work for it in a brilliant scrap which lived up to the billing

Buatsi was superb but also suffered lapses of concentration which may cost him at world level

He still has work to do if he is to go on and topple Dmitry Bivol or Artur Beterbiev in the future

Promoter Eddie Hearn says Bivol, who beat Canelo Alvarez this month, could come next

There is no questioning his own offensive ability. Richards was often forced to bite down on his gumshield in order to survive onslaughts from his city nemesis. And it transpired into a superb, relentless dog-fight which many rightfully billed as a 50-50.

In the end Buatsi got the decision to edge this WBA world title eliminator, and when all things were said and done he was deserving of it.  But both he and Hunter would have been hoping for a more straightforward and risk-free night to match the comfortability at which Bivol cruised to victory against the same opposition.

The handful of lapses in concentration will serve as a slight worry if, like promoter Eddie Hearn has hinted, a showdown with WBA champion Bivol is on the cards next.

But after such a gruelling scrap with Richards, Buatsi will be a huge underdog in that bout

The latter may lack one-punch knockout power but he is naturally robust and as slick as they come. He would have undoubtedly made him pay for similar shortcomings.

A meeting with the aforementioned juggernaut would be a significant step-up for Buatsi, who it must be noted is still sharpening his skill-set after just 16 professional outings. However, to dethrone him he will need to produce a punch-perfect performance when that time comes.

Certain fighters are capable of raising their game and rising to the occasion when daring to be great. Buatsi must do just that when his date of destiny eventually comes around.

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