Great Britain currently boasts ten reigning boxing world champions. Long-time titleholders like Tyson Fury and Chantelle Cameron rub shoulders with newly-minted champs like Joe Cordina and Sandy Ryan in the Union Jack honour roll. Such is the depth of talent in this country, there are already fighters emerging who could add to that list. Alongside former kingpins like Anthony Joshua and Josh Warrington are a new breed of boxer. Perhaps front and centre of this next generation is Joshua Buatsi.
The 30-year-old light heavyweight is no ingenue. The Rio 2016 bronze medalist has built an impressive 16-0 record with 13 knockouts to his name. World ranked by all four major bodies, with a top five ranking in three of them, Buatsi’s time is almost at hand. Given his age and his peaking skills, he cannot afford to wait much longer to aim for world championships.
This Saturday’s clash with WBA number 14 and WBO number 13 Pawel Stepien should be the final step for Buatsi to earn a title shot. However, the Ghana-born slugger has been talking up a pair of domestic dust-ups instead.
Buatsi recently signed with BOXXER after spending the last few years under Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing. In a recent interview with Sky Sports, the 30-year-old somehow managed to deny he had made the move in order to fight Dan Azeez, while simultaneously talking up said fight.
“The move coming to Sky wasn’t to fight Dan Azeez. It’s a fight that’s available because yes, he is promoted by the same promoter but that wasn’t a driving point.” he asserted, before going on to make it sound exactly like a driving point. “He’s won all the belts up to European level, he’s number one in Europe. He is a good fighter. So, I think when we mention Dan Azeez, whether other people want to give him credit or not he is a top 10 opponent.”
Azeez is not the only all-British collision on Buatsi’s lips. A fight with two-time title challenger Anthony Yarde could also be on the cards. Speaking about Yarde’s recent defeat to unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, Buatsi said, “He showed bags of heart, bags and bags of heart. At the end of the day he has fought for a world title twice and I haven’t. I know he was stopped in both of them, but he gave a good account of himself.”
Of course a world title shot is not the be all and end all in boxing, but it does seem strange for Buatsi to be setting his sights below that level. Azeez is an exciting fighter but he has only just won the European title. Yarde meanwhile has mixed at world level but would surely make more sense as a first title defence rather than a further obstacle to world honours?
In his last fight, Buatsi beat Craig Richards via unaimous decision. The former world title challenger, who had taken Dmitry Bivol the distance in 2021, was seen as a robust test of Buatsi’s credentials. It was a test he passed with flying colurs in an enthralling fight. At best, meetings with Azeez and Yarde would be a sideways move. Appetising bouts, sure. But where is the career advancement?
If Buatsi becomes the first man to defeat Stepien, he will have answered every question ahead of a possible shot at Beterbiev or Bivol. Circumstances seem to be contriving to keep the two light heavyweight champions apart, meaning Buatsi will be next best-placed to face one of them. Win, lose or draw; a fight with Dan Azeez or Anthony Yarde will still be there. At the age of 30, Buatsi is peaking but he isn’t past it. He could fight one of the champions and both his proposed domestic rivals if he wanted to.
But the world title fight should come first. Look at the British fighters in recent years who waited too long to pull the trigger on global ambitions. Dillian Whyte allowed Alexander Povetkin to render him a shell of himself before Tyson Fury picked over the bones. Joe Joyce has just seen his own ambitions go up in smoke at a time when he should have been fighting Oleksandr Usyk rather than Zhilei Zhang. Why potentially get clobbered by the European champion or by a twice-beaten challenger? Why not venture it all on a shot at Beterbiev?
Those steering the career of Buatsi will have a plan. The first part of it unfolds on Saturday as ‘Just Business’ faces Stepien. The visitor will be fighting outside Poland for the first time and has not mixed at the same level as Buatsi. Get through this and a number of options will open up for Buatsi. But however tempting those box office domestic showdowns are, he would be best served trying to take on the world.
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