It was delightful at times, dicey at others, but importantly light-heavyweight contender Joshua Buatsi passed his latest test with distinction against a durable Ricards Bolotniks effort in the main event to finish a three-week slate of shows from Matchroom’s DAZN Fight Camp on a high.
Despite some resistance, Buatsi delivers on his promise
R11, 2:08 – Joshua Buatsi retains WBA international light-heavyweight title, KOs Bolotniks
Just as you thought this was going the distance, hearing commentator Andy Lee question Buatsi’s ability to sustain attacks enough with clearly depleted energy reserves… seconds later he flattened a durable Latvian for the second time on an eventful night that didn’t go all his way.
While his R4 knockout win vs. Daniel Dos Santos in mid-May was more vicious by comparison, the manner of this defiant outcome felt progressive when most of his bouts have left fans (and critics) demanding more from a fighter continually hyped up to be a future world champion.
Twelve months ago, promoter Eddie Hearn told me that Buatsi was ready to challenge for world title honours at some stage in 2021. Post-fight, he confirmed they’ll aim to get him back out in action before this year ends, either November or December, before a title bout afterwards.
Boloknits a viable step-up for Buatsi, who needs more
While this was a solid showing that amplified the incremental improvements he’s making Stateside under head coach Virgil Hunter, it also highlighted the fact he’s not quite seasoned enough to go twelve rounds at one pace against someone unafraid to get hurt and trade shots.
That’s okay and rather unsurprising, considering he’s only had 15 fights, but also speaks volumes for those who perhaps need to temper expectations as far as his ambitions at world level lie.
This was a WBA title eliminator between #1 and #2 in the rankings. Dmitry Bivol (18-0, 11 KOs) has already made seven defences of his strap at 175lbs and continues to improve at age 30.
Buatsi is two years three months younger by comparison and it feels like the pandemic hamstrung his fight progression, as far as getting higher quality opponents on his radar quicker.
Despite another purposeful start packed with timely pressure, mixing body shots and hooks to force Bolotniks backwards, the 28-year-old hasn’t faced anyone with devastating punch power.
Bolotniks rode the punches well in the early going, despite wearing damage aplenty across his face and largely finding himself second best as Buatsi commanded centre ring to take charge.
Just like against Marko Calic though, Buatsi’s close-range exchanges felt like they left a little to be desired as he was being caught too easily at times. Couple that with limited upper body movement and it makes sense commentators focused on his worringly stiff stance in the pocket.
Bolotniks’ sneaky right-hand shots were often connecting, while he counterpunched well enough in the early rounds to provide ever-growing confidence as time wore on. Buatsi wasn’t having it his own way but by round four, it seemed the Brit’s comfort level had increased.
After wobbling Bolotniks with a series of unanswered hook shots, he began to read the punches better and made a conscious effort to almost overexaggerate the way he was blocking shots.
Buatsi turning the screw, a knockdown included
In-fight defensive adjustments had clearly been made, nullifying the Latvian’s eagerness to catch him with an overhand right and parrying shots whenever they clinched, while maintaining pressure as his power punches and persistent body work were quietly grinding the visitor down.
Bolotniks knew how to skip away from danger, even if his shoulder rolls and feints weren’t exactly timed to perfection. He needed all of that evasive action to survive a frenzied round six, as Buatsi stepped up a gear in search of the finishing blow and scored a knockdown too.
A looping uppercut had the limited fans ringside excited with anticipation of a devastating finishing sequence, before another uppercut and left hook combination floored Bolotniks.
He got up, beat referee Howard Foster’s count and absorbed more furious flurries as Buatsi emptied the proverbial tank chasing a stoppage, exerting intense bursts of energy and looked moments away from the official waving it off. Bolotniks returned enough fire to avoid that.
Before the Latvian responds with fury of his own
After that frantic action, Buatsi had a clear adrenaline dump and struggled to match such a hectic pace over the next few rounds. Bolotniks, already comfortably down on the scorecards, used this opportunity to physically assert himself and make it tough on the hometown favourite.
After being warned for a low body shot, Buatsi essentially lost the next two rounds by being outworked as Hunter did his best to encourage him. Do you wanna be great? You’re not tired!
Well, he was. As admirable as Hunter’s positive reinforcement was, Buatsi found himself in a tricky situation against an opponent who refused to lie down.
He landed a series of vicious right-hand punches, but was unable to maintain that same forward pressure as he entered the eighth round for the first time in his five-year professional career.
Bolotniks meanwhile, connected with a good right hook left hand combination as his cornermen were audibly loving his work, before Buatsi was deducted a point for a low blow.
Were the wheels starting to turn the other way? Surely not.
Don’t give him no hope, Hunter stressed, as Buatsi came back to the corner. There was a distinct change in the air as the pair continued exchanging shots, Joshua again leaving his head open too long as the Latvian unmistakably outworked him in terms of punches thrown.
A stinging left hook and pair of overhand rights finished round nine strong for JB, who had eventually found his second wind with the finish line in sight once more.
In round 10, his hard-hitting punches returned with more conviction and frequency: backing Bolotniks up again, while consciously trying to be more methodical with his offensive threat.
Bolotniks, to his credit, refused to wilt and while Buatsi’s output had slowed again at the start of R11, it was a case of who would manage their tank smartest with the highest punch efficiency.
Buatsi answered the call with a series of right-hands to the body and head before delivering the last blow that knocked an exhausted Bolotniks into submission.
What’s next? another step-up, a level below title contention
Tony Bellew said he’s brave and strong but needs to hone his fight management after rushing in R6 – those small things will teach him a lesson, even though he continues in the right direction.
Conor Benn believes he could fight for a world title tomorrow. While claiming Craig Richards would be a world titlist at 175lbs if he started quicker vs. Bivol in May, it’s easier said than done.
In Bivol’s fifth year as a pro, he went twelve rounds with Sullivan Barrera and Jean Pascal each to get to 15-0 (November 2018). The latter, who recently failed multiple VADA-administered drugs tests, has been at world level for over a decade and is a two-time light-heavyweight champion.
Barrera lost two straight (Jesse Hart, Gilberto Ramirez) and yet still remained in BoxRec’s top-10 rankings, which is rather testament to a resume that includes a first career defeat by Andre Ward five years ago and UD victory 16 months later over new WBO titlist Joe Smith Jr.
The point here is, Buatsi needs tougher fights before facing someone with the power of a Bivol, his Russian compatriot Artur Beterbiev (WBC, IBF champion) or Smith Jr. The trio would relish the opportunity to punish his limited upper body movement and put him on the back foot.
Maybe a Marcus Browne (24-1, 16 KOs) or a Eleider Álvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) would be best as Buatsi’s next opponent? Whether that can be agreed for the year’s end remains to be seen, but they would benefit from a credible name known in the US to give another justifiable step-up.
Picture source: Bad Left Hook, DAZN, Matchroom