Battle of south London booked: Joshua Buatsi vs. Craig Richards LHW clash set for May 21

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After a hand injury shelved a proposed bout vs. Russian former world title challenger Maxim Vlasov on Dec. 13, Joshua Buatsi is fully recovered and now faces Craig Richards in a domestic tussle between two light-heavyweights acting as a title eliminator of sorts. Richards produced a spirited showing but ultimately fell short against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol last May.

Buatsi vs. Richards, a must-win for both

Craig Richards celebrates victory in the WBA International Light-Heavyweight title fight between Craig Richards and Marek Matyja at The O2 Arena on...
Richards, who returned to winning ways vs. Marek Matyja on Oct. 30, cannot afford another loss

WBA title-holder Dmitry Bivol vs undisputed 168lb champ Canelo Álvarez: May 7
WBC, IBF champ Artur Beterbiev vs WBO titlist Joe Smith Jr: Jun 18

With all three champions now booked over the next quarter, it makes sense for contenders to keep ticking by, making intriguing bouts of their own. While most have long been enamoured by the prospect of Buatsi-Yarde, Richards finds himself with a golden chance in two months today.

Why? Buatsi (15-0, 13 KOs) has long been touted for the top at 175lbs, at least by his promoter Eddie Hearn. When I spoke to him, he reaffirmed a desire to get JB a world title fight by 2021.

“Obviously, he’s been out the ring for over a year – but now it’s time to get active. I want to see him box in September, the one more fight on the Joshua card in December. Then, I believe he’s ready to fight for world titles in 2021.” 

For many reasons, it just hasn’t materialised yet.

However in a post-lockdown world, if he’s able to stay active and avoid injury – easier said than done – that maiden world title booking won’t be much longer in wait. On this matchup being agreed, Hearn praised the pair for not idling around given what’s at stake.

“A big well done and thanks to Joshua and Craig for taking this fight, it’s exactly the kind of fight boxing should be making. Two domestic LHWs on the verge of a World Title shot decide to put it on the line rather than wait in a queue, giving us a fantastic battle of London that can only be a thriller.”

Having shown the grit and tenacity many critics questioned whether he truly had en route to an R11 TKO win over Latvia’s Ricards Bolotniks in August, the proposed Maxim Vlasov matchup was scheduled to be another sink-or-swim showcase.

Considering many believe Vlasov did enough and should’ve edged past Joe Smith Jr during their nip-and-tuck world title clash last April, it would’ve been a big name on Buatsi’s resume.

Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov exchange punches during their fight for the WBO light heavyweight title at the Osage Casino on April 10, 2021 in Tulsa,...
Vlasov (right) certainly had some success vs. Smith Jr, but not enough to edge it on the scorecards

Add to that another successful camp with highly-regarded coach Virgil Hunter, who he spoke highly of after venturing Stateside to continue developing, and you see where I’m going with the collective hopes that his potential is finally being fulfilled. Buatsi turned 29 last Monday.

Instead, Richards can steal Josh’s shine by inflicting a first career defeat and thus move back into high contention again. Having earned an impressive sixth-round stoppage win over Poland’s Marek Matyja, two months after Buatsi’s latest victory, Spider wants to right last year’s wrongs.

“We’re two top tier fighters from the UK, this is one of the biggest London domestic clashes for a long time. This is a very exciting fight for us both, but also one the fans will enjoy.

Buatsi has got his plans and sure he’ll be well prepared, but nobody is going to stop me from fulfilling my destiny of becoming a World Champion! I’m confident, believe I have the tools to get the job done, proved myself at world level and am eager to prove that’s where I belong.”

Currently ranked #3 by the WBA and #2 for Beterbiev’s IBF strap, time waits for no-one. Buatsi needs big fights and he’s certainly aware of the jeopardy involved ahead of this encounter:

“Two London boys coming together, it’s going to be a huge night. The Light-Heavyweight scene in this country is thriving, I’m glad we’re able to get one of the biggest fights made.

I am coming to win and nothing else, Richards is doing the same. He had a close fight with Bivol so will want to make things straight, but I have other plans. Win well and then push onto the World Title by any means necessary.”

Picture source: Getty Images — quotes via BoxingScene

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