Joshua Buatsi does something the finest fighters with the best balance, brains and slickest moves have been doing for decades and makes the boxing business look like it is very easy without using any glitzy tricks.
Buatsi has been defending the hope and faith belt, much beloved by purists in the old game, for a long time in a business he does not always celebrate. He is uneasy with hate and mayhem and violence, all seemingly essential ingredients for big fights in the modern game – they are a critical part of the often toxic fabric that creates fights, not just the endgame in the ring.
Buatsi has his church, his faith, his god and his beliefs, and right now they form a tidy wall against excesses. Buatsi just wants to fight, keep learning and be righteous.
He started his boxing life when he walked through the doors at the South Norwood and Victory boxing club, an old church hall near Croydon in south London. He was not sure what he was looking for as he stood there with his life, and all its endless possibilities – some bad, some good, some beyond his wildest dreams – mapped out in front him. Ultimately, though, Buatsi was there for a new life and that is all that matters.
Buatsi was told to come back the next night at 7pm, he went away and was five minutes late the following night and the trainer, Terry Smith, refused to let him train. “7pm meant 7pm – I was on the time the next night,” said Buatsi. He kept coming back, winning domestic titles, a European bronze medal, mixing with the fiercest Cubans at the World championship, somehow winning three times to take a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics and then turning professional in 2017. It has been easy since then.
On Saturday night he won the British light-heavyweight title when he dropped Liam Conroy twice in round three. Conroy had perfect British title credentials, even if the bookies had relegated him to travelling loser status, and he was left with just his heart in the ring as Buatsi did what he liked. It was impressive, even if it was predictable.
After the two knockdowns, the referee had seen enough and waved it off without complaint. Buatsi soon had his bandaged hands on the only pure boxing belt left on the planet. He handled the gold and satin Lonsdale belt tenderly, touched it lightly like he had just taken possession of a new born child and gave it to his father, who had climbed into the ring.
It was an old-fashioned moment, a black and white moment from the days when rings swirled with smoke and not hype. Buatsi fights and stands and talks like a man the old-timers admire, a boxer with a clear, clean sharp jab, high guard and smart head. A proper fighter, they might say. And respect is woven in there deep and that is always nice.
“That’s my dad,” Buatsi explained proudly. “He brought me here when I was a child – he brought me to the land of opportunity and I’m humbled to win this belt.” Buatsi was born in Ghana, but made In Croydon. His next fight will be in June at Madison Square Garden, in New York, a step in any direction of all the dreams young fighters have when they leave bleak gyms in the wet and cold and wait for buses and trains.
It can take a thousand damp nights to even get near the promise of one spotlight appearance at a place like the Garden. It made Anthony Joshua struggle for breath when he went ringside to the venue last December – in June he’s the main attraction in the same ancient ring, a satisfying tick on a list all fighters have in their head for those lonely moments when only a little fight fantasy will get them through the day.
It was win number ten for Buatsi, a tiny number that would have been dismissed years ago as the irrelevant tally of a novice. However, the filthy, forgotten and overrated days when fighters toiled for years, compiling wins and losses, gaining experience and hoping for a break are slowly being erased.
The modern business has obliterated all guide books, but don’t imagine Buatsi is a novice. Now, a boxer with ten fights and Buatsi’s deep amateur form, full-time training regime and support team is really a statistical illusion; he is a ten-fight boxer in record only. In this modern world it is a glory to have a fighter like Buatsi with his deep old-fashioned ways.