Every prospect gets a gut check eventually. Each young hope must at some point discover whether they can live up to the hype. For Joshua Buatsi that moment comes this weekend as he faces Ricards Bolotniks in the final instalment of Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp.
At 28, Buatsi is probably stretching the definition of young hope now, but Bolotniks represents his biggest test so far. Biggest in the pro ranks, anyway.
Buatsi made his name to most when winning what seemed an unlikely bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. But he had more than marked himself out before that, as he dropped Julio La Cruz on the way to losing a narrow decision at the last 16 stage at the 2015 World Championships. La Cruz not only won gold in Rio at light-heavyweight but, complete with top knot, stepped up to heavyweight to win gold in Tokyo, to go with his four World Championships gold medals.
Hanging with the likes of La Cruz when he was short on experience showed there was something about Buatsi and he is the man Hearn has constantly pointed to as one of the next big things in the UK. But in a 14-0 professional record, Buatsi has probably not faced a fight he was expected to be tested in, let alone lose.
“This is a good yardstick to see where he is at,” Hearn said. “There will be plenty more ‘this is it’ moment for Joshua Buatsi. He could lose this fight, it would be a shock, but it wouldn’t be one of the biggest upsets of all time. I feel Buatsi is really special, but you only see that in this kind of fight.
“You can go through the motions and knock someone out and look good, but how are you when the heat is coming back. He is aware of the threat of Bolotniks.”
The fight is an eliminator for the WBA title, held by Dmitry Bivol. In truth, that fight could have already have been made. Hearn seemed keen to get it done when Buatsi flattened Daniel Dos Santos in Manchester in May. But Virgil Hunter, Buatsi’s trainer, wanted to wait, having only had one training camp with the Londoner. That wait could be extended, even if Buatsi wins, as Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez could be facing Bivol instead and Hearn speaking of this eliminator leading to another one suggests there is no rush to get Bivol to sign to face Buatsi.
“This is an eliminator, sometimes you do a final eliminator,” Hearn said. “We represent Bivol, so it is not going to be a hard fight to make. But when you make that commitment to a fighter, you don’t want to get it wrong. This is the perfect night to tell us. If he goes in and does a job on Boltoniks, I will believe he is ready to fight for a world title. If he struggles, if he gets beat, the answer is no. There are levels above Bolotniks and Dmitry Bivol is one of them. What Bolotniks brings is intensity and firepower.
“Bolotniks is not going to box behind the jab and coast through rounds. The last thing he wants to do is trade off with Bolotniks in a gun fight. Both of these guys love to punch.”
The Latvian is best known to UK fans for his victory in the MTK Golden Contract tournament, as he saw off Steven Ward, Hosea Burton and Serge Michel on the way to victory. Rough and ready, he’ll be looking to engage Buatsi in a swing-up.
“I’ve said it before we can go into there to box, with a strategy, but sometimes you’re going to have to fight, sometimes the tactics will go out the window and it’s man against man,” Buatsi said. “We’ll see what happens and how it goes, but I’ll be prepared, I’ve covered all aspects, I’m ready.
“It will be a good gauge to see where I’m at, I think a good performance from my myself with give the green light to get the belt. Either way I’ll be prepared. It’s my time, five years as a pro, I’ve got a good opponent and I am ready to go.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.