As Team Great Britain fought their way to six medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, few were as proud as their bronze medalist from the 2016 games in Rio, Joshua Buatsi.

“Watching it, catching up, and the Great Britain team, amazing, man,” said Buatsi, who headlines this Saturday’s Matchroom Fight Camp event against Ricards Bolotniks in Brentwood, Essex. “The support staff, I couldn't give them enough credit as well. We, the fighters, go out and do what we gotta do, but the Great Britain program is called a world class program, and that's exactly what it is. So it's no surprise that we've gone there and picked up six medals. No surprise at all.”

It’s no surprise, either, that one of the graduates of that program has garnered rave reviews in just 14 pro fights in which he’s shown not just championship potential, but all the hallmarks of being a star in the hardest game. That’s not easy to do or easy to handle, but if anyone seems equipped for everything that goes on outside the ropes as well as between them, it’s the 28-year-old from London by way of Accra, Ghana.

“My faith teaches me that everything that we have on this Earth is temporary,” said the affable Buatsi. “So because it's not permanent, I try not to get too attached to it. Boxing is something that I do, it's something that I do every day; it's my life at the moment. But just because I'm doing well at boxing, I don't feel that makes me superior to anyone. I just happen to do a sport that people are interested in. And bear in mind, that's not even everyone. Some people don't care about boxing, which is fine as well, but I feel I just do a sport that a few people like, and it doesn't make me a God in comparison to everyone else. Boxing is temporary. You're not boxing until you're 70 years old. It's maybe until your mid-30s. After that, there's still a long life to live, so I just think, be careful how you move because when it's over, then you've still got a long life. How did you treat people when you were the man, because you're not gonna be the man forever. So when you were the man, how did you treat people? All these things that we achieve and we gain, they mean nothing. The most important thing in my opinion, is life. If you're on your deathbed, what good is all these things that we've won? That keeps me grounded and normal.”

Grounded and normal – two words not associated with any professional sports at the elite level. As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets oiled, so being that squeaky wheel is the route taken by many, with class coming in a distant second in the world of 30-second soundbites and social media. 

Buatsi isn’t taking that route. Sure, he was heavily hyped coming out of the Olympics, and rightfully so, but he hasn’t chased the spotlight like some. And when you’ve already fought in Madison Square Garden, the O2 Arena and Manchester Arena, it could be easy for a fighter to assume that he’s the finished product even before his 20th fight. But after getting a test out of 11-0 Marko Calic last October, Buatsi decided that some changes were in order. The biggest one? Going to the United States for training camps with Virgil Hunter.

“I watched the fighters that he's worked with, and I've seen a bit of what the internet has available of him and the style and the teaching, and I think within myself I'd love to improve my defense,” said Buatsi when asked why Hunter was the perfect fit for him. “The offensive work, I think most fighters are good at that. I happen to be one of those guys that offensively, very great. So what can I improve on as a boxer? What can I add more to my tools as a boxer? And I said if I can improve my defense, it's gonna make me a better fighter, regardless. So that was the main angle which I took, and I said, you know what, I want to improve my defense, so defensively, who's up there? And just from watching a few of his fighters, I said, yeah, this might be the guy.” 

He was. And the first camp with Hunter was a success, leading to a fourth-round stoppage of 15-0 Daniel Blenda Dos Santos in May. Now it’s a step up against Latvia’s Bolotniks, but Buatsi is confident and happy with the way things have been working out in Oakland. And it’s not just because of the techniques he’s picking up, but more important things.

“Of course, you want a great trainer, but you also want someone that can teach you some life lessons,” he said. “It helps you avoid certain situations, and even if you don't avoid them, you're aware of it so that the impact won't be too much. A bit like when you see a punch coming, you can kinda take the shot a bit more because your body obviously goes into a defensive mechanism which allows you to take the shot better. Whereas if you don't see the punch coming at all, they're the ones that hurt. So, I think, for me, it was very important to have someone that, of course, is gonna teach me the game, but I can learn more than the game from the person. It was a big part in me saying, okay, cool, this guy seems like he has his head on, has good experience, can explain things to me, teach me some life lessons, and I'm learning all of that.”

He's also getting time away from any distractions that come along with being a young pro sports star in the middle of London.

“In between sessions I actually get the time to rest,” Buatsi said. “When I'm in London sometimes, it's a bit harder to do that. In the States it's quite good because after training no one can call me and say, 'Buatsi, we got a little thing, do you want to come to it? Do you want to do this or do that?' There's none of that, so the positive from that is quite strong and it's fantastic. My total attention is towards the boxing. And I'm not even saying that the distraction is as heavy as I'm making it sound. It's just general things that happen in your day-to-day life is in my mine as well. It's nothing crazy, but in the States, they're very, very minimal, and at this point in my career, it's a great place to be in.”

And it’s just beginning for someone who has become a citizen of the world, given his time in England and his work in the United States. But he will never forget where he came from, and when I ask about his native Ghana and the boxing legacy of that nation, one that produced world champions like Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, Richard Commey, David Kotey, Nana Konadu, Joshua Clottey and Isaac Dogboe, just to name a few, he doesn’t hesitate in stating his hope that one day his name will be mentioned alongside theirs.

“I was born in Ghana, grew up in Ghana, the blood runs through my veins and the greats that have come before me are great fighters, great champions, and I always say to people, I want to achieve what they've achieved and put the country out there like that,” said Buatsi. “Ghana's bred a lot of world champions and I look to join that list, by all means. That's my aim. Whatever they have in them that made them rise to the occasion to perform, to win, to fight, it's in me as well. It's my DNA. And that's who I am.”

Ghana should already be proud of their native son. England should be as well, and we might just have to adopt Buatsi in the States one of these days. That’s a lot of expectations on one man’s shoulders, but he seems well equipped to handle them, because when he goes home, he’s still just Joshua.

“My family don't treat me special because of what I do,” Buatsi said. “Everything's still the same. Everyone's still relaxed, everyone's having a good time around each other, there's no spotlight on me because I'm the boxer. No, everyone's happy for each other and everyone's got different things going on. I don't wake up thinking, ooh, I'm a special guy. When I'm in the ring, though, I think different. (Laughs) This is me, this is what I do and I will come out on top. But once the bell rings and the fight's over, I couldn't really care about anything else. Just make sure the other guy's all right and gets home to his family, you get home to your family, and we carry on living.”