Last month, outside Wembley Stadium in North London, I was sat on a bench having some food with a couple of friends. It was event day at the iconic national stadium, with festivities in the air building up to the upcoming football League Cup final between Chelsea and Man City. It’s as close to a tailgate party as you’ll get at a sporting event in the UK, with 90,000 fans descending on the venue whilst enjoying the refreshing prelude to the match.
Waves of supporters in their colours darted in and out of the shops, bars and restaurants surrounding the stadium, with the winter sun blazing down on a uniquely warm Sunday in February. Sat amongst the madness, observing the movements of those around me, someone caught my eye amidst the swarms of supporters.
Joshua Buatsi, unassuming in a baseball cap, large coat and jogging bottoms strolled past in a casual manner. Unnerved by the intensity of the surrounding area, Joshua — and who I assumed to be his girlfriend — had clearly been to the shopping outlet, leaving in the opposite direction to the stadium entrance. I called his name, and with a look of confusion, he turned around as I approached him for a chat.
We’ve met once previously at a show in the past where I had a chance to congratulate him on his winning start to life in the pro game, but the joy plastered over his face to be recognised outside of a boxing environment was a delight to witness. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke briefly about the upcoming Liam Conroy fight; his humble, engaging and polite manner was impossible to ignore, and the biggest takeaway from a short conversation.
It’s a risky persona in boxing. “Nice guys finish last” is a phrase that many pugilists have had to battle against over the years, with “heels” or self-appointed “bad guys” filling more column inches, selling more tickets than the affable challenger. To be humble, respectful and well-mannered in the boxing game means your actions need to change inside of the ring, something that Joshua Buatsi has become synonymous with since turning pro in 2017.
Fast-forward to Saturday night inside London’s Copper Box Arena. On a card littered with one-sided fights, it was a case of how the likes of Joshua Buatsi, Lawrence Okolie and Charlie Edwards would get their victories, not so much if.
It was Buatsi’s first time boxing inside the former Olympic handball venue, with outings at the O2 Arena and the Principality Stadium dominating the early part of the 26-year-old’s career, emphasising how highly he is already regarded. It was a more intimate event, with a better chance to see close-up what the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist had to offer at British title level.
In truth, everything that Buatsi represents outside of the ring is a far cry from the nature of the fighter inside the ropes. “JB” is a frightening prospect. Perfectly balanced, with spiteful combinations, 175 pounds looks to be a perfect match for Buatsi’s natural stature, allowing ruthless combinations to flow from the hip to the shoulders. It didn’t take long for the Croydon-based fighter to find his rhythm and range. Early signs of the favourite looking to engage was a treat for the fans in attendance, with Conroy playing his role in a fire-fuelled three rounds.
Conroy proved elusive in the opening exchanges, forcing Buatsi to miss wildly on a number of occasions. However, the sense was that it was just a matter of time before a connection was found.
It was in the third round that Buatsi got his success. Dropping Conroy twice before slipping a left jab, and landing a clean right down the pipe of the challenger, who was deemed unable to continue by the referee after staggering to his feet.
Buatsi was quick to congratulate Conroy on a gallant effort after the fight had ended, and with his new British title draped over his shoulder, saluted the crowd who had risen to their feet in the adulation of witnessing one of Britain’s biggest new stars.
“Fair play to Conroy for stepping up and he caught me in there,” Buatsi said post-fight. “There’s still a long way to go but I’m grateful to everybody. I have to thank Eddie [Hearn] as well, who has guided my career.”
Comparisons are inevitable in boxing. Narrative surrounds fighters who are deemed to be on similar paths of growth in the pro game, with guys who are domestically linked or matched by weight forever mentioned in the same breath.
Post-fight, Buatsi’s trainer Mark Gillespie declared his desire to see Buatsi win the British title outright, limiting him to domestic opponents in the near future. Hearn seems more keen on throwing him into the mix on June 1st, featuring on the undercard to Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title defence against Jarell Miller — presumably against an American opponent.
Whatever path the 26-year-old decides on, one thing is for sure: his split-personality inside and outside of the ring makes him the perfect blend for Matchroom to hang their hat on in the upcoming years. The Anthony Yarde fight is one that most British fans will be angling for this year. If the Kovalev fight falls through, Yarde would provide a perfect title defence for Buatsi, as he looks to make the leap up to world level in 2020.
If Buatsi’s career continues on its current trajectory, there is no limit to what he can achieve in this sport. He has passed every test with flying colours, in an entertaining style, whilst keeping his dignity, remaining true to himself. Follow him closely in the upcoming years. This “nice guy” won’t finish last.