It’s frustrating whenever the narrative of boxing swings too far over to the business side. I mean, I get it. Ultimately, in a sport that has no fixed schedule or planned season of fixtures, the announcement of dates, times, venues and purses will always strike a chord with the fans – albeit a somewhat tedious chord.
Viewing figures and fight purses, for example, are ways for us to quantify the pull or worth of a fighter in today’s modern – and quite frankly, confused – society, detracting from the nuts and bolts of our honest and authentic appreciation of a fight or fighter.
It’s a bizarre phenomenon that penetrates boxing the deepest of any sport. Analysts, commentators and columnists pride themselves on their ability to convey numbers, court proceedings and political feuds more so than the 36 minutes of raw combat that could define a fighter’s career.
This habit of leaving the sport’s warriors in the shadows of a preconceived narrative is a dangerous and frustrating tactic. Sunday night inside the Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes, Joshua Buatsi may have felt this story play out once again as he entered the ring close to 11 pm on a miserable Sunday in October.
Matchroom’s decision to go on a Sunday night – for the first time since Tony Bellew vs Illunga Makabu on a bank holiday weekend in 2016 – was an attempt to piggyback off of a long day of coverage from the Premier League. It was a hectic Sunday of scheduling where you could have watched four matches back-to-back, including two stand-out results involving the two most supported clubs in the country, Manchester United and Liverpool.
This attempt to get more eyes on Buatsi and “Sunday Night Boxing” will undoubtedly be revealed in the viewing figures, but on first glance, it felt like it may have backfired. The cross-over between football and boxing fans in the United Kingdom is huge, and after a long day of sport and quite probably work on a Monday morning, a main event starting at 11 pm on a Sunday night was a tricky sell.
Joshua Buatsi is, arguably, Matchroom Boxing’s next pay-per-view star. With Eddie Hearn’s first generation of world champions gradually stepping away from the sport, a void has been left to fill with Buatsi seemingly in the strongest position.
“I wasn’t really pleased with how the fight went, if I’m honest with you,” Buatsi, now 13-0, told iFL TV after the contest. The 27-year-old south Londoner was able to halt Marko Calic in the seventh round having survived problematic rounds en route to the eleventh stoppage in his career. Swelling around Buatsi’s left eye was a concern from early in the fight, but he’s pleased he was able to overcome the first sign of real adversity in his his career.
Ring rust was evident from Buatsi. A lack of head movement and an unwillingness to pull the trigger first allowed Calic plenty of success in the opening three rounds. His performance has seemingly sped up conversations of domestic rivals lining up to face him next. Callum Johnson (18-1, 13 KO) and Anthony Yarde (20-1, 19 KO) are the two obvious next steps, with Buatsi comfortable taking on either at the start of next year.
“As I boxer, I will fight whoever I am told to fight,” Buatsi continued. “As long as it makes sense and everyone is happy, these fights will happen. Johnson is in the same stable as me, so you’d have to say that is the easier one to make, but the one with the bigger attraction is against Yarde. I’m just glad my name is in the mix.”
Over 400 days out of the ring for Buatsi should have generated a more significant buzz of anticipation than it did, with sporting fatigue and a lazy Sunday evening feel contributing to Buatsi’s comeback feeling more like an afterthought.
The powers that be at Matchroom Boxing may have rolled the dice on this event. In the ring, Joshua Buatsi has all the tools to become unmissable over the next couple of years, rather than missable in the weeds of a Sunday schedule.