Joshua Buatsi ready for local rival Craig Richards in ‘most important’ fight

Joshua Buatsi and Craig 'Spider' Richards once shared the ring at a TA centre in Grove Park. This weekend they will revive rivalries at the O2 in Greenwich in a mouth-watering all-London light-heavyweight clash.

The stage is bigger and the stakes are much higher, but the two South Londoners are still very much connected to their local areas. So much so it has caused a split in their friendship groups in Croydon.

The pair are far from pals but they do have mutual buddies who may be struggling to pick sides as the clock ticks down to Saturday night's clash. “Whether I knew Craig or didn’t know him, I would still have the same drive to win,” said unbeaten Buatsi. “Of course, let's not act like there’s nothing there. We are from the same areas, we probably know the same people. I know Spider but we aren’t good pals. We have a lot of mutual friends. Some have divided loyalties now.

"I know Spider’s cousin and I was telling her, ‘come on you have to support your family! I don’t take it personally support your cousin, it’s not that deep!'. It is all irrelevant. We will fight soon, that’s what matters.”

Buatsi outpointed Richards in the South East London ABAs in 2014 on his way to winning the national competition. “If someone said that to me back then, we would be having a rematch here at the O2 then I’d have said ‘No way, we will never be that big’,” said Buatsi.

“I can’t remember how the fight went but I know I won. That’s all that matters.”

They then took very different paths to get where they are now. Buatsi, 29, was picked up by GB Boxing and won bronze at Rio 2016, turning pro with much fanfare and is now unbeaten in 15 fights.

Richards, 32, had a much harder route on undercards with little fuss, suffered defeat against Frank Buglioni in 2017 and a surprise draw with Chad Sugden in 2019. But he pushed Dmitry Bivol all the way when they met behind-closed-doors in a WBA title clash in 2021.

His second career defeat has aged considerably well since the Russian went on to beat Canelo Alvarez earlier this month. But the pressure is on Buatsi to deliver this weekend in a professional career which has chugged along without catching fire yet; despite the promise from the excitement he brought at the Olympics in 2016.

“I think it is the most important fight so far as a pro,” said Buatsi, who was born in Ghana but grew up in Croydon.

He wants to be world champion but he knows he has to get moving. This will be his first fight since beating Ricards Bolotniks in August of last year owing to a hand injury which ruled him out of a December outing. The prospect of a fight with Bivol will no doubt be hung out there by promoter Eddie Hearn this week to build interest in the O2 event.

“I’ve got enough time, I wouldn’t say I’ve got a crazy amount of time,” said Buatsi. “Who knows when their career will end. There’s not a figure, moment or time to place on it. Win a world title is something that most want to do.”

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