ONE week ago, just before he stepped into the ring in Belfast and took apart a Hungarian journeyman in three rounds, Craig Richards was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime from Eddie Hearn.
The promoter had just discovered that Callum Johnson – in hospital with chest pains – would not be able to challenge British light-heavyweight champion Frank Buglioni on the Cardiff Anthony Joshua-Carlos Takam undercard, and suggested Richards could step in.
“I got the job done [stopping Norbert Szekeres in three rounds], I bumped into Eddie in a bar and I said, ‘Where do I sign?'” Richards, 10-0 (4), explains. “And then a week later I’m here.”
Richards’ promotion from fringe domestic contender at super-middleweight, to challenger for the light-heavyweight title has been met with criticism from fans and insiders. But the fighter, who has sparred many rounds with Buglioni in the past, insists he will not be out of his depth.
“I’ve had four fights at light-heavyweight and they’ve all been stoppage wins,” Richards tells Boxing News. “At super-middleweight I’m not the same. I get ill in every camp down at super-middleweight, I’ve had chest infections, sinus infections. I never got to be 100 per cent and it was frustrating. I realised it was dropping weight that caused me to be ill.”
The chance to test himself at the weight he feels the strongest is one that Richards relishes. He also believes those old sparring sessions with the British champion will help his mission to score what would be a big upset.
“I can take confidence from what happened in sparring,” Richards explains. “Buglioni must understand that he is going to have to up his game for fight night, so I have to be prepared for that.”
Buglioni won the title when he stopped Hosea Burton in the final round of a thrilling scrap. Burton – according to his trainer Joe Gallagher – was willing to step in for stablemate Johnson but Buglioni rejected the chance. Richards doesn’t believe that shows that Buglioni sees Richards as an easier fight.
“With Hosea Burton there’s a lot of bad blood,” Richards says. “For me, if someone offered me the rematch with someone I hate, I’d want the full camp and that’s the way it is. There’s so much pride on the line, and you’ve been in with them before so you know what to expect so you need that camp. With me and Frank, there is no bad blood, we’re friends. I know his dad, I know him, they’ve invited me down to their gym multiple times. There were a few names in the hat, and it was going to have to be me.”
Richards cares little for those who have taken to Twitter to discredit his chances and fiercely criticise the contest.
“I’m a credible light-heavyweight. If you look at my 10 fights, they’ve all been before my time. All of my opponents have been ‘live’ and I’ve had a tougher road than most prospects.
“When I first turned pro and I’d get criticised on Twitter it used to bother me. But then I looked and I thought ‘Who is this John with an egg as his profile picture and one follower?’ Then you just laugh. It’s funny. You’ve really created a profile to hide behind and talk rubbish about every single fighter. I find Twitter trolls hilarious now.
“At the end of the day, I know what I’m doing. Other people’s opinions can’t change that.”