ALL Joshua Buatsi needs at this stage of his professional career is to be seen and appreciated and given the opportunities he feels his talent deserves. And the only thing preventing that, he says, was his previous employer and the platform on which he was contracted to box: DAZN.
The brains behind DAZN, however, might suggest that for a fighter to become the star they want to become, and earn the opportunities they feel they deserve, they must first become a fighter worthy of being watched. Buatsi, they would argue, fell short of that during his time with both them and Matchroom Boxing. He failed to make an impression at the gate, where he never exactly packed them in, and failed to dazzle on screen, too, where his fights, though always interesting, never really caught fire or captured the imagination of the British public.
Ultimately, we will find out once and for all who was right and who was wrong in the coming years, with Buatsi, 16-0 (13), now given the platform – Sky Sports – he has by all accounts been craving since the day he had to explain to friends and family members how to download an app ahead of one of his fights. Blessed at last with a more accessible platform and, he believes, a broader audience, Buatsi now has no excuse. He has no reason not to take risks and fulfil his potential and he has no reason not to become the star a bronze medallist from the 2016 Olympic Games appeared destined to become when turning professional the following year.
No longer can he blame other people, or platforms, for holding him back. Equally, no longer can other people blame Buatsi for not doing his job, whether that’s promotionally or in the ring on fight night. Separated now, and probably for the best, Buatsi’s split from Matchroom Boxing both releases the pressure on them to promote someone they felt was difficult to promote and releases the pressure on Buatsi to pretend to be something he isn’t: salesman, social media loudmouth, all-round entertainer.
Back to doing what he does best, Buatsi’s return to Sky Sports takes place this Saturday (May 6) in Birmingham where he meets Poland’s Pawel Stepien over 12 rounds at light-heavyweight. No baptism of fire, Buatsi, in taking this fight against Stepien, is instead being eased back in gently, perhaps with one eye on making a statement rather than being tested or pushed harder than he would like.
After all, the immediate goal, or so we are led to believe, is for Buatsi and Dan Azeez, a fellow Londoner who currently holds the European light-heavyweight title, to get together later in the year. For that to remain a possibility Buatsi needs to keep winning and, more importantly, needs to begin this next chapter with Boxxer and Sky Sports with the kind of win he has so far lacked in his 16-fight professional career. In other words, he needs something eye-catching and spectacular, the sort of dramatic knockout victory begging to be shared on social media; capable therefore of drawing other people into watching his development.
Without that, Buatsi could continue being a hard sell. For as talented as he is, and as aggressive and versatile as he is, recent wins against Craig Richards and Ricards Bolotnkis, while decent on paper, did little to move the needle or convince fans to tune in to watch him next time. Moreover, the Richards and Bolotniks wins represent two of just three victories (the other a routine fourth-round stoppage of Daniel Blenda Dos Santos) Buatsi has managed in the last two years. For a man of 30, that’s simply not good enough, though of course there have been reasons for his inactivity.
Eager now to make up for lost time, he needs to not only get busy but get busy looking good, which he can surely do against an opponent like Stepien. Unbeaten, too, at 18-0-1 (12), the 32-year-old from Poland is yet to box outside his homeland in a seven-and-a-half-year pro career and has, during that time, beaten few men of note. Indeed, a ninth-round stoppage of Dmitry Sukhotskiy, one-time WBO title challenger, and a decision victory and draw against fellow Pole Marek Matyja, recently seen getting stopped inside six by Craig Richards, is the best you’ll find on the Stepien record. Look closer and you might see something in his fourth-round stoppage of Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna as well, but that’s largely dependent on how you rate Maderna’s recent upset of Karol Itauma in London.
Regardless, it is clear Stepien has been chosen not because he represents any real challenge for Buatsi, or even any kind of progress. Instead, Stepien has got the nod because he brings with him an unbeaten record, so can be sold on that basis, and because Buatsi, given all his inactivity and struggles to maintain relevance in recent years, needs to look better than ever on Saturday night.
Chances are, he will, too, with the likely outcome a stoppage in the second half of the fight.
Topping the undercard at the Genting Arena is a well-matched bout at super-lightweight between Sean McComb, 15-1 (5), and Kaisee Benjamin, 16-2-1 (6), scheduled for 10 rounds. McComb, from Belfast, has won four on the bounce since losing to Gavin Gwynne in a Commonwealth lightweight title clash back in 2021 and will no doubt go into this weekend’s fight with plenty of confidence. Benjamin, on the other hand, is returning from a loss, though the way in which he pushed Dalton Smith in a British super-lightweight title fight last November will have done his reputation no harm whatsoever.
Also in Birmingham, Olympic champion Lauren Price, 3-0 (1), seeks her first professional title – the vacant British welterweight belt – against Kirstie Bavington, 7-3-2 (2), and there’s a good 10-round scrap at middleweight between Tyler Denny, 16-2-3 (0), and Macaulay McGowan, 17-3-2 (3), for fans to enjoy as well.