IN his first fight under the guidance of esteemed trainer Virgil Hunter, highly touted light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi demonstrated his predatory instincts once more by producing a brutal finish at Manchester Arena.
Going into his scheduled 10-rounder with fellow unbeaten Daniel Dos Santos, 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Buatsi had recorded eight consecutive early wins. The former British champion extended that number to nine by ruthlessly dispatching Dos Santos in the fourth round.
Despite boasting a 15-0 ledger going into the bout, a closer look at Dos Santos’ résumé showed only three opponents with winning records. Fighting exclusively in his home country, the unheralded Frenchman had primarily contested four and six-rounders. Having previously spent three-and-a-half years in prison, boxing helped him to turn his life around, but he was in too deep against Buatsi.
Pumping out forceful jabs to head and body, Buatsi, 28, began assertively in the opener. In the second, a barrage of blows in the corner compelled the sculpted Dos Santos to crumple to the mat. He regained his footing and tried to evade Buatsi with lateral movement, yet escaping his stalking adversary proved no easy task.
The erratic Dos Santos, 30, made things messy in the third and succeeded in smothering his rival’s work. But there was to be no deterring Buatsi in the fourth. With Dos Santos cornered, the Croydon sniper uncorked a ruinous right hook that left the rangy visitor in a heap on the floor. An instinctive follow-up right hand landed as Dos Santos was on the way down, leading Buatsi to gesture apologetically, realising that the man from Pont-Sainte-Maxence was out cold. Referee Victor Loughlin immediately called it off at 2-44.
After taking a few minutes to recover, the defeat suddenly dawned on a tearful Dos Santos, who was touchingly consoled by Buatsi.
Following the fight, promoter Eddie Hearn confirmed that Buatsi’s next outing will be in July, either in the UK or America. He is ready for sterner tests.
On the undercard, undefeated ex-British and Commonwealth super-middleweight titlist Lerrone Richards serenelystepped up to European level in a one-sided vacant title clash with seasoned but rusty Italian Giovanni De Carolis.
Exhibiting fine footwork and a smooth jab, the slick Richards (New Malden) dictated the tempo and frustrated De Carolis (Viterbo) by regularly making him miss. With his intelligent use of angles and impressive variety, it was a stylish showing from the poised portsider, whose dominance was reflected in the judges’ scorecards. Ian John-Lewis and Anssi Perajoki tallied 120-108, while Francisco Alloza Rosa had it 119-109. John Latham officiated.
The fight of the night ended in a notable upset, as Birmingham’s EBU super-bantamweight belt-holder Gamal Yafai was dethroned by Doncaster underdog Jason Cunningham.
Looking razor-sharp from the outset, the confident Cunningham – a previous two-division Commonwealth champ – boxed brilliantly on the move with his precise punch-picking. In the second round, a spearing left hand sent Yafai to the canvas, before a left uppercut-left cross combination decked him again in the fourth.
Cut on the left eyebrow, Yafai defiantly hurled heavy shots in Cunningham’s direction, but the unfancied challenger countered superbly with southpaw one-twos. Not generally regarded as a big puncher, the long-levered Cunningham scored his third knockdown when a left uppercut followed by a left hook floored Yafai in the sixth.
Although he had endured a nightmare first half, the gutsy and tireless Yafai refused to yield. Stubbornly marching forward, the former Commonwealth king attempted to hunt Cunningham down. However, when Yafai did connect with a clean right in the seventh, Cunningham simply shook it off and continued to counter with aplomb.
Unceasing in his effort, Yafai caused Cunningham some concern when he targeted the body in the later sessions. In the 10th, he pushed Cunningham back and slowed him up by hacking away at the midsection, forcing him to grab hold.
By the time of the championship rounds, the matchup had developed into a gruelling affair. With Yafai well aware that he needed a knockout, he left it all in the ring in the 12th. Cunningham, though, was able to cleverly see the contest out, before being awarded a deserved unanimous decision by marks of 115-110 (Mark Lyson) and 114-111 twice (Mr John-Lewis and Mr Latham). Mr Loughlin was the referee.
Another fighter making the opening defence of his European crown was Tommy McCarthy. The Belfast cruiserweight controlled proceedings against Alexandru Jur, systematically picking the reluctant Romanian apart with jabs and rights.
In round four, McCarthy leapt in with a lashing left hook to the liver that forced Jur down to all fours. The well-travelled Oradea man survived referee John-Lewis’ count, but when the same strike connected in the sixth, he was unable to make it to his feet for a second time. The ending occurred at 2-09.
Next up for McCarthy is an interesting summer scrap with Commonwealth boss Chris Billam-Smith.
Rising Sheffield super-lightweight Dalton Smith seized the vacant English strap with a sixth-round stoppage of Rotherham’s Lee Appleyard in a South Yorkshire derby.
Appleyard, who was aiming to become a two-weight English title-holder, was game and gritty throughout, but could not contend with the spiteful accuracy of his unbeaten sharpshooting foe. Referee Lyson stepped in at 2-44, with a bloody-nosed Appleyard taking stick on the ropes.
Up against outgunned opposition from Sofia, Bulgaria, former successful amateurs Solomon Dacres and Ellis Hopkins were shutout winners on their professional debuts.
A 6ft 5in heavyweight from Warley, the 27-year-old Dacres picked his punches smartly en route to a 60-54 victory over the rugged Mladen Manev. Considering he has lost three-quarters of his fights in the pros, it is somewhat surprising to note that, as an amateur, Manev claimed a European bronze medal at middleweight in 2010.
Coalville youngster Hopkins – the first female boxer from the Traveller community to enter the pro ranks – put in a composed performance against experienced veteran Borislava Goranova. Showing little sign of nerves, the 20-year-old super-welterweight used jabs, feints and body attacks to box her way to a 40-36 win. Mr Latham refereed both bouts.
THE VERDICT It is time for Buatsi to be let loose at a higher level.
Joshua Buatsi (174lbs), 14-0 (12), w rsf 4 Daniel Dos Santos (172 3/4lbs), 15-1 (8); Lerrone Richards (166lbs 10oz), 15-0 (3), w pts 12 Giovanni De Carolis (167 1/4lbs), 28-10-1 (13); Jason Cunningham (121 1/2lbs), 29-6 (6), w pts 12 Gamal Yafai (121lbs 10oz), 18-2 (10); Tommy McCarthy (199 1/4lbs), 18-2 (9), w ko 6 Alexandru Jur (198lbs 7oz), 19-5 (7); Dalton Smith (139lbs 9oz), 8-0 (7), w rsf 6 Lee Appleyard (139lbs 11oz), 16-6-1 (5); Solomon Dacres (222lbs 11oz), 1-0, w pts 6 Mladen Manev (233lbs), 3-9 (2); Ellis Hopkins (154 1/2lbs), 1-0, w pts 4 Borislava Goranova (156lbs 10oz), 11-65-4.