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Joshua Buatsi has taken small steps, but that was the right thing to do

Joshua Buatsi
Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing
Joshua Buatsi’s small steps are more beneficial than giant leaps like Danny Dignum’s, writes Matt Christie

PLENTY have wondered if Joshua Buatsi was taking a little too long to progress through the light-heavyweight ranks. Certainly, his breakout bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics seems like an awfully long time ago. What we saw on Saturday night, however, was that the education he’s receiving along the way will serve him well when he gets his chance at the highest level.

It was refreshing in the aftermath of his points victory over Craig Richards to hear his coach Virgil Hunter explain that Buatsi needs at least one more bout before challenging the best in the division. No question that Buatsi, with the backing of Matchroom, could have challenged for a belt by now if everyone, including the fighter himself, believed he was ready.

Another British fighter highlighted at the weekend what happens when you’re not ready. Danny Dignum was beaten up by Zhanibek Alimkhanuly in Las Vegas in a contest that largely went under the radar over here. That might be for the best; it was a savage mismatch for a needless belt (WBO interim middleweight).

Too often we see fighters get an undeserved ranking by virtue of their management/promotional team playing – see also, paying – the sanctioning body rankings game. Dignum had done nothing inside the ring to merit his place at No. 3 with the World Boxing Organisation. Though a top 10 contender at domestic level, to suggest Dignum was among the best middleweights in the world was preposterous.

It all started in November 2019 when Dignum defeated the unranked Conrad Cummings for the vacant WBO European bauble. Sanctioning fees paid to the WBO and Danny enters the 160lb ratings at No. 15. By February 2020, without winning another fight, he was up to 10th. The following month, after paying the WBO again to defend his belt, he stops the unranked Alfredo Meli and moves to eighth. From March 2020 to April 2021, Dignum was inactive yet he was inexplicably elevated to fifth. Then a 10-round draw with the unranked Andrey Sirotkin (again while handing over a wedge to the WBO) does nothing to affect his place. In February 2022, Chris Eubank Jnr jumps to No. 3, above Dignum, following his victory over Liam Williams. But by March 2022, after Dignum beats the unranked Grant Dennis and again gives a chunk of his purse to the WBO, Eubank slips down to fourth and Dignum takes his place in the top three. That would suggest the WBO reckoned that Dignum’s win over the 38-year-old Dennis was more worthwhile than Eubank beating the established Williams. Without question, it was certainly more profitable for the organisation.

We should not blame Dignum. Though an MTK fighter, he was never going to get the support enjoyed by boxers of Buatsi’s standing. Without playing (and paying) the rankings game Dignum would never have received the chance to fight in Las Vegas against a quality fighter. Nor would he have suffered such a damaging, brain-scrambling loss. This was not a good advertisement for the sport, it was never going to be one of those inspiring underdog tales. It was yet more evidence of an unscrupulous system that doesn’t flinch when mismatches like this occur. Dignum was out of his depth from the get-go, dropped twice in the first round and knocked cold in the second. I would love to hear the WBO’s explanation regarding their ranking of him.

Dignum and his team grumbled that they were not getting any coverage from the media beforehand. Their annoyance was understood to a point. But if anyone believed that it was a fair fight, or that the belt on offer was worthwhile, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case. Furthermore, the sport has produced several top quality matchups in recent months and, looking ahead, that trend will continue. It’s the sport we must champion, not the bent business.

Buatsi-Richards highlighted, again, how special all-British contests can be when well-matched. Not wishing to discredit Dan Azeez, the 175lbs national champion, but this was crying out to have the British title on the line. As already explained, the reasons for fighters choosing to fight for continental trinkets (instead of the British title) to facilitate their ‘world rankings’ are acknowledged.

But a system where fighters are rewarded for proving they’re the best in their own country would surely generate greater appeal for fans and better education for the fighters. Then promoters would have no choice but to make clashes featuring two from Buatsi, Anthony Yarde, Callum Smith, Callum Johnson, Lyndon Arthur, Richards and Azeez more frequently.

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