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Joshua Buatsi on his street fighting days

Joshua Buatsi
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
'If I was this nice guy, that I am apparently, and I had a style that wasn’t aggressive or entertaining but I was still winning, I would get slaughtered.' There is another side to Joshua Buatsi as he explains in his own words here

I’M from the Volta region, that’s a part of Ghana. I grew up in Tema but I’m from the Volta region. Tema’s the city literally next to Accra, it’ driving distance. It’s like being in Croydon and then driving to Caterham. My mum’s dad was a king. My grandad was a king. I don’t know what that makes me.

My parents said you’re going to come to England one day, because they were here working. Finally that call came. My parents lived here. I lived in Ghana with my grandma, all of my cousins and a few of my aunts. I grew up with my cousins, my aunties and my uncles. My grandma looked after all of us. So going back to Ghana recently I met up with my cousin and when I saw her, her mum was there and she was laughing. So I go why are you laughing and she goes it’s no surprise that you do boxing for a living. I said why? She said, when you lived here as a kid you fought every day in school. I said really? She said this is no surprise to me. You’d come home with one shoe, they’d send you home saying you go in a fight today. We’re talking very young, four, five, six, seven, eight. That’s why I can’t remember it. I can believe it.

Coming to England was the best news I’d ever had in my life at that time. I was like can you imagine. You hear about England all the time. I heard I was going there. It meant I was going to see Caucasian people, Chinese, Indian, I’d never seen these people growing up… I was like wow, I’m going to go to England where there’s more opportunities.

But I boarded the plane in my casual Ghanaian clothes, very thin, very light and when I came that month it was snowing. It was very cold. I was nine and when the plane doors opened. I remember this so clearly, I was like what is this. Because you’ve heard it’s cold but growing up in a hot country every day you don’t know what cold feels like until you’re in the cold.

Within a few months, there was snow. I was outside, I was like what is this, there’s a white thing falling from the skies, it’s building up, it’s taking over the roads.

You know, just before it snows it’s frosty and icy on the roads. One day I was going to primary school, I started running, it’s frosty, it’s slippery, I slipped. I remember I broke my teeth, my mouth smacked on to the pavement.

There was blood everywhere. That was just not knowing that there’s a thing called frost, it’s icy. I didn’t know you don’t run if it’s like that because you could slip. But I literally smacked my face in. The same way I didn’t know when it’s cold and your fingers are frozen, when your fingers are really, really numb. I didn’t know when that’s the case you’re not meant to put hot water on it. So being Ghanaian I thought my toes and fingers are very cold, the best thing I can do is get into a very hot shower. So I turned on the water, made it hot, without knowledge I jumped in. I tell you what the shock I had in that shower. Because I thought it’s common sense, if you’re cold, apply heat. So I didn’t know if you’re cold like that you’ve got to apply cold and then eventually heat. So I learned the hard way.

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Before boxing I had a lot of street fights. To be fair since I started boxing I’ve never had a street fight. But 100 percent before boxing, so when I was 15, 16, I’m talking about going through high school, street fighting was fun. I had a lot of fights. People would never imagine or they wouldn’t know that. Fighting was fun.

I enjoyed fighting but there was also a lot of pride at stake. Even now people say it’s mad Buatsi because you’re quiet, you’re a nice guy but when you get in the ring you fight. And I’m like listen every boxer is prideful. Men are prideful. It’s not that I walk around and I’m very prideful but when you’re fighting, your reputation is at stake. Everything’s at stake. You don’t want to be embarrassed. So in those street fights it was just fighting over little issues because that’s the way I felt we could resolve things. I’ve got a problem with you so you and I fight, the best man wins and we shake hands. I move on, you move on, we handle it, we deal with it. And I’d even fight for people, like if something happened with the older year group and I knew my mates wouldn’t be able to fight, I’d be like, ‘Listen, he’s not going to fight so I’m going to fight you.’ I always fought older boys, I never fought anyone in my year group or a year younger than me, or something like this, it was always the older guys I would fight.

I didn’t know what I was doing but I had good fighting instincts. I knew how to look after myself, where I should be to hit this guy, where he’s more vulnerable than I am… I just knew how to be rough, just get through. I don’t know how to describe it, I had good fighting instincts.

It was over simple things, like someone disrespected you, or they said something rude about you. You can imagine, I could speak English quite well but I had an accent. Now I think where’s my accent gone? I’ve lived here for years now. So as you can imagine I had an accent back then, so some of the fights that I’ve got into when I first came into this country was being picked on for the fact that I had an accent, my views were a bit different, I was probably just a bit different as well. Little stuff like that would trigger it off and for me, I only knew one way and that was to fight.

But I’ve seen other people that went to have a fight, then someone got stabbed and someone got killed. I thought this isn’t the fight that was scheduled, I thought it was a fist fight. And that’s why I decided to step down a bit from things like that because I thought I’m a fair guy. I’ve been brought up in a fair way. Growing up in Ghana people don’t use weapons. If you ever heard there was a fight, it was fist fight. So I wasn’t familiar with weapons. I would never use a weapon on someone. Stuff like that’s a bit deep for me. People using weapons. So that for me was when I could step back because I wouldn’t hit anyone with something or stab someone or something like that. I don’t know how people do it.

When I lived in Ghana I heard that Muhammad Ali had never been punched in the face. Growing up that was the myth, that he was such a good boxer that he’d never ever, ever been hit in the face. I discovered that Joe Frazier gave him his first loss. Beat him. But that wasn’t until I was 15 and started to watch to boxing. Because I was having so many fights I found boxing interesting. Two guys prepared to fight. There can only be one winner and you go man to man and you fight and the best man wins. That’s what attracted me to boxing.

The aim was to come here to get a better education and to further myself in that department of education, not like sports. Hence why when I told my parents I want to do boxing, they were like nope. And then I’d carry a black bag all the time, I’d say yep I’m going to football, see you later. I kept on doing it for a while. My dad one day said let’s see what’s in that bag. He opened it, boxing glove one, boxing glove two, gum shield… He was like you’ve got to stop.

I had so many fights without my parents knowing as an amateur. I’d meet Terry Smith [the coach at South Norwood & Victory], get in his van, travel all across the country, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle. You name it, we’ve been there, we’ve fought, had fights, won national tournaments. Did that for so many years and my parents didn’t even know I was boxing. I won national titles as a youth and as a junior well before my parents even knew I was still fighting. It wasn’t till I got to 18 my dad said you know what I know you’re still fighting but you’re 18 it’s up to you.

I was a national champion but the only time I thought I may be good at boxing was when I won the Olympic medal [at Rio 2016]. I don’t know if I’m that good at boxing but that gave me a sign, that helped me out.

I had stopped a lot of kids as well at international level. I said to the McCormack twins, I’ve got nine minutes, I don’t know how it’s going to go but within that nine minutes I will have my moment where that person is getting a count. Luke McCormack always laughed and I said Luke trust me bruv, I’ve got nine minutes someone’s going to get a standing count.

So winning the medal was when I thought I may be good at this sport. Having that uncertainty and having that doubt had made me kill myself in training. I committed to this whole thing. I died for it.

So we’re here now in Brazil. I thought to myself these are good guys that have qualified – just don’t get a standing count and don’t get embarrassed because the whole world is watching.

But when I get in the ring every time I think listen, they’ve got two hands, two legs, let’s have a fight, because I’m always down to have a fight… I’m always trying to learn boxing but I’m always down to have a fight.

The Olympics is why I’m so grateful. I had done so much at international level winning things. But the Olympics is the stage to the world. That’s when everyone’s watching. Not a little tournament you had in Toronto or Bulgaria and won, no one’s going to watch that. No one cares. It’s just the Olympic Games. Unfortunately. It’s just the Olympic Games which the whole world is watching.

In Rio I got a lot of cards for professional promoters, those cards that people dish out. After the second fight [when he spectacularly knocked out Elshod Rasulov] was when they all approached me, not in the same room but in the same hour or so. I was on Twitter getting messages from professional trainers, well known. I had that, I had promoters DMing me on Twitter.

I was like actually I haven’t even won a medal yet, I’ve got to fight. After that I fought Abdelhafid Benchabla from Algeria. I gave him two standing counts but there were moments when he was falling down to his knees but still fighting and getting up and carrying on. So I rate him for his determination.

I know that if I was this nice guy, that I am apparently, and I had a style that wasn’t aggressive or entertaining but I was still winning, I would get slaughtered. People wouldn’t have a second for me.

I’m quite quiet in my approach. But when you’re in there you can let your hands talk a lot and that’s what I like about boxing. It’s one thing doing all the talking verbally but it gets to a point where it has to be physical and that’s where I’m like cool, this is where I can do a lot of the talking. Whoever I’m in there with, I’m there to beat them. That’s the mentality you need to have.

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