JOSHUA BUATSI headlines the third and final instalment of Matchroom’s Fight Camp 2021 in the riskiest fight of his professional career to date on Saturday (August 14). After a fortnight in which Team GB boxers have illuminated the Olympic Games in Tokyo, it seems appropriate that one of the star graduates of the 2016 cohort should further his credentials in the paid ranks. Buatsi took bronze in Rio five years ago and was tipped as a world champion in waiting almost instantly. He made serene progress at first, with many hailing the Ghana-born puncher as the best of a very strong field of Great British light-heavyweights that includes the likes of Lyndon Arthur, Anthony Yarde and Callum Johnson.
However, now five years and 14 fights into his professional career things have slowed down somewhat and he appears some way off challenging the best in the world. Since beating Ryan Ford in August 2019, he has managed just 11 rounds of action across his fights with Marko Calic and Daniel Blenda Dos Santos.
He has also relocated to Oakland, where he now trains under Virgil Hunter, the man behind Andre Ward’s glittering, undefeated career. Buatsi’s first fight with his new coach in his corner went well, although Dos Santos offered little resistance over the course of those four rounds in May. But one man who will offer him plenty is Ricards Bolotniks who shot to prominence last year by winning the Golden Contract tournament. He swept the 12-0 Steven Ward aside in just one round in his opening fight, outpointed Hosea Burton in the semis and then stopped Serge Michel in the final. The Latvian is big, strong, dangerous and fancies the job against Buatsi.
But the Olympic medallist is someone who performs best when there is an element of peril. Some of his opponents have not provided enough of that and he has managed to finish the job inside the distance without ever really getting out of second gear. Indeed, only two of his previous foes have ever heard the final bell, and they were both six-rounders in 2017 and then 2018.
“I guess people are more familiar with him after the Golden Contract thing so that’s who we’ve got next,” Buatsi said of Bolotniks. “I don’t think I’ll have to go looking for him. I might box him, I might meet him in the middle. We’ll see. You’ve got to be able to do both. Either way, we will handle it.”
Bolotniks is tough but, of his five defeats, three have come inside the distance. The last of those came at the hands of Thabiso Mchunu back in June 2018 but he has not lost since, racking up seven wins on the spin.
Even so, he begins as the underdog with Buatsi expected to win and win well on his promoter’s lawn. Buatsi had always seemed like a pay-per-view star in waiting and an explosive victory over Bolotniks will give his career a big shot in the arm. The 28-year-old to win inside the distance against 31-year-old Bolotniks seems like the logical pick but the Latvian repeatedly upset the odds over the course of the Golden Contract. He will also have watched on keenly as Buatsi shipped numerous straight right hands against Calic before his victory came.
Bolotniks has the power and work rate to make this an extremely uncomfortable night for Buatsi, but he should still close the show at some point in the final few rounds.
Elsewhere on the card, the excellent Portsmouth southpaw Michael McKinson gets his reward for beating Chris Kongo last time out with a clash against Poland’s Przemyslaw Runowski. Hearn has told the batch of young English welterweights that it is a case of ‘winner stays on’ and McKinson, undefeated in 20, will be confident of keeping his streak up this weekend.
The visitor is 19-1, with that sole defeat coming against Josh Kelly back in April 2019. He has picked up two stoppages in Poland since then but he will struggle to get to grips with McKinson’s slippery, awkward style. However, he should keep it competitive over the course of the 10 rounds before losing reasonably widely on the cards.
Elsewhere, Reece Bellotti will look to get his career back on track by upsetting highly touted American prospect Raymond Ford. Bellotti has lost four of his last six fights and has not boxed since dropping a unanimous decision against Jordan Gill 12 months ago.
Southpaw Ford had the fast start made to his career slowed by an eight-round split draw against Aaron Perez in March. Bellotti, a noted puncher at featherweight, knows victory here will turn things around for him overnight. It’s a big ask but stranger things have happened.
Kash Farooq, one of Britain’s most promising talents, will look to continue his march towards the bantamweight top 10 when he takes on Luis Gerardo Castillo. It is now nearly two years since the 25-year-old Glaswegian lost narrowly to fellow Scot Lee McGregor and he has impressed in the two 10-rounders he’s had since.
Now the man known as “Untouchable” will face a little-known Mexican who has won four of his last five fights inside four rounds. The likes of Mauricio Lara and Jovanni Straffon have both arrived in England with little expected of them only to knock out Josh Warrington and James Tennyson respectively on Matchroom cards. Castillo has little pressure on him and will be acutely aware of what opportunities would lie ahead should he upset Farooq. But the Pakistan-born stylist is a special talent and has all the tools to win well here.
Down the card, which is live on DAZN and will mark commentator Mike Costello’s debut on the channel, there’s another outing for Hopey Price, who also has a slot on Warrington’s rematch with Lara in Leeds next month.
The Verdict Expect Buatsi to be buoyed by Olympic fever.