The Truth: Joshua Buatsi knows it’s time to show the world what he can do

(Interview by Declan Warrington)

BN: Where does Dan Azeez rank among your toughest opponents? 

JB: As this is the biggest fight, and a lot’s at stake, this is going to be number one. We’ve shared a ring many times as well, so it’s going to be number one, man.

“Spider” [Craig Richards, in 2022] was a different type of opponent. A taller man; someone I hadn’t sparred before, so that was a different threat. [In 2021 Ricards] Bolotniks was different because he’d come to England and knocked out a lot of the light-heavies, so that posed a threat in itself. But again, somebody I hadn’t shared the ring with. Dan I’ve shared the ring with; we’ve seen him also beat a lot of the light heavies in England as well. He’s been on a good spin; I haven’t got in a [competitive] ring yet with him, but this is going to be the toughest one. I’ve had to prepare very hard for this.

He comes forward. He wants to get in there; he wants to make his presence known. He imposes himself on you.

BN: You’ve often been described as “friends”. How well do you know each other? 

JB: I know Dan outside boxing as well. For the Spider fight they were like, “These two know each other; they’re friends; they live in the same area”. Yes, we know the same people and everything, but Dan’s a lot more than that. I’ve known Dan for a very long time. My close friends have birthday gatherings and dinners; they invite myself and guess who’s there? Dan. So it’s a very familiar face. As familiar as me even sparring Dan last year, in February. If I knew I was going to box him [so soon afterwards] I definitely wouldn’t have sparred him. Yeah, we’re the same weight, but this wasn’t something that was anticipated at all. Not for myself, anyway. Dan’s been to my amateur club [The South Norwood & Victory amateur boxing club] as well, and that’s way, way back – 10 years [ago].

BN: What can you remember from your most recent sparring session? 

JB: Somebody asked me this the other day. I don’t remember it. If I had known I was gonna fight him I’d have made a conscious effort to remember it. We’ve sparred so much that when I sparred him I was like, “Oh yeah, we’re gonna spar again”. It’s a very familiar sparring partner. When you’re sparring someone all the time you’re not really trying to remember all the sessions because you’ve got another 1,000 rounds to spar them – that’s the assumption you’re under. Now the table’s turned and you’ve got to fight. Hundreds of rounds, man. There’s a lot of days we sparred 10.

Inevitably there’s things that you can learn, but spars can be different from the fight, so I’m not going in with that in mind at all. I’m predominantly just treating it as a very good opponent that I have to fight for a final eliminator.

BN: How much of a talking point has Saturday’s fight been among your mutual friends? 

JB: Not that it’s been a talking point, but it’s been very interesting because I’m not caught up in it. I’m like, “Guys, I don’t even care who you’re supporting, just show up to the fight”. I’m not caught up in the bubble at all. I’ve kind of taken myself out of it.

It’s just opinions. Someone might say, “I know them both, but if I had to choose, I take Dan, or Buatsi”. It’s just opinions and I can’t take it personal at all.

I’m sure there’s group chats and other conversations people are having outside of myself and Dan. Opinions are split, so they don’t want to come across like they’re choosing sides so they’re having off-the-record conversations, and that’s natural, man. It’s meant to be like that. If two of my mates were fighting, I wouldn’t appear in a group chat if both of them happened to be in it. I’d be out of the group chat ringing my other mates. “I think this [mate] is gonna win, you know.” These things are very, very natural. I’m not taking it too personal.

I was at home [when I was told just days before that the original date of October 21 was being postponed]. Breakfast was being made for me so I was sat in the kitchen waiting. I had a phone call. “I’ve got some very bad news for you – can you go somewhere you’re alone?” When I was told to go somewhere alone, I knew what it was. I was very disappointed. So far [that’s the worst feeling I’ve known in boxing], being that close to the fight. Definitely. I wish I’d found out earlier.

BN: Does that add extra pressure and an extra incentive to win?

JB: No pressure. The incentive to win is that it’s a final eliminator [for the WBA light-heavyweight title]. That’s my incentive, and just that when I get in there I want to come out as the winner. There’s no second place in boxing.

Dan’s a cool guy. I’d be lying if I was badmouthing him and talking bad about him. It just happens to be that it’s somebody that I’m gonna fight that I know.

We’d have to ask him [if that’s mutual], because we always make assumptions about things, and then you find out that other person is not reading the same scripts that you’re reading. To an extent [I think it’s mutual].

BN: On reflection, do you think there’s been an awareness that this day could come and that you’ve been holding back from each other? 

JB: Asking me, no. If I’d thought it I wouldn’t have sparred Dan last year. Why would I? It was never in the back of my mind that I could fight Dan one day.

BN: Then, how did you feel when the fight was first put to you? 

JB: I said, “Guys, no, I won’t fight Dan. Dan’s a good mate of mine. Is there anyone else that I could fight?” “Okay, we’ll come back to you.” They came back with Dan again. I said, “Guys, I’m quite strict on it, I won’t fight Dan unless it’s for something very important”. So, what was at stake? A final eliminator to fight for a title. That being the case, I said, “This is definitely something worth fighting for.” “Cool. I’m happy to put the friendship on pause to fight.”

BN: Has reaching 30 made you feel you need to accelerate your progress? 

JB: Most importantly, I need to win. Winning is one thing and how you win is another. I’d love to win in a glamorous way; in a magnifying way; in a dominant way; all of that. But let’s not forget, the main thing here is to win.

You could say, “Yeah, he’s 30”. Then you could say, “Has he had any hard fights?” No, I haven’t. I haven’t been in wars. My body’s still very young. It’s a final eliminator. “Okay, heading in the right direction.” We’re not just having another aimless fight. Before you ask me, let me talk to you about this one – they keep mentioning the [Anthony] Yarde fight. It’s gonna be a good fight, and it will happen this year for sure. But if I win this, why would I then let the opportunity pass to have that attempt at the title, as Yarde has had too? I have to correct myself. I said “If” I win this. When I win this I’m looking forward.

Joshua Buatsi (Lawrence Lustig)

BN: Your fellow 2016 Olympians Joe Joyce and Lawrence Okolie have recently lost their way. As a group have you been nurtured less effectively than those from 2012? 

JB: I hadn’t even thought about this. Yes, Covid made everyone have a break, and yes, other Olympic years, they didn’t have such a thing as Covid. But, really, it’s just what it is ­– working with what you have at the moment. Yeah, Covid interrupted things and we lost maybe just over a year when some ground could have been covered. But if I look at where I’m at, am I saying I’ve had 17 [fights] and lost eight? No. I’m sitting here with a clean slate fighting in a final eliminator. It’s all about perspective.

BN: Through your trainer Virgil Hunter have you had access to the great Andre Ward? 

JB: It was mainly when I first was out in the States. It was just him passing by the gym, and, of course, someone who’s achieved what he has, I’m asking a lot of questions. To hear from the experience, and everything. I’m not saying it’s a constant relationship where there’s constant communication. But if I do see him I will definitely ask away, as I will with other boxers. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be Ward.

How you deal with some of the fights that he’s been involved in at that level; just the training; the technical parts; such things as resting, sometimes you’re not experienced in knowing when to rest or when not to rest. It’s the whole mindset of boxing as well. It’s been very interesting.

The things he’s achieved, and obviously I’m in the same gym with the same coaches. That says enough [about my respect for him].

BN: Approaching a year on, how do you reflect on your move from Matchroom to BOXXER? 

JB: It was a move that I felt was going to be right for me at that time, and to now I’m happy about that. Here I am again, in a big domestic fight, but for a final eliminator, so what can I complain about?

[I expect more] big fights like this. Bigger and bigger and bigger. Bigger and better, man. It’s up from here, and of course, them being in partnership with Sky Sports means it will be on platforms where the most eyeballs are on. As an athlete, what more could you want?

Things not going [Matchroom’s] way, I didn’t expect to hear any positive comments. [The negative reaction was] not surprising.

I’d like to think I’m quite fair. Everything came to an end and it was time for me to move on. Yeah, it didn’t favour my previous promoter because they want to keep you and do this and do that, but as fighters you have to put yourself first. You have to position yourself where it’s going to benefit you. Your career is once; the promoter has many, many, many boxers’ careers in the palm of his hands. I don’t like to be on bad terms with anyone – I’m not saying I’m on bad terms with Matchroom, because however they feel towards me, that’s on them. I have no feelings towards them. This [BOXXER] is where I’m at now.

BN: Who do you think is the best in the world at 175lbs? 

JB: Both [Bivol and Artur Beterbiev], because not one person has got all the belts. It’s an easy way out. But I’d say both. Beterbiev has a 100 per cent knockout ratio but Bivol is technically sound, and everything. So, yeah, it’s just – I’m aiming to get in and take the belts too. They’re both good fighters, man.

BN: What about in Britain? 

JB: Everyone’s got a say – why they are the best. Until someone gets a title to separate themselves, we’ve all got arguments, really and truly. Unless I box all of the top five and I beat them and I’m like, “Guys I’ve beaten all of you, so you all need to be quiet”, we’ve all got arguments. I’ve boxed Spider; I’m boxing Azeez. Azeez has boxed Shakan Pitters; Yarde has boxed Lyndon Arthur, so we’re getting there, and hopefully more of these domestic fights can happen with bigger things at stake.

BN: How do you reflect on Beterbiev’s fights with Anthony Yarde and Callum Smith?

JB: Yarde showed a lot of heart in that fight, definitely. He had his moments. Beterbiev did what champions are meant to do, but yeah, massive respect to Yarde after that fight. I definitely have more respect for him. I’m not saying I didn’t respect him prior, but in that fight he definitely showed heart.

It was a very, very good performance from Beterbiev [against Smith]. A lot of people questioned Beterbiev but he proved us all wrong – it was a very, very smart performance. People talk about the power, but the tactics and the strategy and the technique that he showed was outstanding.

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