DID Craig Richards do a better job against Dmitry Bivol than Canelo Álvarez? is a question that two weeks ago no one thought they’d ask. But Bivol’s dominant performance against the now dethroned pound-for-pound king in Las Vegas has prompted a reappraisal of Richards’ bout with the WBA belt-holder.

A year ago Richards went 12 rounds with the Russian. Bivol chalked up a clear win, he managed the fight better but the man from Crystal Palace was competitive in many of those rounds. As the world saw against Canelo, Bivol is a light-heavyweight of the very highest calibre.

Richards then has experienced boxing at the top level, exactly where his opponent on Saturday (May 21) at the O2, Joshua Buatsi is hoping to get to. It’s reasonable to think too that Richards will have taken plenty from his contest with the Russian and will have continued to improve as a fighter. He has been tested as he’s risen through the ranks. The same can’t entirely be said for Buatsi. Marko Calic did give the Croydon man some problems, which Buatsi resolved courtesy of a seventh-round stoppage. Defeating Richards Bolotniks is the 2016 Olympic medallist’s standout professional win so far and Buatsi delivered that in style inside 11 rounds.

But this fight with Richards is the step up he’s been waiting for. That their rivalry is so local – both are from south east London – makes the event that much more enticing.

“This is a big London fight. My reputation’s on the line,” Buatsi said. “It’s an important fight. [But] the pressure I put on myself surpasses what outsiders put on me. If there’s pressure it’s what I’m putting on myself.“

They know each other. They’ve sparred before and the two have fought before. All the way back when they were amateurs, in 2014 they met in the early London divisional stages of the ABA championships. Buatsi won that. He would go on to make the GB squad and impress at Rio 2016 where he won his Olympic bronze medal. Now instead of an amateur bout at the TA Centre in Grove Park, they will renew hostilities in the O2 Arena in front of thousands of fans, live on DAZN, with the winner expecting to move on to world class.

When they boxed as amateurs it was the first time Richards had done three three-minute rounds. “It was after that bout I decided to train with professionals and train six days a week,” Craig said. “I really put my head down after that fight.”

“It’s a completely different ball game now. I’m not a novice. The playground’s over. We’ve got 12 rounds of hard fighting with different gloves on now. It’s a different ball game,” he added. “I don’t hate him, but I do want to bash his head in… I’ve got to prove that I’m the king of South London.”

Richards is a serious fighter. His draw with Chad Sugden showed he can be inconsistent but his only other loss besides Bivol came against Frank Buglioni back in 2017, when Richards jumped into his first British title fight at short notice but still acquitted himself well. He has looked devastating at British level in subsequent fights, he took out Jake Ball, a former GB boxer, in just three rounds in 2019 and was explosive when he knocked out Shakan Pitters to win the British light-heavy title in 2020.

“I’ve been thrown in as the underdog multiple times, I’ve caused upsets multiple times. I’ve kind of grinded my way through the hard way. So it put me in good stead for fight nights like this,” Craig said.

If Buatsi lets Richards settle into a rhythm in the fight, if he can’t get round Craig’s jab and the Crystal Palace fighter starts to unleash punishing crosses, the fight could get very difficult for him. On paper this is a 50-50. But Buatsi, at his best, has a style that could suit him for this bout. If he can up the tempo rapidly and not allow Richards to get into his stride, he can catch him out early. Attacking with a hard right cross and heavy left hooks, varying his assault to the body and head, Buatsi might impose a stoppage on Richards, potentially in the first half of the fight. But the longer the bout goes, the more interesting it will be and the more dangerous it will be for Buatsi.

“Whatever you want to do, I always say there’s always a price to pay to achieve something,” Buatsi said. “It’s been a very demanding camp but that’s the price to pay. My preparation has been as good as it can be and that’s the most important thing.”

On the undercard Northampton’s Chantelle Cameron, the holder of the WBC and IBF super-lightweight belts, takes on Victoria Noelia Bustos. The Argentine is experienced. She’s fought, and lost to, Katie Taylor and Cecilia Braekhus. So while she has boxed top-class boxers, she’s not of that level. Cameron should put in an assured, dominant performance and win well.

Robbie Davies Jnr boxes America’s Javier Molina and heavyweight Alen Babić gets 16-1 Pole Adam Balski.

A cluster of good prospects are also on the bill. Tokyo Olympian Cheavon Clarke gets his second pro fight, another former GB boxer Cyrus Pattinson is also in action, plus Ellie Scotney, John Hedges and Shiloh Defreitas all get runs out.

The Verdict Britain’s light-heavyweight scene is thriving.