Alumnus, Olympic bronze medalist and British light-heavyweight boxing champion
2019 was quite a year for Joshua Buatsi. In March, alumnus Buatsi beat Liam Conroy to take the British light-heavyweight title, and in June he climbed into the ring in Maddison Square Garden to win against Mexican Periban in his US debut.
“The nicest, most dangerous man you can meet” is how boxing promoter Eddie Hearn describes Buatsi. An opinion echoed across the many column inches now being written about Joshua and his developing career. Buatsi is described as a quiet soul, a man of God, who showcases boxing at its best, both inside and outside the ring.
He is complimented on his good grace and professionalism in the lead up to games – no histrionics, no trash talking, no-nonsense - and is applauded for how he uses his prodigious talent. GQ magazine noted with admiration “Of all the weapons in his arsenal – power, spite, balance, speed – perhaps his strongest, which, coincidentally, sits perfectly in stride with his character, is his poise, the fact that he rarely, if ever, wastes a punch. There are very few, if any at all, novice professionals capable of delivering such brutal, measured violence in such an artful, understated way.”
Buatsi was born in Ghana but raised in Croydon, South London, where he moved with his family aged nine. Of all the things he remembers, the one that sticks out is the weather. “It was the first time I had seen snow. I was used to wearing shorts and flipflops!”
His boxing life started aged 15 when Buasti walked through the door at the South Norwood and Victory boxing club, an old church hall near Croydon. Buatsi was told to come back the next night at 7pm. He went away and when he was five minutes late the following night the trainer, Terry Smith, refused to let him train. “7pm meant 7pm – I was on time the next night,” he says of the experience. Over the summer the small group of friends he joined the club with disbanded, but Buatsi was hooked and when it was time to return to school his search for a local gym began.
Buatsi joined St Mary’s in 2013 to study Business Management and Sports Science, calculating that the course, the on-campus training facilities and the proximity to his London gym would enable him to continue both his studies and his blossoming boxing career.
It was at this point that he also had his sights set on the 2016 Rio Olympics. About two years before the games were due to begin, there were five men between him and the road to Rio, but he dug in, started to win domestic titles and was selected to join Team GB along with the other successful boxers, including Joe Joyce and Nicola Adams.
When Buatsi returned with his bronze medal, fame and fortune beckoned. He resisted the urge to turn professional straight away and returned to his studies. “Boxing has always been Plan A,” he explained, “But I only had one year left and I wanted to be able to say I have a degree.” He continued to balance boxing and books and graduated from St Mary’s with a 2:1, turning professional in 2017.
What Buatsi needed now was a manager. “I sat back and thought, ‘What boxer do I feel is doing things the right way?’” he says. The answer was Anthony Joshua, and the two men soon struck a deal and have been working together ever since.
With several big names in boxing retiring recently, there is a space behind mentor Anthony Joshua as the headline acts of British boxing, and Buatsi plans to make the most of it. “I am aware of it, there’s a little gap for the new guys on the scene,” Buatsi says. “Myself, other guys from the Olympics, also Jordan Gill. It’s something I want to take. There’s a lot of work to make it happen, but I’ll do my best to fill that gap.”
Buatsi has already left his mark on his hometown in the form of a huge mural close to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park. “I thought, ‘does that look like me?’” Buatsi jokes to fellow alumni and sports journalist at The Independent, Jack Rathburn. “It’s crazy, inspirational and gives me the drive and motivation to keep Croydon on the map. It shows people whatever area you’re from, you can get somewhere and be successful.”
As Buatsi stepped into the spotlight in Maddison Square Garden he wore the traditional Kente cloth of Ghana in recognition of his heritage. It was an inspiring and thoughtful gesture from a man focused on success, made possible by hard work, hope and faith. We look forward to what is coming next from alumnus Buatsi, as he entertains and inspires us in equal measure.
You can follow Joshua on Twitter: @boxingbuatsi