Undefeated light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi passed the first test of his career tonight in Brentwood, halting Ricards Bolotniks in 11 rounds

TONIGHT in Brentwood, Essex, Joshua Buatsi got both the stoppage victory he wanted and the lesson he needed against ultra-durable Latvian Ricards Bolotniks, finishing their light-heavyweight fight in the 11th round having learnt plenty along the way.

In what, on paper, was the most meaningful and trickiest fight of Buatsi’s career to date, the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist had to show a different dimension to his game, as well as patience, before then closing the show dramatically in the fight’s penultimate round. Though never in danger of losing, he had to deal with the discomfort of seeing an opponent haul himself off the floor (in round six) and come back stronger and had to also wait for his own second wind to arrive at a time when Bolotniks, a 31-year-old warrior on a rich vein of form, started to enjoy his best period in the fight.

Aside from that aforementioned period, and perhaps moments in the first round, the fight mostly belonged to Buatsi, 15-0 (13). His jab was the difference-maker – fast, sharp and accurate – and his balance, too, was once again impressive, allowing him to set his feet in front of Bolotniks, 18-6-1 (8), and unleash combinations whenever he managed to get his opponent trapped or at least stationary. A right hand from Bolotniks in round one acted as a warning, a reminder to Buatsi not to stand too tall or get too complacent, but Buatsi, 28, reacted to it by dropping his hands and shrugging his shoulders – a sign, no doubt, that it registered.

In the second, Buatsi began working the body well and backed Bolotniks up with one particular hook only for Bolotniks to respond almost immediately. He was never as quick as Buatsi, nor as spiteful with what he produced, but Bolotniks’ counterpunches were sneaky and they were clever and they did a great job of keeping Buatsi alert.

This cuteness continued into the third, when some of Bolotniks moves had Buatsi looking a tad one-dimensional and one-paced. His chin was high and dry when punching, which made him susceptible to being caught when exchanging punches, and Bolotniks had further joy with yet another overhand right because of this.

There were better moments for Buatsi in the fourth, mind. A left hook and right cross, for example, rocked Bolotniks, wobbling him for the first time, and there was soon a sense that Buatsi, increasing the tempo, was in the process of breaking the Latvian up. Combinations continued and one in particular staggered Bolotniks at the end of the round, Buatsi’s best so far.

Still reeling from the previous round, the snap in Bolotniks’ punches seemed to have vanished in the fifth, noticeable, especially, when he landed a right uppercut on Buatsi with nothing much on it. Buatsi, on the other hand, was by now all power. He made an impression with body shots and with right hands and started to move Bolotniks whenever he landed.

This conviction led to a breakthrough in the sixth when a huge left hook dropped Bolotniks with 90 seconds gone in the round. On the attack at the time, Bolotniks walked into a shot he didn’t see coming yet, just seconds after being nailed and knocked down, was somehow back on his feet by the referee’s count of five. After that, the pair exchanged violently, with Buatsi now in the driving seat, clubbing Bolotniks with heavy right hands to both head and body. Bolotniks stood and traded, bravely, but then, once hurt, started to move again, the aim only to survive.

Survive he did and, better still, Buatsi appeared to have punched himself out in the process of trying to end matters. This, of course, gave Bolotniks hope, perhaps not of winning but of being let off the hook, and by the very next round he was again finding his feet and having small bits of success of his own.

In that round, the seventh, Buatsi fired low with a punch and received a warning from referee Howard Foster. Bolotniks then came back fiercely, shaving the chin of Buatsi with a roundhouse right.

The eighth, meanwhile, marked the furthest Buatsi had travelled as a pro and also happened to be arguably the worst round of the fight for the Croydon man. He started the round teeing off with right hands but Bolotniks, smiling back at him, rallied with a vengeance, banging hard to Buatsi’s body and uncorking a left hook and right hand with Buatsi in the corner. Strong, confident, and now pushing Buatsi back, Bolotnik’s momentum was stifled only when Buatsi punched him low for a second time in the fight, a transgression for which the undefeated favourite was docked a point.

Knowing he needed more, and desperate for a second wind, Buatsi returned to the front foot in the ninth round, investing heavily in a series of body shots. At least one of them, in fact, seemed to take something from Bolotniks and a hook and right hand to the head from Buatsi, thrown much later in the round, then solidified the feeling that he had taken back control. If in doubt, it was confirmed in the 10th, a round in which Buatsi punched the last bits of fight from Bolotniks with short hooks inside, his attacks now so ferocious Bolotniks had no option but to try to get away.

He could, alas, only get so far. By round 11, with the softening up process complete, Buatsi found himself landing at will, first with a wide left hook and then with a looping right as he looked to turn the screw. Bolotniks smirked in response, naturally, but the damage done to him could not be denied, nor, in truth, could the impact of Buatsi’s final right hand, which cut short his lesson – his most important one to date – at the 2.08 mark of the round.

In earlier action, Joe Cordina, another 2016 Olympian, produced the finest punch of his career to finish Joshua Hernandez inside the very first round. The punch in question, a vicious right hand, dropped Hernandez heavily inside two minutes and helped to both move Cordina to 13-0 (8) and deliver the most eye-catching win of his slow-burning pro career. Better yet, the finish will have gone some way to restoring Cordina’s confidence in using a hand that has, sadly, been so problematic in the past.  

The rest of the Fight Camp was considerably less dramatic, with the two other main fights of interest going the distance and there being little in the way of two-way competitive action throughout.

At welterweight, Portsmouth’s Michael McKinson, 21-0 (2), tried but ultimately failed to stop tough Pole Przemyslaw Runowski, 19-2 (5), inside a scheduled 10 rounds. He gave it a go, especially early, before then calming down and outboxing Runowski over the distance, taking a wide decision at the bout’s conclusion (99-91 twice, 98-92).

In another distance fight, Ukashir Farooq, 16-1 (6), struggled making a dent in durable Mexican Luis Gerardo Castillo, 28-3 (18), and had to settle for winning a lopsided decision after 10 one-sided rounds (100-90 twice, 100-91).

Elsewhere, Zelfa Barrett, 26-1 (16), impressed stopping Viorel Simion, 22-7 (9), inside four rounds, after dropping the Romanian in round one, and undefeated American Raymond Ford, 9-0-1 (5), exhibited his potential with a third-round stoppage of former Commonwealth featherweight champion Reece Bellotti, 14-5 (12). There was a fifth straight win, too, for prospect Hopey Price, 5-0 (1), who floored Italy’s Claudio Grande, 5-1 (3), in the final round of their six-rounder but in the end had to settle for a points victory.

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