Joshua Buatsi won the battle of South London’s two leading light-heavyweights as he won a narrow – but unanimous – points decision over Craig Richards at Greenwich’s 02 Arena tonight.
The Olympic bronze medallist, from Croydon, was a heavy betting favourite going into the contest.
But Crystal Palace’s Richards pushed Buatsi all the way in an engrossing and punishing bout.
One judge scored it 116-112 for Buatsi but the other two both marked it 115-113, meaning that Buatsi shaded it by just two rounds on their scorecards.
The victor moves to 16-0 and while a rematch would be appealing for the public after such a gripping clash, he indicated in his post-fight interview that he was hoping to challenge for a world title next.
Highly-ranked by all the major governing bodies – and this was billed as an eliminator for the WBA world title – but the reality is that a shot at one of the champions might still be a little way off. WBA belt-holder Dmitry Bivol looks set to rematch Canelo Alvarez after beating the Mexican great recently.
Many of the rounds were difficult to score with Buatsi producing the cleaner landing shots – forcing Richards to the ropes and sending his dreadlocks spraying. But the former amateur star, whose progression in the paid ranks has not been as rapid as expected, fought in spurts.
The eighth was epic. Richards appeared to hurt Buatsi with a big uppercut and is sparked the pair into heavy exchanges before the bell sounded. The ninth was a more sedate affair, no surprise after the amount of punches thrown by the pair before that.
Richards could well reflect tomorrow morning on whether he started fast enough. He seemed overly respectful and if he had forced the pace more at that stage then that could have made things even more interesting.
Both boxers deserved huge credit. Not only for being prepared to face each other but also pushing themselves to the limit.
Richards suffered a third career reverse but, as with the defeats to Bivol and Frank Buglioni, he still enhanced his reputation as a bonafide world level operator.