Joshua Buatsi entered the Olympic Games as a green amateur expected to make a quick exit. He left Rio three weeks later a bronze medalist, and the hottest prospect in British boxing.
With two seeds in his way ahead of the quarter-finals, Buatsi was given little hope of medalling. Until he knocked them both out.
He stopped Kennedy Katende of Uganda in his first fight and then finished third seed Elshod Rasulov of Uzbekistan in the third round to reach the quarter-finals. The 23-year-old then rocked Algerian boxer Abdelhafid Benchabla repeatedly in his next bout on his way to a decision victory that guaranteed bronze.
His bronze medal ensures the Team GB boxing team reach their target of three medals at the Rio Olympics.
The power has always been there. He put Cuban superstar Julio César La Cruz on the canvas at the 2015 World Championships before dropping a decision. But his loss to the fleet-footed southpaw Abildek Niyazymbetov in the semi-final showed he remains a raw prospect.
“To the little talent that I have, I add a lot of hard work.
He’s been making rapid improvements nonetheless. Dutch Olympian Peter Müllenberg had beaten Buatsi twice in 2015, at the World Series of Boxing and in the semi- finals of the European Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria, where Buatsi claimed bronze.
At the European Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament in Samsun, Turkey, he finally overcame his rival for the first time, securing his place at Rio.
Buatsi has knockout power in both hands, punches well to the body and keeps a tight guard. He has proved capable of picking his punches off the back foot, demonstrating poise and ringcraft beyond his experience. But he can neglect his jab, and needs to work on his head movement and develop more sophisticated footwork.
Buatsi, who reads scriptures from the Bible prior to his bouts, credits his success to his family, coaches and hard work. “A lot of the boys on the team are talented,” he told Sport Magazine. “I look at them and think: ‘Wow, where have they learnt all of this?’ But to the little talent that I have, I add a lot of hard work.”
That’s not to say that Buatsi lacks confidence. When Clare Balding asked him which boxer in Rio had impressed him the most, he answered: “Honestly, I impressed myself.”
Buatsi was born in Accra, Ghana and moved to the UK aged nine, where he grew up on the Shrublands estate in Croydon. At 15, he joined the South Norwood and Victory boxing club. He is in the due to graduate with a degree in sport science and management studies from St Mary’s University in Twickenham this summer.
With his easy charisma, professional style and knockout power, Buatsi will have promoters lining up for his signature if he chooses to turn pro.
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