Joshua Buatsi heads a card at the AO Arena in Manchester this Saturday night, as he makes a sixth defence of his WBA International Light Heavyweight title against France’s Daniel Blenda Dos Santos over a scheduled ten rounds on Sky Sports in the UK and DAZN internationally.
The bill was due to be topped by WBC and IBO boss, Terri Harper’s bid to become unified Super Featherweight champion against WBA champion Hyun Mi Choi, but Harper was forced to withdraw with a hand injury just over a week away from fight night.
The show goes on regardless, with a trio of European title matches also on the menu in the North West. Buatsi (13-0, 11 KOs), is in a red hot division domestically, with his rivals, Callum Johnson, Lyndon Arthur and Anthony Yarde all operating in the high end of the 175 pound rankings, while Craig ‘Spider’ Richards has just come off an unsuccessful challenge for the WBA belt against Dmitry Bivol.
So, it’s a slight disappointment to see the Croydon native in with a low key opponent this weekend, but it will hopefully be a prelude to a big 2021 for him.
The 28-year-old has had a solid start to life as a professional after striking Olympic Bronze in Rio in 2016, and is ready to step up the levels as soon as possible.
He picked up the WBA fringe belt he will be defending in Manchester in July 2018, knocking out Andrejs Pokumeiko in a round, and he has defended five times, all via the short route. He also served as British champion, winning the vacant title in a third round stoppage of Liam Conroy in March 2019.
Ghana-born Buatsi was last out in October 2020, given a stern examination by Crotian, Marko Calic, eventually coming through in seven rounds. He has since linked up with Virgil Hunter as his new trainer, and he will hope to make a statement against Dos Santos (15-0, KO8).
The 30-year-old has never been past six rounds as a professional and fights outside of France for the first time in his career.
In 15 fights, Dos Santos has only faced a fighter with a winning record just three times, so the signs don’t look good for ‘Panthere’. He has fought twice in 2021 already, a January six round points win over Konstantin Alexandrov, followed by a one round knockout of Ivan Nikolov.
Prediction: Buatsi won’t want to hang around here, and I expect a business-like performance, with spiteful punches aplenty, and although Dos Santos will come with an unbeaten record, he hasn’t faced anyone remotely of Buatsi’s calibre. I expect a win for the favourite in this one in the very early stages.
European title triple header
European titles are up for grabs in the support acts, with Lerrone Richards (14-0, KO3) looking to take the vacant crown at Super Middleweight against veteran former WBA champion, Giovanni De Carolis (28-9-1, KO13).
‘Sniper The Boss’ has already claimed British and Commonwealth gold, and steps into European class here.
Richards last appeared in the ring in December 2020, making his Matchroom Boxing debut in a low key eight round points win against Timo Laine.
De Carolis is in the back end of a long career, that peaked in January 2016 when he stopped Vincent Feigenbutz in eleven in Germany, after losing their first meeting via a razor-thin decision. He shipped the belt in November of the same year, knocked out in the last round of a rematch with Tyron Zeuge, after the pair had drawn four months earlier.
Two defeats in his next three saw the 36-year-old from Rome seemingly nearing the end, but he has won three on the spin since, his last a June 2019 decision win over Khoren Gevor.
Prediction: Richards is a slick operator, and relies more on his boxing skills than knockout power, and this will serve him well here against De Carolis. The Italian will do his best to throw Richards out of his rhythm, but the New Malden based southpaw can take a clear points win.
Tommy McCarthy defends his Cruiserweight belt for the first time, as he meets Romania’s Alexandru Jur.
McCarthy (17-2, 8 KOs) is in good form, having travelled to Italy to take a split decision win against Fabio Turchi in October 2019, before winning the vacant European title with a majority verdict success against Bilal Laggoune in October 2020.
It’s tough to see how Jur (19-4, 7 KOs) has merited his shot here, with the 36-year-old 2-3 in his last five contests, and he has been knocked out in two of those three defeats, to Dmitry Kudryashov in a round in September 2018, and suffered a three round loss to Aleksei Papin in June 2019.
Jur was last out in August 2020, taking a six round decision win against Jiri Svacina in Germany.
Prediction: I can’t see him scoring the upset here, and I expect McCarthy to retain within the first four rounds.
Gamal Yafai also makes a first defence of his European title, and the Birmingham Super Bantamweight has a domestic assignment against Doncaster’s Jason Cunningham.
Yafai (18-1, 10 KOs) has rebounded well since a March 2018 defeat to Gavin McDonnell, and four straight wins have followed, culminating in an excellent clear points win against Luca Rigoldi in Italy in December 2020 to win the title he now holds.
Cunningham (28-6, 6 KOs) lost to Gamal’s brother, Kal, in 2015, and has also been in with good operators ableit in defeat in the form of Reece Bellotti (TKO6), Jordan Gill (UD10) and Michael Conlan (UD10).
The 31-year-old has won four contests since the Conlan reverse, but at a much lower level, his last a four round points win in February 2020 against Michael Horobin.
Prediction: Cunningham has been dropped a few times in his career, but has only been halted once, so Yafai will likely need the distance to take the win.
Smith faces Appleyard
Sheffield Super Lightweight, Dalton Smith goes for his first professional title on the bill, as he gets a vacant English title clash against Rotherham’s Lee Appleyard in a Yorkshire derby and rescheduled clash.
Amateur star Smith (7-0, 6 KOs) has barely been tested as a pro thus far, and he retired Ishmael Ellis after three rounds in February 2021 in his last contest, which was originally set to be against Appleyard (16-5-1, 5 KOs), who tested positive for COVID-19.
The 33-year-old is a former English Lightweight champion, but has had well over a year out of action.
Prediction: I think Smith can make an explosive start and score an early win to take the belt.
Hopkins makes first bow
Leicester’s Ellis Hopkins makes her debut, and she becomes the first female from the Traveller community to turn over.
Prediction: She will likely need all four rounds to overcome Borislava Goranova (11-64-4), with the Bulgarian only stopped seven times in 79 paid fights.