Joshua Buatsi: Is Virgil Hunter the man to lead him towards light-heavyweight elite (including Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez?)

An envelope with a secret message inside withholds Joshua Buatsi’s intentions for inside the ropes. Only after a year will his new trainer Virgil Hunter open it, and read what was written.

Buatsi has the feted veteran Hunter in his corner for the first time on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports, when he takes on Daniel Dos Santos.

It is a fight that could unlock the door to the light-heavyweight division’s elite but Buatsi must beware – it is a realm of dangerous, unrelenting champions that may even include Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

Buatsi vs Dos Santos is a battle of unbeaten contenders

Canelo’s focus is on becoming undisputed super-middleweight champion but he has jumped to light-heavy before in a smash and grab of Sergey Kovalev’s belt. Buatsi’s aide Hunter is the man who, years earlier, plotted the dangerous Kovalev’s undoing as the trainer of Andre Ward.

Canelo may yet return to the division in which Buatsi is ascending because he wants to fight in the UK. That is a lofty ambition for Buatsi at the moment, but Canelo is tearing through rivals at some rate. It is an ambition worth having.

The more conventional light-heavyweight champions are a shark tank of danger that Buatsi is trying to infiltrate.

Artur Beterbiev (IBF and WBC) has a 100 per cent KO rate and Dmitry Bivol (WBA) has already beaten a young British challenger in Craig Richards. Joe Smith Jr holds the WBO gold.

“He’s ready for the world championships,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “He can beat Bivol.”

There is a vibrant domestic scene too including Anthony Yarde, Lyndon Arthur, Richards and Callum Johnson but Buatsi, a 2016 Olympic bronze medallist, insists he is the best of the lot.

Joshua Buatsi and Virgil Hunter
Joshua Buatsi and Virgil Hunter

Buatsi sought out US trainer Hunter, who led Andre Ward to an undefeated 32-fight record and the status of the world’s No 1 boxer, ahead of Saturday’s fight.

“I like to have him write a year’s goal down,” explained Hunter. “What do you want to achieve in this year in your profession?

“Let’s write it down, put it in an envelope, seal it up. After a year we will open it and see if he achieved the goal that he set himself. I haven’t looked at it.”

Will Buatsi be moulded into the new Andre Ward? Is that even possible?

“My way of thinking, my style, my attributes are different to Ward’s,” he said. “So I don’t expect to come out looking like Ward.

“We are all taught the basic fundamentals but each fighter translates it differently.

“Chris Eubank Jr did not box like [his new trainer] Roy Jones Jr. Ultimately, I will stick to who I am.”

Joshua Buatsi
Buatsi is aiming for the world champions
Joshua Buatsi

Hunter explained his priorities with Buatsi: “My focus is what’s coming back at him. Not what’s going out because he’s a great offensive fighter.

“Avoiding being hit with big shots or repetitive punches back to back.”

After two months in California with Hunter a big decision looms for London-based Buatsi. Permanently relocating would be a sign of intent. Much depends on tonight.

“I’m a 10-hour flight away so, if I want a time-out, I can’t go home,” he said. “I have to stay. It’s a tough but these are the sacrifices you have to make.

“At this point, I’m willing to do anything to learn what I need to learn.”

Hunter was more blunt: “I explained to him: ‘If you want to get better, you have to make the sacrifice to live here’.

“If the opponent lives in the same city as their coach they have an advantage.

“He can make a decision. It depends how much he wants it.

“I guaranteed him, if he lives in the Bay Area, he will improve two-fold.”

For now, the focus is on extending Buatsi’s unbeaten record to a 14th fight. His 13th was a dust-up with Marko Calic more brutal than expected, and Buatsi emerged with a badly swollen eye.

Joshua Buatsi


Joshua Buatsi came through his toughest test yet to stop Marko Calic in the seventh round!

Dos Santos, tonight’s opponent, has won all 15 fights and is accustomed to transforming his life.

The Frenchman’s older brother died when he was young and he drastically went off the rails.

“I put myself in trouble,” Dos Santos explained. “I made a lot of mistakes. I moved to the French army to have a great life. But after, I was again in trouble.

“There were a lot of problems in the ghetto and I went to jail for three-and-a-half years.

“It was a long time without my family and the people I care for. Now my life has changed. In jail I promised to never go back.

“To be in jail is to be alone. You can’t move or eat when you want. It is very difficult.

“I have changed 100 per cent my life. I have my wife, my trainer, my team, my kids. These things make me a better man. I can tell you that I am now a better man.”

Dos Santos carries his struggles into battle with him but Buatsi, a prodigious talent yet to fully explode onto the world scene, will plan to make a statement and gate-crash the world title picture.

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