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Joshua Buatsi: Light-heavyweight can become world champion, says Lawrence Okolie, as big fights targeted in wake of Pawel Stepien victory

Joshua Buatsi beat light-heavyweight contender Pawel Stepien and is the No 1 ranked contender with the WBA, meaning he sits on the cusp of a world title shot; Buatsi, Lawrence Okolie, promoter Ben Shalom, and Vadim Kornilov speak exclusively to Sky Sports

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Joshua Buatsi gets the unanimous decision over a tough Pawel Stepien in Birmingham

Joshua Buatsi had an important point to make in the immediate aftermath of his victory over Pawel Stepien in Birmingham. His opponent was good.

Buatsi defused the determined Pole over 10 rounds at the Resorts World Arena on Saturday but Stepien was unbeaten going into their bout and was rated No 4 in the world by the IBF.

Croydon's Buatsi had been out of action for almost a year and had to shake off ring rust as he looks to secure a major fight before the end of this year.

Image: Buatsi looks to break through against Stepien (Photos: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER)

"They can say it [ring rust] is real [but] I went in there and I was sharp," Buatsi told Sky Sports.

"The guy was good, that's the thing. I have to actually give him credit. He was actually good. Big props to him. First time fighting out of Poland, he came up and he put up a good competitive fight. I have to rate him for that.

"On the surface people were just seeing him today but they don't know his pedigree. Very good amateur, represented Poland, boxed all around the world, boxed in WSB [the World Series of Boxing] as we said earlier on in the week. So he's a good opponent.

"Someone that was coming to win."

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That though was something which Buatsi simply could not allow to happen.

"It would be a different reception if I didn't get the win. So I have to remember that part," he said.

"You can't make mistakes in boxing. You have to win. I'm glad I got the win, but of course the crowd turned up, I wanted to give them a very good win."

In other words Buatsi, an aggressive, heavy-handed combination puncher, did want a knockout.

That will spur him on. He will restart training camp in a fortnight's time. He wants to box consistently and is targeting major contests in 2023.

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Joshua Buatsi labelled his performance against Pawel Stepien 'average' after winning via unanimous decision

"I want a good fight, I want a big fight. I mean I boxed out there in front of people, it was good. I want to get into entertaining fights and I said to Ben [Shalom, his promoter], let me travel back to the States in two weeks [for camp and] get me back out there. He said cool.

"We've just got to wait and see. But I want to box."

His London rival Anthony Yarde is a hugely appealing target.

"They're the kind of fights I want. I want big fights. Hopefully I've come to the right broadcaster and the right team and the right people that can make it happen," he said.

Can Buatsi become a world champion?

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympic team-mate of Buatsi's and the reigning WBO cruiserweight titlist, believes his fellow Londoner can join him as a world champion.

"Happy to see him win, take off a year of ring rust, promotional change, so on and so forth. He was in there against a good guy. He had to compose himself, pick good shots," Okolie told Sky Sports after the fight. "So it was good."

His point was that not every fight is going to be a knockout. "There's very rarely people with 100% KO ratios, 100% this, 100% that. That's not boxing," Okolie said.

Joshua Buatsi
Image: Joshua Buatsi is now in line for a world title shot

"The reality is as fighters you know a good fighter, or you know a good survivor. He did the best he could. Maybe on a different day he lands a different shot, but we don't know. That guy might just be super tough. It's hard to say."

He remains "extremely confident" that Buatsi will become a world champion.

"He's in a very competitive weight class, with a lot of killers but someone's got to be world champion, why not Josh?" Okolie said.

"He's world class. Olympic bronze medallist for a reason. The list goes on."

What next?

With his No 1 WBA ranking Buatsi is closing in on a shot at their world championship, although WBA light-heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol is unlikely to be next.

Bivol's promoter Vadim Kornilov told Sky Sports: "We are currently working on the different options [for Bivol's next fight], but it is likely that Dmitry will fight [unified champion Artur] Beterbiev or Canelo at the end of this year."

There are however different routes available to Buatsi. Beterbiev for instance is due to box Liverpool's Callum Smith for the WBO, WBC and IBF titles. BOXXER promoter Ben Shalom could move Buatsi towards the winner of that fight.

Joshua Buatsi
Image: Joshua Buatsi has some intriguing options for his next fight

Shalom told Sky Sports: "I think he could [fight the Beterbiev-Smith winner]. He's No 1 with the WBA but he's at the top of all the governing bodies. He's earned his right, he's going to fight for world titles.

"We'll see what's going to happen with Smith-Beterbiev. I think Bivol's going to fight Canelo. That leaves Dan Azeez and Josh Buatsi in the No 1 and No 2 positions with the WBA. What I can say is, he's going to be in the fights that we all want to see and we're very confident of that this year.

"He wants the big fights and we're going to get to see them," Shalom continued.

"I wanted to be involved so much in this division. We've had a different relationship with Dan Azeez where he's gone from British level and Southern Area level all the way now to world level. The European title was his last outing.

"But we can see the depth in this division. It's incredible. At British and world level this is a real, real strong division and division we really want to be part of."

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