Read part one of our exclusive with Joshua Buatsi, where the WBA World Light-Heavyweight Champion discusses racism, taking the knee, and the legacy of Muhammad Ali.
COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the world sporting calendar since the unwelcome introduction of the virus in February 2019.
Fixtures and tournaments alike have been delayed or indefinitely postponed due to the unexpected circumstances. However, it can be argued boxing is the sport that the virus has rained the most terror on.
British light-heavyweight boxer Joshua Buatsi will be at the forefront of this argument, as the recently crowned WBA International light-heavyweight champion endured a long 400-day delay for an official fight.
Buatsi spoke after his victory over Marko Calic about maintaining mental and physical stability despite the massive delay: “I tried to make the preparation as normal as possible and not ponder over the fact that I have not fought for 400 days.”
THE MENTAL FACTOR
The psychological effect is more prominent in boxing than in perhaps any other sport, with this factor separating the elite from the ordinary.
Not being able to do your job for over a year and then being thrown in the ring to compete for an international title certainly tests the mental strength.
“There were days where I thought I haven’t fought for so long, but I’m a boxer, I can’t do my job which was hard to deal with.”
Buatsi went on to say that whilst ring rust was a serious possibility, mentally he did not accept that the notion of rust existed, and sparring played an important part in this process.
The British boxer remains undefeated in his 13-fight career and a major reason for this is due to his ability to outsmart his opponent and the mental endurance to outlast them: “It’s the little things in the bout I start to notice so I kept watching Calic during the break of the rounds.
He gives an intriguing insight to just how unnoticeable margins can give you an edge in a fight: “I would get up as soon as the one-minute break was announced to be over, whereas with Calic he would take longer and longer as the rounds went, which showed me he was getting tired.
“So this gave me a mental advantage over him.”
THE PHYSICAL FACTOR
On 28 March he was expected to fight at the O2 Arena but this was delayed due to the ongoing pandemic. The fight then re-scheduled for September also fell victim to setbacks.
Postponing a fight is not as plain sailing as rescheduling a football match. Games are usually postponed for a week or until the next month, whereas for boxers it can take months for a fight to be rescheduled.
The physical demands of this on Buatsi were immense: “I was meant to box on September 12, then September 13, then September 19, then 27 September.
“You train to peak at a certain weekend, and I was trying to peak for September 12, and the week before they [keep] notifying you of the changes, so you alter your sessions which made it very hard.”
Despite the constant setbacks, whilst for many athletes quarantine became a burden for them, Buatsi used the restrictions to his advantage: “Physically I felt very good during quarantine, I wasn’t eating too much I was training loads.
“Because the gyms were closed I started cycling and running, which helps with my weight which kept it low. And when I was given an initial fight date I started dieting correctly.”
POSITIVITY IS KEY
Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is a difficult reality, especially when faced with uncertain and continuous disappointments.
Buatsi considers it a pivotal skill to identify the positives when clouded with such gloom: “Positivity is crucial and I reminded myself that I’m going to the gym and I haven’t got an injury so all is good.
“I am unbeaten, and I am still in a good position boxing wise, with my ranking still very high. Thoughts like this kept me going.”
Buatsi’s preparation for facing Marko Calic was pivotal in the reason why he was able to win through knockout in seven rounds to become the WBA International Light-Heavyweight champion.
With an unbeaten record in his professional career, the 27-year-old is a good bet to be the best boxer in his division in the near future.