Unbeaten #1 WBA light heavyweight contender Joshua Buatsi (17-0, 13 KOs) put in a minimalist effort tonight, mostly boxing, playing it safe to pound out a ten-round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Pawel Stepien (18-1-1, 12 KOs) at the Resorts World Arena in Birmingham, England. The judges scored it 98-92, 97-94, and 100-90.
In each round, the 2016 British Olympian Buatsi was content to fight behind his jab, keeping the 32-year-old Stepien on the outside, bottled up and helpless to land.
Buatsi opened up once or twice per round with nice combinations to the head, showing brief glimpses of the performance he’d given in his last fight against Craig Richards twelve months ago in May 2022. What has the 30-year-old Buatsi been doing for the past year, good question. Not much other than getting a year older with nothing to show for the time that has elapsed.
Stepien had his best round of the fight in the fifth when he went on the attack and nailed Buatsi with some powerful left hooks and right hands to the head. Buatsi came back in the final fifteen seconds to score some big shots on Stepien in payback fashion.
In the sixth, Buatsi fought well, fighting with more aggression than he’d shown previously, and Stepien backed off, choosing not to engage. From there, the fight settled into a dull match, with Buatsi throwing jabs and focusing on not getting hit.
It was a disappointing performance from Buatsi because he didn’t fight with a sense of urgency against Stepien, and this guy would have been knocked out by Artur Beterbiev or Dmitry Bivol tonight.
“I’ve been out of the ring for almost a year, so I needed the ten rounds. I wanted to knock him out, and I’m disappointed I didn’t, but we got the win. Everything would have changed if I had lost it, so I had to be smart,” Buatsi said to Sky Sports after the contest.
This was Buatsi’s first fight with Boxxer after leaving Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing. Hearn had offered Buatsi a title shot against WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol for the summer, but he opted not to take him up on his offer.
Given how Buatsi looked tonight, he made the right decision because he’s not yet ready for a fighter of Bivol’s class.