An envelope with a secret message inside holds Joshua Buatsi’s intentions for the inside of the ropes. It’s only after a year that his new trainer Virgil Hunter will open it and read what has been written.
Buatsi has celebrated veteran Hunter in his corner for the first time on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports, when he faces Daniel Dos Santos.
It’s a fight that could open the door for the elite in the lightweight division, but Buatsi needs to be wary – it’s a realm of dangerous and relentless champions who may even include Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
Canelo’s focus is on becoming the undisputed super middleweight champion, but he’s already jumped at lightweight in a smash and belt grab from Sergey Kovalev. Buatsi’s assistant Hunter is the man who, years earlier, had planned for Kovalev’s dangerous loss as Andre Ward’s coach.
Canelo can still return to the division Buatsi is going up to because he wants to fight in the UK. It’s a high ambition for Buatsi at the moment, but Canelo is tearing his rivals apart at a certain pace. It is a worthwhile ambition.
The more conventional light-heavy champions are a danger shark tank that Buatsi tries to infiltrate.
Artur Beterbiev (IBF and WBC) has a 100% KO rate and Dmitry Bivol (WBA) has already beaten a young British challenger to Craig Richards. Joe Smith Jr holds WBO Gold.
“He’s ready for the world championships,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “He can beat Bivol.”
There’s also a vibrant national scene, including Anthony Yarde, Lyndon Arthur, Richards and Callum Johnson, but 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Buatsi insists he’s the best of the lot.
Buatsi sought out American trainer Hunter, who led Andre Ward to an unbeaten record of 32 fights and world No.1 boxer status, ahead of Saturday’s fight.
“I like him writing down the one-year goal,” Hunter explained. “What do you want to accomplish this year in your profession?
“Let’s write it down, put it in an envelope, seal it.” After a year, we’ll open it up and see if it has achieved the goal it set for itself. I haven’t looked at it.
Will Buatsi be cast in the new Andre Ward? Is it possible?
“My way of thinking, my style, my attributes are different from Ward’s,” he said. “So I don’t expect to come out looking like Ward.”
“We are taught all the basics, but each fighter translates it differently.
“Chris Eubank Jr didn’t box like [his new trainer] Roy Jones Jr. Ultimately, I will stay true to who I am. “
Hunter explained his priorities with Buatsi: “My focus is on what’s up to him. Not what’s going on because he’s a great offensive fighter.
“Avoid being hit with heavy blows or repetitive back-to-back punches.”
After two months in California with Hunter, a big decision looms for London-based Buatsi. A permanent move would be a sign of intention. It all 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 is difficult but these are the sacrifices you have to make.
“At this point, I am ready to do anything to learn what I need to learn.”
Hunter was more direct: “I explained to him, ‘If you want to get better, you have to sacrifice to live here.’
“If the opponent lives in the same city as his coach, he has an advantage.
“He can make a decision. It depends on how much he wants it.
“I guaranteed him that if he lives in the Bay Area, he will improve twice.”
For now, the focus is on extending Buatsi’s unbeaten record to a 14th fight. His 13th was a dust with more brutal Marko Calic than expected, and Buatsi emerged with a severely swollen eye.
Tonight’s opponent Dos Santos has won all 15 fights and is used to transforming his life.
The Frenchman’s older brother died when he was young and he drastically derailed.
“I got in trouble,” explained Dos Santos. “I made a lot of mistakes. I joined the French army to have a good life. But then I got into trouble again.
“There were a lot of problems in the ghetto and I went to prison 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 prison, I promised never to go back.
“To be in prison is to be alone. You can’t move or eat when you want. It’s very difficult.
“I have 100% changed my life. I have my wife, my coach, my team, my children. These things make me a better man. I can tell you that I am now a better man.”
Dos Santos is leading his struggles into battle with him, but Buatsi, a prodigious talent who has yet to explode onto the world stage, will consider making a statement and crushing the image of the world title.