Joshua Buatsi started boxing when he was 15 years old. He’s now twenty two and one of the British Lionhearts. He trains every week in their headquarters in Sheffield. I met up with him as he was training at Gym London South in Mitcham.
Joshua first came across a pair of boxing gloves in Croydon, South London. It was a personal affair – he was beaten up by a good friend.
‘He brought a pair of boxing gloves to our old estate and we all tried it on and kind of sparred each other in the fields. He was able to beat all of us up one by one.’
But despite the bruising, he developed an avid passion and was encouraged by his friend to start training at South Norwood & Victory Amateur Boxing Club. His parents had reservations.
‘My parents said it was too dangerous a sport so they told me to stop it. My dad used to watch boxing so he’s seen the tragedies in the sport and stuff like that.’
Joshua wasn’t prepared to give up though and seven years later, he’s collecting titles: light heavyweight boxer at the 2014 and 2015 England Boxing Elite National Championships and a bronze medal at 2015 European Championships in Bulgaria. Most recently a gold-medal win at the Rio Test Event in December 2015.
Like many first-generation Africans, Joshua still has ties to Ghana – it’s where his parents are from. He’s been able to mix visiting with boxing and trained with Ghana’s national team.
‘When I went there, I sparred with people who had never heard of me. In England people have heard of this person and that person, so you’re kind of aware: there’s a level of respect.’
‘When I fought in Ghana there was no level of respect. They didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who they were.’
He nearly represented Ghana at the Olympics in 2012.
‘I was trying to go to the 2012 Olympics with Ghana. However when it came to crossing that last hurdle, I decided not to do it.’
He wanted to make sure he was ready so he settled on preparing for Rio 2016 instead. He clearly thinks he’s ready this time.
‘Anyone that’s humble is the most important thing to me.’
‘This is the biggest year of my career so far, so qualifying for that is the next big thing.’
With qualifiers in April in Turkey, Joshua has a lot to prove. He’s the only boxer on the podium squad in his weight category. And no qualified boxers yet for Team GB means that he could be leading the way; it would be an epic move for the young boxer. Joshua beams when talking about the experience of being part of Team GB:
‘It’s been great. I’m glad I didn’t cross that hurdle and box for Ghana. I would’ve had to have waited for four years to box for GB again and would have missed this Olympic cycle.’
He still however feels close to his Ghanaian roots, whichever country he’s ‘officially’ representing.
‘I live in Britain and I’ve grown up here most of my life but I never forget that I’m a Ghanaian. I’m a Black Star, I’ll never ever forget that: they’re my people.’
The boxers Joshua looks up to are a varied bunch – from the late Joe Frazier to Andre Ward. He mentions they all share a common quality: humility.
‘Anyone that’s humble is the most important thing to me. You’ve also got to give credit to the athletes like Mayweather. It’s pure skills and pure talent.’
With the pressure to succeed and gruelling training sessions – three times a day on weekdays, more on the weekend – what keeps him going? The pleasure of winning?
‘That’s what we train for. To replicate that feeling over and over and over again. That’s like the best feeling… I can’t name what compares to that.’
His next match is against the US team on March 3 in London for the World Series Boxing tournament. He’s yet to know his opponent but Joshua is confident.
‘Whoever it is, the result has to remain the same; that I win.’
Joshua’s clear focus is the sport but he’s also completing a degree at Queen Mary, where he’s currently in his third year studying sport science and management.
‘It’s hard because all I want to do is what the other guys do: just boxing.’
‘I box then carry on with work, assignments and firing emails.’ Joshua had an assignment due that coming week, two weeks before his next fight. ‘I’m in my last year, I’m glad I carried on but it’s really tight at the moment.’
What’s clear is his eyes are set on qualifying for the Olympics.
‘The Olympics are the dream. They say an Olympic medal will change your life and that’s what I’m aiming for.’
I left Joshua dripping with sweat post-workout. His focused temperament seemed to be the very same as when I first walked into the club. Perhaps he will have that medal by next year.
Follow Joshua on Twitter @boxingbuatsi
Photography by Wayne Braithwaite