HAVING knocked down every one of his title goals so far, Craig Richards has just one more to go – his WBA world light-heavyweight duel with Dmitry Bivol.
Richards, an 11/1 underdog, hasn’t been favoured by many. Bivol is as tough, well-schooled and as assassin-like as they come in the ring.
But the Matchroom Elite Gym fighter promises his hand will be raised, just like four of his stablemates before him over the past six weeks in Conor Benn, Ted Cheeseman, Felix Cash and Joe Cordina.
Trained by Peter Sims, brother of Tony, Richards details his journey from ‘survival mode’, without the same Olympic hype the likes of Lawrence Okolie, Joshua Buatsi, Josh Kelly and Cordina had, to world title challenger in just a matter of years.
“I was getting on buses on my own from a young age and if you ask Peter when he met me, because I dedicated myself to boxing I couldn’t work so I was in a small survival mode where I was getting on three trains a bus to get to Essex, two hours and 20 minutes every day before my debut,” he says in an exclusive chat with SunSport.
“I’ve had to kick doors down the hard way, I wasn’t an Olympian, when I come through I didn’t have someone pulling me through like my father.
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“I’ve put myself in this position. I’ve had to earn the right to be here and it’d be a shame to come this far… to only come this far.”
Richards is well-aware of the risk fighting someone like Bivol brings.
The Russian is 17-0, picked up his first boxing title in his fourth fight and has been at least an interim champ from his seventh onwards.
Often-touted as one of the best pure boxers in the game, he holds wins over former world champion Jean Pascal, current WBO titleholder Joe Smith Jr and grizzled veterans in Sullivan Barerra and Isaac Chilemba.
Richards’ best win came in his last outing against against Shakan Pitters, stopping the Birmingham fighter in nine rounds.
But ‘Spider’ as the South Londoner is known, also knows he’s failed to perform in lower-stakes fights, which is why he’s confident Bivol’s skill level will ramp him into fifth gear.
“For me, if you look at my career, whenever I fight someone I’m supposed to beat, I’m flat. It’s whenever I’m the underdog I perform, go out there and get the stoppage,” he adds.
“I need big fights to get the best out of me, and there ain’t much bigger than Dimitry Bivol.
“He does plenty well, he’s world champion. He was flaws, though. I need to exploit those flaws, take away his strong points. With Shakan as well, 14-0, British champion, I said he did things well, but I took them all away and I did the job comfortably and easy.
“This won’t be as easy, I know that. But it’ll get me through my gears, I’ll be in highest possible gear, I promise.
“We asked for the fight, I was in and around the ranking anyway, like No 5. I’ve been in the top 10 with the WBA for the last two years.
“First of all Eddie said ‘cor blimey!’, then he spoke to Bivol’s team, they showed interest and negotiations went from there.
“And here we are, I’m going win the rounds, box very well, and when it’s time to show it I’ll get him out. I carry my power both late and early, I get stronger as the rounds go on.”
“People doubted me before, you were wrong before and it’ll be the same thing again and you’ll all stop doubting me. It’ll be one of the biggest wins in British boxing history.”
Outside the ring, Richards is a much more passive person. He talks to kids at schools, gives back to communities in Penge and Lewishman where he grew up, and it’s clear he wants to change the way youths think today.
Knife crime and gang violence has always been prevalent in London, so much so that it’s even become a bit of a cliche that the young, tearaway, disadvantaged kid uses boxing to escape a much darker life path.
Richards is clear on the matter. Gang violence is something he was never interested in, but growing up where he did, it was often inescapable.
“You also get involved in things that are nothing to do with you, it’s all postcode wars and stuff,” he explains. “You end up with trouble with boys and you don’t know how you’re drawn in.
“When you grow up in South London it was hard not to get involved in certain things. You get on a bus and then 10 boys get on a bus and try and rob you.
“Then you get labelled as being part of a gang, all because of your postcode. It’s stupid and I’ve had friends die, been involved in bad stuff, stabbed. It’s all just a waste of time.
“Youth today need to understand they’re wasting them time with that. That’s why I go into schools so I can tell all of them that. I want that culture to change.
“When I was a kid all I did was watch boxing, I didn’t want to be tangled up with the other stuff. I didn’t even watch football, which is what most kids my age did.”
There are two huge motivating factors for Richards heading into his clash with Bivol – his mother and grandad, who passed away not long after his first title win against Alan Higgins in 2017.
“My grandad was anti-boxing. He was telling me to get a job and go to university and before he passed away I had my first title fight.
“I went to his house, he had the poster on his wall so I managed to get his blessing before he died.
“And as for my mother, it’d be nice if I could give her everything she ever wanted.”
And as for any final words from the 30-year-old, they assume the same confidence the previous 17 minutes of his sermon did while sat on the ring apron at the Matchroom Gym in Essex.
“Prediction? Richards win,” he says.