The 29-year-old extended his record to 16-0 and although he was taken the full 12 rounds for the first time in his professional career, Buatsi got the decision 116-112 on one card and 115-113 on the other two.
He’ll be hoping to move towards a shot at world level in the near future having come through the biggest test of his career, while Richards, who challenged for Dmitry Bivol’s world title last year, earned plenty of credit for his display.
Buatsi forced the pace from the very start of the fight, hurting Richards in the opening round as he landed the overhand right seemingly at will.
A snapping jab from Buatsi continued to cause problems for Richards, who was once again sent back onto the ropes in the fifth as Buatsi let his hands go and went in search of a finish.
The fight nearly turned in the eighth round, with Richards threatening to make Buatsi’s advantage on the cards count for nothing. Buatsi’s legs stiffened as he got caught and he just tried to hold as Richards threw everything at him, before he then got caught himself by a big right hand from Buatsi. The pair staggered back to their corners.
Both enjoyed good moments in the final four rounds, but it became increasingly clear that Richards needed a stoppage if he was to come out on top.
That didn’t come as the fighters heard the final bell and there was little doubt that Buatsi was going to get the decision. He’ll now be looking towards the biggest names in the division.
“When you are there you believe in yourself,” Buatsi said. “This guy lives next door to me. He gave me 12 hard rounds, maximum respect to him.
“We want the world title. We’ve made it very clear. We are ready.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn said: “Craig has proved a lot before. Incredible fight, respect to both. Both guys are waiting for a title fight,
“It was a big risk for Buatsi. He came through. There is nothing in the middle now between this and a world title. I think that is where he might go. I’d love to see a second fight between these two but I know where he wants to go.
“It has been six years since Rio, since he turned professional. I don’t think there are any more steps. I think Dmitry Bivol if he is available towards the end of the year that is the fight.”
Earlier in the night, Alen Babic stole the show as he earned a points victory in his first fight that went the full distance. Babic was knocked down less than 20 seconds into the opening round by Adam Balski and an incredible first three rounds followed with both looking like they could be knocked out at any moment.
Babic took control as the fight went on, but was badly hurt by a punch thrown after the bell at the end of the ninth, that saw Balski deducted a point. Babic composed himself impressively and the pair threw caution to the wind in the final three minutes, somehow hearing the final bell.
Chantelle Cameron cruised to a points victory over Victoria Moelia Bustos, winning all ten rounds on all three cards, while Ellie Scotney was similarly comfortable as she got a wide decision over former world champion Maria Cecilia Roman.
It was far less dominant for Robbie Davies Jr, who got the win on points over Javier Molina but was slightly fortunate to do so in what was a scrappy fight on the whole.