LONDON – Joshua Butasi and Dan Azeez are friends but there was a breezy, nonchalant animosity between them today.
The two light-heavyweights meet on October 21 at London’s O2 Arena in a mouth-watering clash of styles with a fascinating backstory of friends and former sparring partners trying to defeat one another to move into a world title fight.
Azeez is the road warrior, self-styled in the mould of Marvin Hagler, while Buatsi is the former 2018 Olympic star of whom much was expected in the pros. Buatsi is 18-0; Azeez is 20-0.
They now meet with the momentum behind Azeez.
Azeez has also grown through promoters Boxxer, while Buatsi is one of the group’s major signings.
In fact, at today’s press conference promoter Ben Shalom was accused by Buatsi of having Azeez as his favourite.
The mood was never less than professional, but it was not the ‘buddy-buddy’ vibe some expected.
Azeez showed up wearing a Hagler style ‘WAR’ cap.
Andy Scott, of Sky Sports, hosted the press conference and Azeez tossed a few verbal barbs the way of his friend, who had recently pointed out he had held the British belt Azeez now holds three years ago.
“That’s all fun and games,” Azeez chimed in. “He [Buatsi] won the British title three years ago but then what?”
Then, talking about his own reign, Azeez added: “I didn’t just pick it [the title] up and then bounce, I stood there and anyone that wants it, bring it. I ain’t had no easy touches. I’ve done my thing, too.”
Buatsi was happy to tell his own story at the presser. For a long time, they have been on the same side, friends who encourage each other through texts and training. But in October they will have to put their hands on one another.
“I was calm this morning, then Dan walked in with WAR on his hat and I was like, ‘Blimey Josh. Wake the hell up,’” Buatsi responded. “So I’m aware that October 21st it’s going to be war.”
Then, discussing how the fight came about, Azeez said: “Josh asked for me, you told me and I said let’s go.”
“No,” countered Buatsi. “I said, ‘Dan’s my guy, so give me someone else. I will fight Dan if something’s at stake…’ Final eliminator for the WBA we both couldn’t turn it down.”
Azeez points to the privilege associated with Olympic medallists, and talks about his own hard-luck path to the O2, a more traditional route of championships and an old school journey, too.
“I’m proud but it’s not so much about the traditional route, I was shit as an amateur so I had to prove myself,” Azeez said. “I had to show myself, title by title, that I’m a contender. It’s not like I wanted to do it the old school way, I had no choice.”
Buatsi, who discussed the sacrifices he had to make to become an Olympian, said: “We’ve all got friends in life but what’s at stake allows me to put that to one side… this puts me a step closer [to a world title] and right now it’s a fight on my way… You’re the guy I have to get through… There’s no emotion in the ring, I’m looking forward to it.”
Asked about their sparring history, the 2018 Olympian continued: “It’s good. Many many rounds [and] no one received a penny for it, just a text saying thank you and we will do it again.”
Azeez responded, saying: “Anyone I get in the ring with, the job’s got to get done. Josh is a brilliant fighter; I sparred rounds and rounds with him but on October 21 a job’s got to get done. I just see an entertaining, brutal fight, ultimately with my hand being raised. I just need to be the winner. If I land clean on anyone, I can knock them out. We’re going to give you a hell of a fight. I promise you.”
Buatsi made a similar guarantee.
“I’ll win,” he concluded. “I’ve said it will be 12 rounds or less from the start.”