Azeez expecting hardest night against 'incredible' Buatsi

Dan Azeez is anticipating the toughest fight of his career when he confronts Joshua Buatsi.

On Saturday at Wembley Arena the 34 year old defends his British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles in what is also an eliminator for the WBA title held by Dmitrii Bivol.

He is in the form of his career, having last year won the European title against France’s Thomas Faure on an occasion his long-term friend and sparring partner Buatsi helped him to prepare for, but Buatsi remains the favourite on account of the fine future that was predicted at Rio 2016 when he won Olympic bronze.

Lewisham’s Azeez and Buatsi, 30 and from nearby Croydon, also know each other to the extent they do because they move in the same south London social circles, and Azeez said: “He’ll definitely be my hardest test to date. His skill set; he’s got a good amateur pedigree; I’ve been sparring him for over a decade so I know what he’s capable of.

“Overall he’s a very good fighter, and I know that first hand – it’s not just watching – I’ve been in there with him, so I know what I’m up against.

“He’s got a good ring IQ; he’s got a good mindset; good fundamentals. There’s a lot of things. As much as I’m fighting him, coming up [as a boxer] and sparring him – it’s weird to say, but I’ve always looked up [to him]. ‘This guy; he’s wicked, man; what an incredible fighter.’ There’s a lot of things that makes him a good fighter, and just like me he’s undefeated. 

“He ain’t put a foot wrong yet and it’s for me on February 3 to change that. Buddy [McGirt, my trainer] has watched us spar before a few times – he knows Buatsi’s strengths, as well as his weaknesses. Knows what will work; what ain’t gonna work, and what not. It’s just for us to do it on the night.”

Azeez and Buatsi are prominent figures in the competitive light heavyweight division that might be the finest of all in Britain, and, regardless of the presence of Callum Smith, Craig Richards and Anthony Yarde, when he was asked who’s the best of all, he responded: “That’s up for debate. February 3 you’ll get your answer.”

“We’ve sparred so many times, and he knows me as well as I know him; [in our most recent sparring sessions] he’s still able to get success, and I’m still able to get success. The fact we know each other – it doesn’t cancel itself out. We’re both quite a force. You know Mike Tyson’s got a crazy uppercut but how are you going to be able to evade it? We’re still both going to get hit and have our successes. It’s going to be who’s willing to go to that dark place and willing to stay there.”