Azeez 'insulted' by bullish Buatsi

Dan Azeez took Joshua Buatsi’s willingness to fight him as an “insult”.

The light heavyweight friends-come-rivals finally fight on Saturday at Wembley Arena, after a back injury suffered by the 34-year-old Azeez led to the postponement of their original date of October 21.

They have sparred numerous rounds together – they last did so last March, when Buatsi helped prepare Azeez for the European title fight he won later that month in Paris against France’s Thomas Faure – and their extensive knowledge of each other as fighters means that Azeez believes that the “calculated” Buatsi wanted him as an opponent because of his confidence he will win.

Buatsi, 30, is the favourite for Saturday’s fight, which he enters as an Olympic bronze medallist long considered destined for world level. In addition to the British and Commonwealth titles held by Azeez they are contesting an eliminator for the WBA title held by Dmitrii Bivol, and Azeez – from Lewisham in south London; Buatsi lives in nearby Croydon – explained: “It was put to me like, ‘Josh wants the fight – this is the fight we want next’. There was no, ‘How do you feel?’ That’s why I was a bit taken aback. ‘Oh, okay.’ 

“There was no, ‘Guys, how would you like to fight each other?’ I remember, after his last fight [a points victory in May over Pawel Stepien of Poland], we even spoke. [Buatsi said], ‘I might be fighting this person; that person’. Then when it was just put to me like that, I was like, ‘Okay – let’s get it on then’. I was thinking, ‘Really? Are you sure?’ [Previously] there wasn’t no feeling of we’re going to fight at all. I was meant to have a defence of my European title in July, and then they said, ‘Yeah, the next fight is Josh – that’s what he wants next’. It was put to me like he aksed for the fight. Like he wanted to fight – he aksed for the fight.

“Not betrayed, but it’s after the whole speculation of him turning down the fight with [Dmitrii] Bivol, and I thought, ‘Okay – does he think I’m an easy touch or something?’ I got a little bit insulted. ‘He wants to fight me because he thinks I’m easier? Fuck it – let’s go.’ That’s how I felt at first. 

“For a while I thought, ‘Yeah, watch – he thinks I’m easy pickings’; ‘He’s trying to pick an easy route to the top’, but as the build-up has gone on I’m actually, ‘Yeah, this is a sick fight and a good time in both of our careers’. He’s being calculated. I don’t knock him for it, it’s a business, but I’m different – I go for the challenges. ‘If I want to claim myself the best I’ve got to beat the best’, and some people put him as the best in the country.”

Their highly anticipated fight was previously postponed with just days to go when Azeez – a prominent figure in the domestic light heavyweight scene that among others also features Callum Smith, Craig Richards, Buatsi and Anthony Yarde – injured his back.  

“The Wednesday [prior to fight week], I had a spar, and got the injury but didn’t think much of it,” he said. ‘Maybe it’s just a little niggle – let’s see how it goes.’ Buddy [McGirt, my trainer] was like, ‘You’ve done all your sparring anyway; you don’t need to spar again; just go and rest’. For a good four or five days – my weight’s good as well so I don’t need to lose loads – I rested. 

“I got back in the gym on Monday, started warming up, and it felt really, really bad. Those five days that I didn’t train I was on some real strong painkillers, so it made me feel it’s going to get better. But when I got back in the gym and started doing the littlest work it just seized up. That was on Monday. Tuesday we went to a back specialist with my promoter [Ben Shalom of BOXXER], trainer; everyone went. They were like, ‘Yeah, it’s done’.

“It’s very good [today]. I feel confident – I feel really confident. When you get an injury sometimes it can play in your head, but I’m really pleased that I’m in a space where I’m not even thinking about it or how good it feels. It’s also helped me strengthen other [technical and physical] areas that I probably neglected prior to the injury.”