Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: Azeez was right to not succumb to the money-led pressure to fight Buatsi with an injury

I was supposed to be talking about the fight between Dan Azeez and Joshua Buatsi this month but the day before we sat down to do it, I heard the fight was off because Azeez had suffered a back injury. You know what? I’m glad. Not because the fight is off – it was a fucking cracker – but because so many fighters fight injured or ill. 

Boxers have ridiculous willpower. They can force themselves through training on a real low carbohydrate diet, which is torture. They put up with being run down, tired and sore. The last thing they should be doing is fighting when they’re hurt too.

It doesn’t take much for somebody to be too ill to go into work. You shouldn’t even be going into work in an office if you have a bad cold, so imagine going into a boxing gym and training for a fight. When you aren’t training, you have to pamper yourself. You should be eating the best food, getting the best sleep, and doing everything you can to feel as good as possible. 

Look, when you’ve been training for weeks the last thing on earth you wanna do is pull out. Boxers fight because they want that feeling of winning. Yeah, you want the money, but you want that great day where you wake up the day after and everything is beautiful. You’re addicted to it.

When you go into a fight you aren’t worried about being hurt. You’re worried about not winning. You aren’t worried about being cut because it’ll sting or bleed, you’re worried it’ll cause the fight to be stopped. You aren’t worried about being rocked because it’ll hurt, you’re worried because it might make the referee jump in.

When people say they enjoy fight night, I don’t believe them. It hurts, it’s tiring, and it’s hard. But it’s worth it.

When an injury is bad enough for a fighter to consider pulling out of a fight it’s because they know they aren’t going to get that feeling. They know the injury is going to stop them from winning and that means they’ll go through the worst feeling in the world – losing. 

Billy Graham's Preacher's Corner: Azeez was right to not succumb to the money-led pressure to fight Buatsi with an injury
Lawrence Lustig/Boxxer

This is the point where fighters need protecting and it’s where I think the bigger problem is. Rather than supporting the boxer’s decision, from my time as a trainer and a fighter and just living the sport, I think it’s much more common that the people around them put pressure on them and try to persuade them into going through with it. 

Nobody wants to let the fans, the TV companies or the promoters down, so they let themselves get talked into doing it. These days it’s become a big thing to pull out of a fight. If we’re gonna be totally honest about it, it’s all about people not losing money.

But the most important thing for everybody involved should always be the fighters’ health. If they do go through with the fight for the sake of everybody else and it goes wrong, they don’t get any credit or praise for it. The injury just becomes an excuse.

I fought injured myself on quite a lot of occasions. I once fought three times in three weeks. I had a horrible toothache for them all and before the third one – against a fella I’d already beaten called Jimmy Corrigan – I couldn’t cope and had three teeth out. The dentist was a butcher. He chipped a bit of my jaw off doing it and said that was normal. I should have pulled out but I was getting mithered to death to go through with it. My brother wanted me to pull out but I let everyone else talk me into it. My gum shield was full of blood and I lost by a point. I know that’s an extreme example.

Another thing – I hear trainers say that nobody gets into the ring fully fit these days, that there are always niggles. I think that’s utter bollocks. I prepared loads and loads of fighters to get in the ring without a problem. If you suffer with a particular chronic problem that always flares up, of course you have to work around it but if you get a new injury, pull out. It’s dangerous enough when you’re 100 per cent. 

Something I didn’t have to deal with during my career was these reporters who turn up with video cameras and try to turn every fight into a grudge match.

I can imagine it’s something that probably affects younger fighters who’ve grown up with this type of media more than seasoned pros but if somebody accuses you of being scared of a fight or tells you that they don’t think you fancy it, I can imagine that putting extra pressure on people to go through with fights when they shouldn’t. A grown man will probably tell them to fuck off but younger fighters fall for it more often. 

Before the fight between Leigh Wood and Josh Warrington I was asked who I thought would win. I said that I thought Josh Warrington at his best would win but that I didn’t think Josh was at his best anymore. He proved me wrong. Josh was fantastic and was well on the way to getting a stoppage but what Wood did was incredible and he’s done it before. Each one of the shots that put Warrington over was full-blooded. 

If the bell hadn’t sounded I think it would have been a fair stoppage but it had and I’d have been annoyed if I’d have been in Josh’s corner. We’ll never know if Warrington would have recovered during that minute but he deserved the chance to try. The referee could have been poised and ready at the start of the next round. If he didn’t think Josh could carry on he could have stopped it then and Josh wouldn’t have had to take another shot but he should have been given the benefit of the doubt.

That was a proper fucking dramatic fight. I’m gutted that Leigh Wood is 35 years old. I always knew he was good but I thought he was too long in the tooth to get to this level. His boxing skills are underrated because his punching power is all they talk about these days. He’s entertained and excited me so much. I think we’ve been robbed of some fantastic fights and nights – I just wish he’d have been promoted better and given more chances early in his career.