Joshua Buatsi becomes mandatory for Dmitrii Bivol with victory over Dan Azeez

Joshua Buatsi eased to a unanimous decision victory over his friend-come-rival Dan Azeez to win the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles at Wembley Arena in London.

In what was also a final eliminator for the WBA title held by Dmitrii Bivol, he was awarded two scores of 117-109 and another of 116-110 to inflict Azeez’s first defeat.

They had been scheduled to fight on October 21 at the O2 Arena until a back injury suffered by Azeez forced BOXXER to postpone one of their most appealing promotions.

Long-term friends within the same south London social circles – Azeez is from Lewisham and Buatsi nearby Croydon – they had not only sparred numerous rounds together, they had sparred as recently as March 2023, when Buatsi helped Azeez to prepare for his finest victory, for the European title over Thomas Faure of France.

If there had existed concerns about their knowledge of each other and the pressure they were under contributing to tentative performances they started to vanish from the opening round, when the speed and authority of Buatsi’s jab, combined with a right to the body and the right hand Azeez landed almost immediately afterwards, revealed so much about what was likely to follow.

When that first round concluded they stared at each other with purpose, but from the second their fight was defined by their desire. Buatsi landed a left and right to the body; Azeez an overhand right. 

A left to the chin and another to the body tested Azeez in third, and while he remained determined his punches lacked the same power and he was being narrowly outworked. Two lefts to the chin followed by another right and a further left demonstrated, in the fourth, that not only had Buatsi established a convincing rhythm but that he was threatening to break Azeez down.

He continued to succeed to head and body in the fifth, and to the extent that Azeez – at 34 the older fighter by four years – was starting to look one-dimensional and potentially out of his depth. 

Buatsi’s effective combinations ensured that he continued to build his lead until the later rounds, whereupon, though he was tiring and slowing down, he twice knocked his opponent down.

It was in the 10th that Azeez hurt Buatsi with a right hand, but in the 11th, a right from Buatsi – combined with the increasingly slippery surface they were fighting on and Azeez’s exhaustion – forced the first knockdown. With Azeez on his feet and again willingly trading another right hand forced another knockdown on the stroke of the bell. Again the condition of the canvas had not helped his stability, but after they hugged at the start of the final round he remained upright and competitive as they traded once more and hugged once again at the final bell.

Buatsi previously held the British title but more relevant is him moving back into contention to fight Bivol following his departure from Matchroom. 

Confidence is growing that Bivol and Artur Beterbiev will fight for the undisputed title in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. If he doesn’t fight Anthony Yarde this summer, Buatsi can be expected to fight the winner next.