Buatsi: Azeez is responsible for the lowest point of my career

The postponement of his previous date with Dan Azeez gave Joshua Buatsi the “worst feeling” of his career.

Buatsi and Azeez – long-term friends and sparring partners – finally fight on Saturday at Wembley Arena for the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles, having previously been scheduled to fight on October 21 at The O2. 

A back injury suffered by the 34-year-old Azeez meant that their highly anticipated fight was postponed with less than a week to go, and Buatsi – whose career has recently stalled, partly as a consequence of his acrimonious separation from previous promoters Matchroom, and who has previously been open about his disappointment at leaving Rio 2016 with a bronze medal instead of the gold he had dreamed of – considers that the lowest of his lows.

“I was at home [when I was told just days before that the original date of October 21 was being postponed],” the 30 year old explained. “Breakfast was being made for me so I was sat in the kitchen waiting. 

“I had a phone call. ‘I’ve got some very bad news for you – can you go somewhere you’re alone?’ When I was told to go somewhere alone I knew what it was. I was very disappointed. So far [that’s the worst feeling I’ve known in boxing], being that close to the fight. Definitely. I wish I’d found out earlier.”

Azeez recognises Buatsi represents his toughest fight. They have been friends for in the region of a decade, move in the same south London social circles – Azeez is from Lewisham and Buatsi nearby Croydon – and repeatedly sparred together, most recently doing so last March, when Buatsi helped Azeez prepare to beat France’s Thomas Faure to win the European title in Paris. 

“I know Dan outside boxing as well,” Buatsi said. “For the ‘Spider’ [Craig Richards, in 2022] fight they were like, ‘These two know each other; they’re friends; they live in the same area’. Yes, we know the same people and everything, but Dan’s a lot more than that. I’ve known Dan for a very long time. 

“My close friends have birthday gatherings and dinners; they invite myself and guess who’s there? Dan. So it’s a very familiar face. As familiar as me even sparring Dan last year. If I knew I was going to box him [so soon afterwards] I definitely wouldn’t have sparred him. 

“Yeah, we’re the same weight, but this wasn’t something that was anticipated at all. Not for myself, anyway. Dan’s been to my amateur club [The South Norwood & Victory amateur boxing club] as well, and that’s way, way back – 10 years [ago].  

“If I had known I was gonna fight him I’d have made a conscious effort to remember it. We’ve sparred so much that when I sparred him I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna spar again’. It’s a very familiar sparring partner. When you’re sparring someone all the time you’re not really trying to remember all the sessions because you’ve got another 1,000 rounds to spar them – that’s the assumption you’re under. Now the table’s turned and you’ve got to fight. Hundreds of rounds, man. There’s a lot of days we sparred 10. 

“Inevitably there’s things that you can learn, but spars can be different from the fight, so I’m not going in with that in mind at all. I’m predominantly just treating it as a very good opponent that I have to fight for a final eliminator [for the WBA title].”