Buatsi ruled out fight with Azeez

Joshua Buatsi initially refused to consider fighting Dan Azeez.

On Saturday at Wembley Arena the long-term friends and sparring partners contest Azeez’s British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles in what also represents an eliminator for the WBA title held by Dmitrii Bivol.

Buatsi, 30, and Azeez have known each other for more than 10 years and, through him living in Croydon and Buatsi in nearby Lewisham, they have also long operated in the same south London social circles.

Some of the numerous rounds they have sparred together came as recently as March, when Buatsi helped the 34-year-old Azeez prepare for his successful European title fight with France’s Thomas Faure, but for all of the considerable appeal of their being matched, Buatsi was previously reluctant to fight his friend.

They had been scheduled to fight on October 21 until a back injury forced the postponement of their date at London’s O2, and recalling the start of their road to Wembley, Buatsi explained: “I said, ‘Guys, no, I won’t fight Dan. Dan’s a good mate of mine. Is there anyone else that I could fight?’ ‘Okay, we’ll come back to you.’ 

“They came back with Dan again. I said, ‘Guys, I’m quite strict on it, I won’t fight Dan unless it’s for something very important’. So what was at stake? A final eliminator to fight for a title. That being the case, I said, ‘This is definitely something worth fighting for’. ‘Cool. I’m happy to put the friendship on pause to fight.’ 

“If I’d thought it I wouldn’t have sparred Dan last year. Why would I? It was never in the back of my mind that I could fight Dan one day.”

Buatsi’s career is at risk of stalling after, having turned professional with Matchroom in the aftermath of his Olympic bronze medal at Rio 2016, he was expected to have the brightest of futures. He last year left Matchroom for BOXXER, and said: “Most importantly, I need to win. Winning is one thing and how you win is another. I’d love to win in a glamorous way; in a magnifying way; in a dominant way; all of that. But let’s not forget, the main thing here is to win. 

“You could say, ‘Yeah, he’s 30’. Then you could say, ‘Has he had any hard fights?’ No, I haven’t. I haven’t been in wars. My body’s still very young. It’s a final eliminator. ‘Okay, heading in the right direction.’ We’re not just having another aimless fight. 

“Before you ask me, let me talk to you about this one – they keep mentioning the [Anthony] Yarde fight. It’s gonna be a good fight, and it will happen this year for sure. But if I win this, why would I then let the opportunity pass to have that attempt at the title, as Yarde has had too? I have to correct myself. I said ‘If’ I win this. When I win this I’m looking forward.”