Buatsi wants Yarde after resuming friendship with Azeez

Joshua Buatsi is targeting a fight with Anthony Yarde after easing to the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles with victory over his friend Dan Azeez.

At Wembley Arena in what was also a final eliminator for the WBA title held by Dmitrii Bivol, Buatsi earned a unanimous decision via two scores of 117-109 and another of 116-110 at the conclusion of 12 largely one-sided rounds that included two knockdowns in the 11th.

It is perhaps the misfortune of the previously undefeated Azeez, 34, that he was the talented Buatsi’s opponent on an evening when Buatsi produced perhaps his finest ever performance. They are long-term friends and sparring partners and, through Azeez living in Lewisham and Buatsi nearby Croydon, move in the same social circles in south London.

Tbe 32-year-old Yarde on Saturday fights Marko Nikolic of Serbia on the undercard of Hamzah Sheeraz-Liam Williams at the Copper Box Arena in east London. Hackney’s Yarde is also of east London; a fight between he and Buatsi would unquestionably have considerable appeal.

When he spoke post-fight Buatsi did so at a time when there is a growing awareness Bivol is on course to fight his fellow Russian Artur Beterbiev for the undisputed title in Saudi Arabia on June 1. He regardless spoke even before the postponed date of October 21 for his fight with Azeez of his desire to also fight Yarde, and after the occasion of his highest-profile victory said: “I moved over to BOXXER and Sky Sports to be more active [his former promoter Matchroom’s broadcaster is DAZN]. "I’m sure someone’s going to say, ‘Is the [Anthony] Yarde fight next?’ Of course, it was a final eliminator [to fight Bivol], but we live in England; we live in London, and everyone wants to see that fight as well. I wanna be active.

“He’s fighting next weekend. I had to do my part. Dan and I did our part, so hopefully we’ll open doors. We’re both in a great position.

“If I lost there was nothing there for me. There was a lot of pressure on both of us.

“We’ve had spars like that, but I knew it was gonna be smaller gloves; the lights were gonna be bright; people outside. I expected a tough Dan Azeez and that’s what showed up. There were times I caught him and I was like, ‘Dan, are you not going to fall down?’ There was a round I landed three left hooks and Dan was still there, and I was like, ‘This is gonna be a long night for me’. It was different to the spars.

“We’ve done it [spoken to each other] many times sparring but it was weird that it was happening mid-fight. We were talking and the referee [Bob Williams] was in the ring, but I don’t even remember him. The friendship, to me, doesn’t stop.”

If the 30-year-old Buatsi had long been recognised as the superior technician, Azeez perhaps had the greater momentum until his back injury forced the postponement of their fight from October.

“You’ve got the crowd there,” Azeez said. “You’ve got smaller gloves; no headgear. I just know what Josh is capable of, if not better, so I just always tried to take my mind there and prepare for it. 

“This loss doesn’t define me. You go back to the drawing board and you come back and improve on what might not have gone well for you. Josh was the better man; I’ll go back, improve, and hopefully put on more nights like this.

“He slipped first, actually, and then my corner [led by trainer Buddy McGirt] was like, ‘Stop crying, you princess’, then straight after I slipped and he was like, ‘See?’. And then I slipped again, and both times I got the count.”

“I think one of them was a slip,” Buatsi said of the two knockdowns. “That area there was very slippery. Sometimes I’d slip and Dan would be like, ‘Woah’, like, ‘Be careful’. There were times he’d slip and I’d be like, ‘Thank God for that ‘cause I’m going to try and hit you’. The second one was definitely a slip.”