Coldwell: Azeez fight can 'make or break' hyped-up Buatsi

Dave Coldwell believes that Saturday’s fight with Dan Azeez could prove “make or break” for Joshua Buatsi.

The light heavyweights – friends in circles in south London and professional rivals on Saturday – fight at Wembley Arena after a back injury suffered by Azeez forced the postponement of their original date of October 21 at London’s O2.

Before they agreed terms to fight they had sparred numerous rounds together, but the 30-year-old Buatsi’s career is at risk of stalling after he turned professional with high expectations having impressed in winning an Olympic bronze medal at Rio 2016.

He is the favourite to beat Azeez, 34 and the British and Commonwealth champion, but Azeez is in the form of his 20-fight career after also winning the European title last year in a fight Buatsi helped him to prepare for.

While he was in San Francisco with Ebanie Bridges in December, the studious Coldwell visited the gym of Buatsi’s respected trainer Virgil Hunter where he watched trainer and fighter prepare for Saturday’s fight, and asked if it could be make or break for Buatsi, he told ProBox TV: “When he turned pro [in 2017], the push he was getting and being spoken about – his career’s not gone how it should have done. If he was to get beat – Azeez is a good fighter, but he’s not proven he’s world level yet; Buatsi is fringe world level – that would dampen the fire. 

“It’s a brilliant fight. A really, really good fight. In Azeez you’ve got this old-school, throwback kind of fighter. He’s got momentum and he’s flying. Buatsi’s someone who should have done more already but hasn’t, [due] to inactivity and the plan they’ve got. He’s 30 – he has to make that kick now. He has to go out there, beat Azeez in great fashion, and then kick on again – not have a big gap until his next fight. 

“It’s genuinely one of those 50-50s. But the sharpness; the ability – and also he’s a hard bastard as well – everything put together, I think Buatsi wins. When he has to grit his teeth he can grind it out. It’ll be a fight – a bit like the [in 2022, Craig] Richards fight – where it has shifts, and Buatsi’s getting hit. All the way through his career, he’s easy to hit with that right hand. He always seems to get hit with that right hand. When he steps up to that top level he needs to take that away, which I know he’s working on. But the sharpness he has in his punching will be the difference in the fight.”

Regardless of his confidence in what he perceives to be Buatsi’s superior abilities, Coldwell recognises that the outcome of their fight could be determined by which of the two better handles the occasion – the pressure they are both under given the local rivalry that exists between one fighter from Croydon and another from nearby Lewisham, and the fact that they know each other so well and are ultimately friends.

“How many times have we said that in fights and it goes both ways?” the trainer continued. “Sometimes you have two friends get in there and have a mighty war; sometimes it’s very cagey because they know each other. But sparring – you have head guards on; you have big gloves on. It’s not that life-or-death situation. Boxing; fight night; under the lights; under pressure; knowing what it means for your career. It can be who handles that pressure.

“It depends on how you handle it [their mutual friends, etc]. You have to be 100 per cent selfish and not give a shit about what anyone else thinks. That’s a big part of boxing. You have to not care about what everybody on the outside thinks when you walk to the shop – you can’t care about their opinions. You’ve got to perform. What you do day in, day out in the gym – it’s easier said than done, but whoever can get closest to that, sometimes that’s the difference between winning and losing. Buatsi’s experience of fighting a fight like Craig Richards, where he had that – the same circles; same places – that experience of having that will help in this fight.

“They’re both a bit vicious, but Buatsi more so, because of his sharpness. His sharpness of punching – he’s fast when he chooses to be. Do you know what I like about him? Out of the ring he’s the nicest kid in the world; soft; polite. The people I’ve come across, when they’re that nice on the outside [of the ring], sometimes it can let them down when they get in there, because they’ve not got that horrible dog in them. Buatsi has. 

“He flicks a switch and he’s this guy. ‘Who’s that?’ He’s completely different to what he is on the outside, and I give him the edge. Mentally, he’s got that chip on his shoulder and he’s insulted when people doubt him. I like that. If you’ve got aspirations to be elite – if you’ve got aspirations to be the best – you should be insulted. 

“[At Hunter’s gym when watching Buatsi] I saw a fighter working really hard; looking in really good shape. It were nice to see Buatsi work. I’d never seen him train before.”