Promoter Ben Shalom has said the negative comments surrounding Dan Azeez’s last-minute withdrawal against Joshua Buatsi are ‘disrespectful’.
The Boxxer promoter had to think on his feet and moved the rest of the October 21 card, topped by the cruiserweight clash between Isaac Chamberlain and Mikael Lawal, from the O2 Arena in London to York Hall in Bethnal Green just a couple of days before the first bell.
European champion Azeez and friendly rival Buatsi had been due to contest a world title eliminator, and Azeez’s late pull-out caused some to question the withdrawal. It was announced yesterday that Azeez will be back in the New Year, against Buatsi.
“I think that was just really disrespectful, to be honest,” Shalom said. “As if the sport, after what’s gone on in the past 12 months, as if general sports fans need less of a reason to trust boxing. I think it was just really unhelpful, really damaging, especially accusing someone like Dan Azeez of faking an injury. I think ultimately, a broken clock is right twice in a day. So when every fight that we make is under this cloud of ‘Is it going to happen?’, I think it was, personally, not helpful. But I think they’ve cleared up the comments now and I believe that they’ve apologised.
The sport in the UK was buzzing for the light-heavyweight bout between friends who had been sparring partners. Sky Sports had given it the full build-up treatment with all of the shoulder programming, and Shalom had been happy with the run-up to fight night.
“Unbelievable,” the promoter lamented. “I think it was one of the biggest fights in British boxing, if not the biggest [this year]. For me, [Chris] Eubank Jr.-[Liam] Smith I and II were the two biggest fights in British boxing. In this country this year, they were the two biggest fights in British boxing. Buatsi-Azeez for me was going to be the third biggest fight, or in the top three as well. It was a huge fight. The way it had built was incredible. I’ve had a similar relationship with Dan Azeez as to Chris Billam-Smith, where we’ve gone from trying to justify why he is on a card, to headlining shows and being one of the most popular fighters in the country. So for him to be at the O2 [Arena], and to have sold the way it had sold…”
Shalom hopes the fight will only grow bigger between now and Azeez and Buatsi finally getting in the ring, even though he said 10,000 tickets had been sold. Again, there had been naysayers about how popular the event would be.
“I think again, it’s unhelpful,” Shalom added. “[It’s] Clearly a distraction, people that were saying that it wasn’t selling, it was clearly used as a distraction for their own things. All I care about is Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez, [they’re] big stars in this country, in a big fight, and it’s not helpful for them. Both of them are devastated. We’ll get to see that fight. It’s a huge fight, and it’s a fight that was bigger than what I expected when we announced it.”