Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez’s friendship was quickly put to one side on Monday afternoon as the unbeaten pair bickered over who called for their all-British light-heavyweight clash.
Once south London pals now turned rivals, Buatsi and Azeez will lock horns at the O2 Arena on October 21st in an enthralling contest that will be a final eliminator to the belt of WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, who earned serious credit as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters when he outfought Canelo Alvarez last year.
Sky Sports and BOXXER were quick to assure fans that this would not descend into an ugly ‘table-flipping’ affair between two former sparring partners, but there was some tension bubbling under the surface as Azeez claimed former Matchroom star Buatsi ‘asked for the fight’.
‘Did I ask for Dan? No, when I came to Sky I said “Dan’s my guy, so give me someone else”. After my second fight I said I want to fight straight away in August but I said I will fight Dan if there’s something at stake.
‘They said it can be a final eliminator for the WBA. I’m not going to say no to that, Dan’s not going to say no to that, so it makes sense. The narrative he’s got that I keep on asking, I couldn’t care less.
Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez have put their friendship aside as they prepare to face off in a WBA title eliminator in October
But the former British light heavyweight champion Buatsi insisted that facing his former sparring partner is necessary to get him to a world title shot
Azeez risked the wrath of Buatsi by responding: ‘I don’t want you to feel ashamed to say that you asked for me.
‘I didn’t ask for you,’ Buatsi hit back. ‘I asked for a final eliminator and I got a final eliminator so let’s go with that.
‘There’s always a point to prove. Whenever I step into boxing places, I notice it’s just about the winner. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter. In the Olympics, people just look at it like, “that person won gold, that person won silver and that person won bronze.’ Just win. So as long as I’m winning, that’s all that matters.
‘Dans a friend of mine but what’s at stake allows me to put that to one side. Of course we’re here to compete for world titles and this puts me a step closer so right now it’s the most important fight of my life.
Azeez, who has enjoyed an incredible rise in the sport from an economics student at Essex University to a fighter now competing for a world title shot, then interrupted Buatsi and goaded him once again. He reminded him that the question was ‘why is this fight happening now’ rather than ‘why is this fight important’.
‘Why is it happening? Because you’re the guy I have to get through,’ Buatsi said. ‘It’s a final eliminator so it has to be you Dan.
Buatsi was asked to follow up comments he made during their Gloves Are Off where he called Azeez ‘a soft touch’, but refused to double down.
‘The bottom line is – it doesn’t matter. Whether I think he’s a soft touch or not, we’re going to find out on October 21st. He’s going to be across the ring from me and I know what’s going to happen.’
Responding to Buatsi’s previous claims that he was a ‘step below’ him, Azeez dismissed him and mocked his progress since winning the British lightweight title in 2019.
‘That’s all fun and games – he won the British title three years ago, and then what?’ Azeez said. ‘I have the British title now. I didn’t just win it and bounce, I’ve stood there and defended it. I haven’t had any easy touches, I’ve done my thing too.
The current titleholder Azeez questioned why Buatsi failed to defend the belt after winning it 2019
The winner in October will face off against Dmitry Bivol, the pound-for-pound great famed for his win over Canelo Alvarez last year
‘Buatsi is an Olympian and an elite fighter and we’re going to give you guys one hell of a fight. I need my hand raised and I’m sure he will say he needs his hand raised and we’re not going to stop until our goals are achieved.’
Channelling his inner Dereck Chisora, Azeez, surprised the media – and Buatsi himself – by walking into Glazier’s Hall wearing a hat that read ‘WAR’ on the front.
‘I’m at war with everything,’ he insisted. ‘War with myself to improve and overcome the hurdles I need to become successful, at war with the doubters who think I can’t do it. At war with a friend who’s in front of my dreams and aspirations. It’s just war.’
Buatsi added: ‘I was calm this morning and then Dan walked in with ‘war’ on his hat. I said to myself, “Blimey Josh, wake the hell up”. I’m aware that October 21st is going to be war and you guys will all be there to witness it.’