London Pride: Joshua Buatsi And Dan Azeez Battle For Local Bragging Rights

But so much more is on the line in this light heavyweight clash
15:25, 13 Oct 2023

Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez will meet in an all-London cruiserweight grudge match at the O2 Arena on October 21. While there is a healthy streak of local rivalry involved in this capital collision, the victor will have the world at his feet. Given the fact the winner of this bout will likely secure a world title shot, this really is as good as domestic boxing gets.

Refreshingly in an industry that often relies on fabricated enmity, Buatsi and Azeez are open about the fact they are friends. Both hailing from south London, the two fighters have trained and sparred together at various points over the years. The mutual respect the pair share is a welcome antidote to the usual posturing that precedes a high-profile boxing match.

Despite the obvious parallels in terms of geography and their respective career achievements, Buatsi and Azeez represent two different career paths in top-class boxing. Buatsi has walked the gilded path of an Olympian. Since capturing bronze at Rio 2016 he has been tipped for stardom. Buatsi won a WBA ranking belt in just his seventh pro fight. The only concession to tradition was a third-round stoppage win over Liam Conroy to capture the British title. The rest of the Ghana-born star’s journey feels tailored towards getting him a world title shot.

Azeez was a late bloomer, completing his degree in finance before embarking on his pro boxing career. While Buatsi carried the 'future star' tag from his Olympic days, Azeez battled through the small halls and took the domestic route. The Southern Area, English, British, Commonwealth and finally European titles followed. It is a time-honoured way of conducting your business and usually the only viable choice for those who turn over without the hype of a televised amateur career.

The pair are remarkably well-matched. Both can bang, with each having knocked out 13 opponents. Each has experience facing opponents who have operated at world level. Buatsi decisioned former WBA title challenger Craig Richards last year. Azeez destroyed former world champion Rocky Fielding in his own 2022 campaign. Despite a three-year age gap, with 33-year-old Azeez the senior man, the two London hitters are peaking at the same time.

The other thing that makes these two such a fine match is the fact they know each other in and out of the ring. A fascinating game of human chess could play out as these two gloved grandmasters try to second-guess each other. The sort of surprise manoeuvre that could out-fox a less acquainted foe will be useless at the O2. The winner of this fight may have to adopt several contrasting strategies to reach his goal.

That goal is ultimately world title contention. While this fight is being sold as a battle for London bragging rights, the rewards are far weightier. Both men appear in the rankings of all four major sanctioning bodies. They reside in the top three of both the WBC and WBO ratings. Callum Smith will meet the WBC, WBO and IBF title-holder in a rescheduled fight later this year. You have to think the winner of this south London smackdown will be first in line for a crack at the winner.

This finely-balanced light heavyweight bout really does tick every box. A storyline of friends turned rivals. The backdrop of the ‘Big Smoke’, in which they both grew up. A chance to make history for the winner. Two unbeaten fighters with eye-catching power in their arsenals. It might be arriving three weeks before Bonfire Night, but prepare for fireworks in this one.

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