In his latest column, the former Olympian and heavyweight contender previews this weekend’s south London showdown and Conor Benn’s first fight of the year…
Buatsi vs Azeez as genuine as it gets
If you are a real boxing a fan in the UK, you should be absolutely invested in Joshua Buatsi vs Dan Azeez this weekend.
Compared to some of the others being made at the moment, this isn’t a glamour fight. There are a lot of people around the sport who aren’t just boxers anymore in the traditional sense. But these two are genuine.
Dan and Joshua are at a massive stage in their careers and are now within touching distance of that world title shot. They are close friends but come from very different boxing backgrounds which just adds to the occasion.
Joshua has that Olympic pedigree and profile – not to say he’s had it the easy way but he has had that push from the moment he turned professional after fighting in Rio in 2016, fighting on some huge shows in some of the biggest venues.
With Dan, he is someone who has come up the hard way, the spit and sawdust way if you like, fighting on the small hall shows to get to this stage. It’s a great clash of styles and when you consider its a south London derby between two old pals, it really does have everting if you are a boxing fan. I am sure it will deliver. Knowing both fighters, I know they will put everything into this.
Saturday’s loser will still go onto great things
Dan’s back injury saw the fight postponed last October and since then, there has been a little extra drama between the two. They are both great fighters but the way boxing is now, maybe it did need that extra edge.
Josh and Dan are both great guys. But it is sad in a way, selling a fight and getting everyone interested is tough, no one just wants to see boxing anymore, people want to see a WWE-style build-up. We’ve seen what I like to call professional frustration in this one which has given it a bit more spice.
Saturday is a final eliminator for the WBA title but for the winner, there might be a bit of a wait. The light-heavyweight division has had its ups and downs, in the past it has been a bit inactive, the belts have been held up but it has opened up and is now one of the best.
The man in charge is Artur Beterbiev. Dmitry Bivol is second and hopefully we get that fight later in the year. But beyond that, everyone else underneath is in a Royal Rumble for who is next in line. Callum Smith and Anthony Yarde are there too but the winner of Joshua and Dan will feel they will be next.
It’s a true 50-50 fight, especially when you take the form of both men into account. I have a lot of respect for both of them but I just give the edge to Buatsi. I think he has the edge in terms of ability and can adjust his style a little more than Dan can. But Dan’s style is very difficult to deal with. It will be a brilliant watch.
While Dan has come up the hard way, I really admire what Josh has done with his career. He’s gone out of his comfort zone and based himself in the US with his trainer Virgil Hunter – that is a proper trainer and fighter duo. He always puts the graft in and is so diligent in his preparation.
Neither man will have any excuses once it’s said and done. And importantly, it’s not the end for the loser. I really do think both men move onto great things whatever happens.
Benn needs a big fight quickly
Conor Benn is also back in action this weekend in Las Vegas. Having boxed just once in 22 months, he just needs to be in the ring. With respect to his opponent Peter Dobson, no one has heard him and we want to see him in bigger fights. I believe he wants that.
After the Chris Eubank Jr fight fell through again, Devin Haney and Jaron Ennis were among some of the huge names being talked about.
Conor does need a big name fight soon. It’s probably been the case of some good work from his trainer Tony Sims, he will know he will need the rounds.
You can’t just jump in into those big fights against world class opposition after so long out. So it’s smart. But after this one, it’s time for Matchroom and Eddie Hearn to deliver.