Dan Azeez and Joshua Buatsi don’t have too much longer to wait. On February 3rd the light heavyweight rivals will finally meet in a South London derby, the outcome of which will reverberate on the world scene.

Azeez (20-0, 13 KO’s) and Buatsi (17-0, 13 KO’s) are friends. They mix in the same circles, frequent the same places and have even shared the ring during sparring but they have taken wildly different routes to this delayed WBA world title eliminator. 

Not many would have predicted that Azeez would reach this point. The 34-year-old scrapped and battled his way into position from the away corner. Winning British, Commonwealth and European titles and becoming a fan favorite due to his willingness to fight anyone, anywhere. 

From the moment he stepped down from the podium with an Olympic bronze medal hanging around his neck in 2016, the gifted Buatsi was expected to get to world level. Despite some frustratingly slow progress at times, he remains one of Britain’s brightest world title hopes.

With so much at stake, it was only natural that relations have become strained. It would have been more unusual had the two made it to the ring on good terms. 

The announcement - which came just four days before the fight was initially due to take place last October - that Azeez had injured his back and that the fight would need to be rescheduled ratcheted tensions to a new level, however. Buatsi giving credence to conspiracy theories casting doubt on the legitimacy of the injury and Azeez insulted that his integrity was being questioned. 

The fight is almost here now and Azeez insists that the fractious build up hasn’t affected him in the slightest. 

“I’ll be honest, the drive is always the same. The goal is always the same. I get in there with a mindset of having a job to do,” he told BoxingScene.com.

“I don’t need motivation. I’m a very driven person. I don’t need to think that because somebody said or did something I need to work harder. I don’t like the concept of that. You’ve got a job to do and regardless of what’s said it’s got to be the same.”

“That consistency is what’s got me to where I am. I’m poker faced and no matter what, I’ve got that same drive and passion to do what needs to be done. in the heat of the moment we might have a little squabble but I’m not putting too much into that. I’ve got a fight on my hands, I’ve not got time to think about that. As an amateur I realized that when I got angry in the ring, that’s when I go tight. I always stay cool, calm and collected.”

Whereas Azeez insists he hasn’t paid too much attention to the whole affair, Buatsi has adopted a siege mentality, believing that everything has been slanted in favor of his London rival from the start. Buatsi is always businesslike in his approach to the sport but although both fighters are signed to Boxxer, the Olympian is so steadfast in his belief it is almost as if he expects promoter, Ben Shalom, to join Azeez on his ring walk at Wembley Arena.

There is no right or wrong way to approach a fight - every boxer adopts a mental approach that works best for them - but it is another difference between two friends who want the same thing and need to beat each other to get it. 

“Someone asked me what his weakness is and I said his stubbornness. His ego,” Azeez said. “Boxing is an ego driven sport. It’s about getting in there and showing, ‘I’m better than you, I’m stronger than you’ but that can be your downfall too. One of the last fights I watched of him, it looked like he needed to dig down a little bit and he was able to do it so we’ll see on February 3rd.

“Even for me, we need to see how do I react and how do I respond? That’s the making and breaking of people and those are the questions we’ll both have to answer.”