Don’t expect Dan Azeez to change his attitude now.

Even though the unbeaten 34 year old will walk to the ring for his WBA light heavyweight final eliminator with Joshua Buatsi as the reigning and defending British and Commonwealth champion and a likely crowd favorite, he still sees himself as the fighter who has everything to prove and even more to gain.

On form alone, Azeez (20-0, 13 KO’s) would ordinarily go into a fight like this as a handy favorite but Buatsi’s reputation precedes him. The 2016 Olympic bronze medalist has flattered to deceive at times during a frustrating career but he is undoubtedly one of the most gifted fighters in Britain. Azeez believes that taking his South London rival’s scalp will prove his world title credentials once and for all. 

"It’s an eliminator so hopefully the winner should be fighting for a world title. I see myself as fringe and this is my opportunity to say, ‘Yes, I am.’”

“I wouldn’t say he’s world class and I think the resume might prove otherwise but he’s an Olympian. He should be [world class] but personally, I just believe that me beating him puts me in that realm. I can start talking about fighting for world titles. I’m not somebody who likes to slither their way into the right position at the right time. I always like to earn my spot and earn my keep. It gives me that confidence to be where I am.

“We’ve sparred for years and I know his pedigree. Beating an undefeated Olympian? You can’t question where I should be.”

Azeez hit the title trail by beating Charlie Duffield for the Southern Area title in 2019 but has been on a tear since stopping Hosea Burton for the vacant British title in November 2021. Riding the momentum from one win into the next training camp, Azeez progressed rapidly and has beaten a list of solid fighters whilst also collecting the Commonwealth and European titles. 

The back injury which caused the fight with Buatsi to be postponed from its original date of last October killed that momentum and has forced Azeez into his longest period of inactivity for five years. He hasn’t boxed since a short notice, eight round tick over fight in Italy last July and although a six month break seems to be the norm these days, it is a lifetime for a fighter like Azeez.

Rather than worrying about the effects of the layoff, Azeez believes the break has revitalized him and he credits his trainer, Buddy McGirt, with instilling him a ‘smarter, not harder’ approach to his training. 

“Because of the injury I couldn’t do any boxing at first. Everything was rehab, recovery, strengthening other parts of my body to help facilitate my back,” he said. “Even if I’m not fighting, I’m always in the gym and always doing boxing work so to not do boxing for four to six weeks was crazy for me. The past five years I’ve practically lived in the gym doing pads, bags, sparring and what not so it did break my momentum a bit in that sense. Once I got back into it seemed like it was ok.

“Sometimes resting is as important as putting your all in. I came back and thought, ‘I ain’t been doing anything but I feel bloody good.’ Sometimes you can wear yourself down.

“Buddy McGirt is so experienced. I remember when he first came on board. He’d tell us we’d only be doing a few rounds and then to go home and rest. I’d be thinking, ‘Is that it?’ I was so used to just blasting it out. Sometimes you need that rest and recovery.

“Work smart, not hard. That’s what Buddy says. I had a fight with Rocky Fielding and that’s the first time I had Buddy on board. I worked hard but did less, just more smart. I came in the lightest and fittest I’d ever been and that’s when I started looking at it differently.”