Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez are counting down the days to their eagerly anticipated light heavyweight fight.
The two South Londoners are friends. They are from the same area. They go to the same places and know the same people.
They may be fighting for some major belts and the right to fight for a world title but for those who know and have grown up around them, those prizes will pale into insignificance compared to the local bragging rights on offer. It would be impossible to walk down the same roads and go to the same shops without being asked the same questions time and time again.
Even the most dedicated fighters - those to profess to eat, sleep and breathe boxing - need the occasional break from the sport and in a bid to escape the constant attention and interrogation, Buatsi decided to decamp to the South Coast.
“I’ve been in Portsmouth for over a month. I stayed in England but I didn’t want to be in London,” the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist said at an open workout on Tuesday. “I’m too familiar with London. I wanted to go somewhere a bit quieter where I didn’t know many people and it’s been good.”
Buatsi (17-0, 13 KO’s) seems well aware that he finds himself at something of a crossroads. He spent years as a blue chip prospect, a near certainty to rule the world light heavyweight scene. Whilst his career has stalled somewhat, Azeez (20-0, 13 KO’s) has taken his own to new heights and become a fan favourite thanks to his no nonsense, old school attitude. He has captured the British, Commonwealth and European titles in impressive fashion and comes into this fight in the form of his life.
Buatsi still has plenty of believers but by beating Azeez, he knows that he can reignite the sense of excitement and expectation that surrounded him when he first turned professional.
“The pressure is always there, I just think it’s how the fighter deals with it,” Buatsi said. “Are you engaging? Are you caught up in the bubble of people telling you how good or how bad you are? If you are, it’s going to get to you but if you’re in your own bubble with your team, working towards a goal, learning what you have to improve on and trying to do it, then you’re good.
“Camp has been going well. The sparring has been very, very hard. There’s a price to pay and I’ve been paying that price.
“The sparring partners are hungry and trying to take my head off every session but that’s what they are there for.”
And how about Virgil Hunter, Buatsi’s trainer and a man who knows a thing or two about light heavyweights thanks to his work with former unified champion, Andre Ward?
“He is never happy,” Buatsi laughed. “The pressure is coming from my coach. It’s for me to do the job. We’re less than three weeks away now but I’ll be ready.