What’s a few power punches and a knockdown or two among friends?
Saturday’s light-heavyweight London derby put the undefeated records of Joshua Buatsi of Croyden (18-0, 13 KOs) and ‘Super’ Dan Azeez of Lewisham (19-1, 13 KOs) up for consideration at the OVO Arena Wembley at home. But at the final bell, their friendship was not in question.
Buatsi leveraged more firepower behind his body-punching offense, knocking Azeez down twice in the 11th round on the way to a decision win. Scorecards were 117-109 on two cards and 116-110. With the win, Buatsi takes Azeez’s titles to become the new British and Commonwealth Light Heavyweight champion and the WBA mandatory challenger to champion Dmitrii Bivol.
“He pushed me every round. He’s a champion,” said Buatsi of his friend and sparring partner. “I’m not happy to take his belts. All I wanted was the number one spot.
“In the gym, we have lazy days or whatever. But in a crowded house, Dan made me fight every second… This guy will give anyone a hard fight.”
A disappointed Azeez was gracious toward Buatsi in defeat. “I guess he was just the better man tonight. Today, he came and performed. He’s a great athlete in and out of the ring.”
Buatsi and Azeez Get Down To Business
The first two rounds resembled a sparring session. Once the fighters settled in and embraced the stakes involved, the action heated up. From the third round on, the pair stood in front of each other and never let up their offensive effort.
Both Buatsi and Azeez found success to the body, landing shots. Azeez moved his attack to the jab to vary the look. As familiar as the pair are with each other, pulling off a surprise was challenging.
Buatsi was getting the better of Azeez on the strength of the bodywork. He landed 52 body shots over 12 rounds.
Azeez wasn’t letting Buatsi off the hook, making him pay with return fire. Buatsi was the heavier-handed, punching up from his feet to get more leverage on his shots. Trainer Buddy McGirt encouraged Azeez to stay low and keep attacking the body.
Into the second half of the fight, Buatsi looked comfortable with the pace and output. If he could maintain the pace, he’d easily win a decision. But Azeez was still in the game and still dangerous.
Throughout the fight, the ring canvas was accumulating moisture. The referee and teams mopped it with towels between rounds. In the 11th round, Buatsi landed a swift right check hook on Azeez, no harder than any prior punch. Azeez dropped hard to the canvas. An apparent slip combined with the punch for the bout’s first knockdown. Seconds later, Buatsi dropped Azeez again.
Unless Azeez could find the key to score a knockout in the final round, the fight belonged to Buatsi. With nothing to lose, McGirt told Azeez to go for broke.
At the start of the final round, both fighters encouraged the 8,000 fans to cheer them on and briefly embraced each other. Buatsi could afford to step back and ride to the final bell, but he continued to come at Azeez. With a minute left, Buatsi scored with multiple right and left hooks to the head. It was a miracle Azeez didn’t go down one more time. The moment the bell rang, the combatants were friends once again.
“It was just business today. We put a show on for the fans. Maybe we’ll see what the future holds. He won tonight, he deserves whatever the future holds,” said Azeez. Buatsi now awaits the outcome of the division unification fight between Bivol and Artur Beterbiev. He’ll likely need to take a stay-busy fight in the meantime. If there’s a rematch, it’s likely at some point in the friends’ distant future.
Adam Azim Remains Undefeated, Bout Stopped Due To Injury
In the co-main, flashy super lightweight prospect Adam Azim of Berkshire (11-0, 7 KOs) was on a roll, winning every round in his first defense of his EBU European Super Lightweight title against undefeated former champion Enock Poulsen of Denmark (14-1, 5 KOs). In a disappointing turn, Poulsen dislocated his shoulder in the fifth round, forcing a stoppage in the action to declare Azim the winner. The same injury forced Poulsen to vacate the belt in 2023.
“I know as the fight was progressing, I was going to get him out of there. “Big respect to him, he’s the former champion. I could have started more aggressively, but it’s all about timing,” noting Poulsen couldn’t stay away from Azim’s jab. “Honestly, I’ve had more harder sparring than this fight. I’m gutted I couldn’t get him out of there properly.”
The boxing world has its eyes on the 21-year-old Azim, the quickest Englishman to win the European title, moving aside former champions Spencer Oliver and ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed. He is also the first British-Pakistani with the belt.
It’s a blow for Poulsen, who won the title in April 2022 but was forced to vacate the belt when a shoulder injury prevented him from a rematch.
Ben Whittaker Wipes Out Khalid Graidia
Tokyo 2020 Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker has made himself completely at home as a professional, channeling his inner Hamed, putting on a show both inside and outside the ring. Whittaker of West Bromwich (6-0, 5 KOs) made quick work of Swiss-based French fighter Khalid Graidia (10-14-5, 2 KOs), getting the win by TKO in the fourth round.
It seemed Whittaker ended the fight in the second after a wicked left hook to the body. No one would have criticized Graidia for calling it a night there and then. But he got up and survived to the bell.
Fans owe him their thanks for getting to see Whittaker perform a bit longer. He danced and taunted Graidia, drawing the irritation of the referee and his trainer/father. After the referee warned Whittaker he would take a point the next time he spun around or waved his hands, he pinned Graidia into the ropes and blasted away until the fight was stopped.
“I can dance, I can shimmy, but I broke him down in a jiffy,” said Whittaker. “At the weigh-in, what did I say? He hasn’t been in there with Ben Whittaker. I was just going through the motions, having fun.”
Boxxer CEO Ben Shalom praised his rising star. “He’s a born entertainer. He’s a generational talent. No one’s done it like that. It was surgical. There’s no one with more potential in the UK than Ben Whittaker.”
Whittaker deserves praise for getting back in the ring just eight weeks after his last fight. Let’s hope he continues to stay busy and build a fan base.
Dubois Defeats Reyes
“Sweet” Caroline Dubois of London (9-0, 5 KOs) was a bit disappointed she couldn’t get a knockout win, settling instead for a shutout decision over Miranda Reyes of Houston. (7-2-1, 3 KOs) Dubois successfully defended her IBO World Lightweight title, relying on ring generalship, speed, and intelligent defense.
Dubois called Reyes “awkward” as an opponent. Reyes made Dubois work hard and wouldn’t yield, allowing the champion to polish those skills for future opponents.
Heavyweight British Showdown: Clarke vs. Wardley Set March 31
Boxxer announced its next event on Easter Sunday, March 31, in England. Fraser Clarke of Staffordshire (8-0, 6 KOs) will face Fabio Wardley of Suffold (17-0, 16 KOs) for the British heavyweight belt in an all-British heavyweight main event.
“He hasn’t had the right tests, the right fights along the way to build for a fight like this,” said Wardley. He respected Clarke’s amateur accomplishments, including “This is the pro game, it’s not the same thing.”
“We’ve gone round and round, and talk is cheap. I know I’m the best fighter he’s going to step into the ring with. I don’t need to talk about his background. I don’t need to talk about my amateur background. This is here and now,” replied Clarke. “I’m not in the pantomime business.”
NY Fights likes the live in-ring preview and face-off for Boxxer’s upcoming cards. It’s wise to use its broadcast billboard and real estate. We welcome more U.S. promoters adopting the idea.