BoxingSport

Lewisham’s Dan Azeez turned back on career in finance to aim to become number one in light-heavyweight boxing division

BY RICHARD CAWLEY
richard@slpmedia.co.uk

Dan Azeez has a masters in accounting and finance but the only number the Lewisham light-heavyweight is focused on is making it 18 straight wins as a professional.

The 33-year-old British champion faces Rocky Fielding at Bournemouth International Centre on Saturday night.

Azeez, highly-ranked by multiple world governing bodies, can also snap up the Commonwealth belt which has been vacated by Anthony Yarde ahead of the Hackney fighter’s crack at world champion Artur Beterbiev next month.

The South Londoner’s own push for more major honours has been aided by signing a promotional deal with BOXXER, who have the significant platform of Sky Sports behind them televising all their shows.

But Azeez has seriously grafted for the opportunity by facing fellow prospects in Shakan Pitters, Hosea Burton, Ricky Summers, Lawrence Osueke and Charlie Duffield.

Azeez boxed as an amateur for a club in Colchester while he studied at Essex University.

“There was a lot of pressure to go to university,” he recently told The George Groves Boxing club podcast. “My mum and dad are from Nigeria and they came over here to essentially give us a better opportunity in life.

“My mum and dad came up around the [Nigel] Watson and [Chris] Eubank era. They know what happened to Watson [suffering a brain injury] and when [Nigel] Benn fought [Gerald] McLellan [left permanently paralysed and blind from a brain injury]. They knew how Muhammad Ali turned out [suffering from Parkinson’s]. They don’t want that for their son.

“I got in a lot of nonsense in my area and my parents wanted me to go away and study. I had to dumb it [boxing] down – say it was just a hobby. But I knew, deep down, I’m really into this boxing.

“It just gave me a balance. I’d go to lectures in the morning, library in the afternoon and then I went to the gym.

“I went to uni but I still had other issues back home. That was the only place I’d forget about everything. I would be boxing and wouldn’t be thinking about anything. It kept me on the straight and narrow.

“It was a good thing. I couldn’t imagine just working, working, working – it’s boring.

“In my first amateur fight I got knocked out in 30 seconds. I started boxing by watching highlight reels. If you watch the way I fight now I’m more of a come-forward brawler. But I used to watch Roy Jones Junior and I went in thinking I was him. I quickly found out that’s not my style and it’s not that easy to imitate. That’s the first time and hopefully the last time I get stopped.”

Azeez worked for a finance firm before setting up a removal company to help bring money in when he turned professional in December 2017.

“I used to go and train in the evening – it gave me some toughness,” he said. “I reflect now and think how was I lifting heavy stuff and then going training? I couldn’t imagine doing it now.

“I did that for my first eight fights.

“Where I am now, I’m so grateful. There’s so many boxers but the window of opportunity to get on the big stage is very, very small. Unless you get sponsors, which everyone tries to get, you’re not earning anything.

“I’m not the smartest tool in the box but if I focus on something then I really hone down on it and get the job done. It’s the same with boxing.

“There are plenty of people with way more talent than me but they didn’t stay on their path because they weren’t as determined, focused and disciplined.”

Azeez’s desire to learn took him out to Montreal earlier this year to spar with Russian-Canadian resident Beterbiev before his win over Joe Smith Junior.

Beterbiev holds the WBC, WBO and IBO titles.

“I got to see how he prepares day to day,” said Azeez. “I’ve never been around someone at the top, top level.

“A lot of sparring partners would spar and go back to the hotel. But they were kind enough to let me watch his S&C (strength and conditioning), pad work and stretching. He also gave me advice.”

PICTURE: LAWRENCE LUSTIG/BOXXER

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