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Joshua Buatsi recalls how the Olympic Games changed his life before opening up on his relationship with Dan Azeez ahead of their clash this weekend

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From a young age Joshua Buatsi knew he only wanted to pursue a career in boxing if he could ‘make a name for himself’ as ‘being punched in the face for free was no fun’. 

Buatsi – who has become of the top contenders in the light-heavyweight division and stands on the brink of securing a world title shot – began boxing on his local estate in Croydon.

Now Buatsi – who boasts a professional 17-0 record – will face his domestic rival and old friend Dan Azeez in a final eliminator for Dmitry Bivol’s WBA title at the OVO Arena in Wembley on Saturday night. 

However, it was only when Buatsi stepped onto the plane for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio that he actually believed he was good enough to succeed in the sport.

Buatsi sat down with Mail Sport ahead of his clash with Azeez this weekend to discuss how he got into boxing, how the Olympics changes his life forever and what it’s like to go toe-to-to with a friend. 

From a young age Joshua Buatsi knew he only wanted to pursue a career in boxing if he could 'make a name for himself' as 'being punched in the face for free was no fun'

From a young age Joshua Buatsi knew he only wanted to pursue a career in boxing if he could ‘make a name for himself’ as ‘being punched in the face for free was no fun’

Now Buatsi - who boasts a 17-0 record - will face his domestic rival and old friend Dan Azeez in a final eliminator for Dmitry Bivol's WBA title at the OVO Arena in Wembley on Saturday night

Now Buatsi – who boasts a 17-0 record – will face his domestic rival and old friend Dan Azeez in a final eliminator for Dmitry Bivol’s WBA title at the OVO Arena in Wembley on Saturday night

When asked about how he got into boxing and whether he knew it was something he wanted to pursue from the start, Buatsi laughed before saying people who box for ‘fun’ are crazy.  

The 30-year-old told Mail Sport: ‘When I started boxing and I got into it at my local estate, I thought right I am going to make something out of this and I am going to do this properly. 

‘Some people might say you can’t have thought about it back then. But, I genuinely did because getting hit in the face for free is not fun. I loved boxing but not for free. 

‘When I hear people saying they box for leisure or as a keep fit thing, I think that’s mad because getting hit in the face is not nice. 

‘So when I started, I instantly said I am going to try and do something with this and make something out of it. But, here is the big but. I never thought I could actually be someone or make something out of it until the Olympic Games and did okay.

‘Prior to that, I didn’t know what was going on. When I came back with a medal I thought, I must be good at this… to an extent.’ 

However, it was only when Buatsi stepped onto the plane for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio that he actually believed he was good enough to succeed in the sport

However, it was only when Buatsi stepped onto the plane for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio that he actually believed he was good enough to succeed in the sport

Buatsi went on to discuss the Olympic Games in greater detail, recalling how his life completely changed after getting on the plane to Rio

Buatsi went on to discuss the Olympic Games in greater detail, recalling how his life completely changed after getting on the plane to Rio

Buatsi went on to discuss the Olympic Games in greater detail, recalling how his life completely changed after getting on the plane to Rio. 

I am not world champion yet so the Olympic Games is my no.1 memory. It will tell you why. The life I had before that flight to Brazil compared to the life I have since I have come back is totally different. 

‘I went to Brazil with a certain life and since I came back it’s completely changed. I will always remember the Olympic Games for that reason. It’s completely changed everything, the trajectory of career and my life outside of the ring so I will always be grateful for it.’

After winning a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympic games, Matchroom were quick to snap Buatsi up and led him to 16 straight victories – before the two parties parted company. 

Buatsi moved on with Boxxer – signing a long-term agreement with promotional company in March 2023. At the time, the British star said the lure of fighting on TV, rather than an app, was the main reason for the switch. 

Buatsi went on to beat Pawel Stepien on May 6, 2023 – securing a one-sided decision win at the Resorts Worlds Arena in Birmingham, with the scorecards reading 97-94, 98-92 and 100-90. 

Buatsi next test will be against his old friend and former sparring partner Azeez. Someone the 30-year-old thought he would never fight. 

Putting aside their personal relationship, Buatsi and Azeez must focus on the task at hand—delivering their best performance to secure victory

Putting aside their personal relationship, Buatsi and Azeez must focus on the task at hand—delivering their best performance to secure victory

While they respect each other's skills and dedication, they understand that in the ring, there can only be one winner

While they respect each other’s skills and dedication, they understand that in the ring, there can only be one winner

When asked whether he considered turning the bout down because it was too close to home, Buatsi said: ‘Dan is someone I have known for over 10 years. I was offered him a couple of times but I always said no to him. I always said Dan Azeez no because he is someone I know and someone I get on with. 

‘But, the whole narrative changed when they said what would be at stake. A final eliminator for the world title, I couldn’t say no to that. I knew Dan wouldn’t say no to that either. So, when that was put in front of me, I said yeah lets make that happen. That was the changing point.’

Putting aside their personal relationship, Buatsi and Azeez must focus on the task at hand—delivering their best performance to secure victory. While they respect each other’s skills and dedication, they understand that in the ring, there can only be one winner.

The transition from friends to opponents is not easy. They must mentally prepare themselves to trade blows with someone they’ve shared laughs and sweat with in the gym. Yet, both fighters recognise that this is part of the sport they love, where friendships are momentarily set aside in pursuit of greatness.

When asked how difficult it has been to park their relationship, Buatsi said: ‘It’s not as hard as you guys imagine. That’s purely because we are in a sport where we have to fight people to become word champion. 

‘It just happens to be my route includes someone I happen to know and someone I happen to be cool with. As men, we know we can put the friendship aside and fight each other. We are prideful fighters, when the bell rings, we’ll both just want to come out on top.’

Buatsi knows what to expect from his old friend on fight night, having experienced Azeez's style firsthand in sparring

Buatsi knows what to expect from his old friend on fight night, having experienced Azeez’s style firsthand in sparring

Buatsi's familiarity with Azeez has given him an unusual insight into his opponent's strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies

Buatsi’s familiarity with Azeez has given him an unusual insight into his opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies

Buatsi’s familiarity with Azeez has given him an unusual insight into his opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. Buatsi knows what to expect from his old friend on fight night, having experienced Azeez’s style firsthand in sparring. 

However, Buatsi also understands that Azeez has likely made adjustments and improvements since their sparring sessions. 

Speaking about their sparring sessions, Buatsi said: ‘They were good competitive spars so I know what I am in for. He’s a fighter that is very hungry. He’s also a fighter that knows the winner gets a shot at the world title. So, I know what to expect from him but they were very good competitive spars.’ 

Buatsi expressed frustration over the postponement of the fight – which was originally scheduled to take place in October. Buatsi had meticulously prepared for the bout, only to have his momentum halted due to Azeez’s back injury.  

The setback not only delayed his chance to showcase his skills and secure a shot at the title, but also disrupted his training regimen. Despite the disappointment, Buatsi remains focused on regrouping and preparing for the rescheduled fight on Saturday night. 

He told Mail Sport: ‘I had to take some time off and let the body heal after the postponement. It was actually quite good because if I had carried on it would have been too much for my body. 

‘So, it was good to have some time off. I went back to Ghana. I got some sun, which we are lacking in the UK right now. It was nice. Then I came back and went straight over to America to start camp.

‘But, I have a very good team around me. They know when to put the foot on the gas and when to take it off. So, it’s been very strategic.’

However, Buatsi also understands that Azeez has likely made adjustments and improvements since their sparring sessions.

However, Buatsi also understands that Azeez has likely made adjustments and improvements since their sparring sessions.