DAN AZEEZ will head to Paris for the next stop on his whistlestop journey towards world title contention. The 33-year-old is already the first British light-heavyweight to win all of the British Boxing Board of Control belts at domestic level and added the Commonwealth title to his collection by beating Rocky Fielding in December.
Now he has been rewarded with this crack at European champion Thomas Faure, the 21-4-1 (2) Frenchman. Faure, of Chateauroux, will enjoy home advantage in Paris, which is around 250km north of the town where he currently resides.
Azeez has been one of the unsung heroes of British boxing since COVID hit in 2020 – and he has done the business all over the country. He won English title fights in Kirkby and Bolton, won the British in London and then defended it in Liverpool before December’s triumph in Bournemouth. A little trip across the Channel is unlikely to faze him.
“I want to be the king of Europe,” he said. “So why not go and fight for the title anywhere in the continent?”
This fight had been scheduled to take place at the Wembley Arena last month but when Azeez fell ill during January it was postponed. He had hoped to land on a card in England, perhaps the one headlined by his former stable-mate and one-time amateur opponent Lawrence Okolie, but he has been sent to France instead. The show is a co-promotion between Boxxer and All Star Boxing and will be broadcast on Sky Sports here in the UK and Canal+ in France.
Azeez admits he knows little of Faure, and he is not alone. The Frenchman has never boxed outside his home country and has not had a fight since he won the vacant European title back in January 2022 – so long ago that he is currently considered ‘inactive’ by Boxrec.
That night he claimed a unanimous decision over his compatriot Kevin Thomas Cojean who moved to 27-10-2 (11) as a result of the defeat. It was a rematch of their 10-round draw a year earlier. He has also previously gone the 10-round distance with Tony Averlant who was stopped in one round by Joshua Buatsi, and seven by Anthony Yarde.
Indeed, Faure will have grown accustomed to distance fights over the course of his career with just two stoppage victories out of 21 so far. He has also been beaten inside the distance only once, against Eddy Lacrosse back in 2018.
Azeez may take some confidence from the nature of that seventh-round finish from Lacrosse who, like him, is a shorter, compact light-heavyweight who closed the distance to the rangey Faure, routinely slipping inside his long levers and working on the inside. Faure appears to like keeping things long but 5ft 10in Azeez has made a living from making things uncomfortable for taller opponents.
As such, expect Buddy McGirt-trained Azeez to wear Faure down throughout the first half of the fight before turning the screw and forcing a stoppage between rounds six and nine to claim the belt.
That clash, however, is not the main event at the Zenith de Paris, the 6,000-seater arena a few miles north of the city centre in La Villette. At the top of the bill, Paris-born heavyweight Tony Yoka takes on fellow Frenchman Carlos Takam as he attempts to begin rebuilding from the first defeat of his career last time out.
On May 14, the 2016 Olympic champion Yoka dropped a majority decision to Martin Bakole in what was his only fight of 2022 but he will get back on the horse with what looks like a stern test against Nevada-based Takam, a former opponent of Anthony Joshua, Joe Joyce and a plethora of other top heavyweights.
At 42, however, Takam is well past his best and arrives in Paris off the back of two defeats: one, that sixth-round knockout by Joyce and most recently a 10-round points loss at the hands of Arslanbek Makhmudov.
Yoka, 30, should be too young and fresh for Takam at this stage and a points win in this 10-rounder seems most likely. If Yoka is serious about ever challenging for world titles, he cannot afford to slip up against an ageing Takam here.
As well as Azeez, there is other British interest on the card with Wales’ Lauren Price vying to continue her steady progress as a professional when she takes on Germany’s challenger Naomi Mannes.
The 28-year-old, whose last outing was a defeat to Englishwoman Kirstie Bavington for the European welterweight title in November, is 6-1 (4), will do well to last the distance with a fit and firing Price, who has won her first two outings as a professional with little trouble.
Price has fond memories of Paris, where she booked her spot for the 2020 Olympics, and it is unlikely that she will taste defeat hers. The 28-year-old, from Ystrad Mynach, Wales, went on to win gold in Tokyo and looks even better suited to the professional game.
“I was proud to represent Great Britain all over the world in my amateur career,” she said. “And going to Paris, where I qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, for my third professional bout gives me a similar feeling.
“I know that Naomi Mannes recently challenged for the European title so she’s definitely a step up in competition. I can’t wait to get over to France and show the world what I’ve been working on.”
There is also a run-out for Wythenshawe’s Macaulay McGowan, who has now won three four rounders since he was beaten over 10 rounds by 48-year-old Sergio Martinez last year. He takes on home favourite Farrhad Saad who is 8-0-1, but is yet to finish a fight inside the distance.
McGowan, trained by Joe Gallagher, has mixed at a far higher level than Saad and will be hoping to make his experience count on the night. The Englishman knows a win here could fire him into far bigger fights under the Boxxer banner in the future.
THE VERDICT: Azeez doing things the old school way.