ANOTHER date clash awaits boxing fans on October 21.
That night in London Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez will look at one another like enemies rather than friends when they put their light-heavyweight world title aspirations on the line inside the O2 Arena.
A couple of hundred miles further north a tale of past versus present will play out at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. Jack Catterall, who turned 30 last month faces Venezuelan operator Jorge Linares who celebrates his 38th birthday on August 22.
The first fight is a south London derby where there is little to split the two such has been the growth of Azeez and the inactivity of Buatsi.
The other needs a salesman’s pitch: ‘If Jack wants to go on and fight for more world titles, he needs to beat guys like Linares’ or ‘Linares is a former three-weight world champion. I’ve been hearing he looks fantastic and is really up for this’.
Facts cannot be ignored, and the truth is Linares is nowhere near the fighter he once was. His last three fights have ended in defeat: Devin Haney (May 2021), Zaur Abdullaev (Feb 2022) and Zhora Hamazaryan (Dec 2022). The last time he beat a respectable opponent was in January 2018 when, after a slow start, he outboxed Mercito Gesta in Inglewood to win by unanimous decision.
In his prime Jorge Linares was a joy to watch. Somewhere in the middle of his entertaining offensive skills was a vulnerability which added to the excitement. Eight years ago, he visited the UK to defend his WBC lightweight title against Kevin Mitchell. The two gelled perfectly to create a rollercoaster which ended with Linares winning by 10th round stoppage. Good times. That is the type of memory choose to associate with Linares rather than the downward slope he finds himself on.
Catterall looked good against Darragh Foley last time out. That was his first appearance since the events of February 26, 2022, in Glasgow when the judges’ decision to award Josh Taylor the victory over Catterall sparked a bitter rivalry between the fighters which reignites on social media from time to time.
On October 21 Catterall will have to win and do so in impressive fashion to continue floating around the top 5 of the 140lbs division. Beating Linares doesn’t do anything more than put a recognisable name on his record.
When Catterall joined Matchroom in March he said, “I’m ready for the big fights. I’ve been screaming for them for the last two years, through no fault of my own they’ve not materialised. I’m confident these fights will now be delivered.”
‘El Gato’ and his trainer Jamie Moore will expect nothing less than a world title shot from promoter Eddie Hearn early in 2024. Catterall is a world-class super-lightweight who should be mixing in far more challenging company.
Over at Boxxer HQ they did their job delivered the British light-heavyweight fight we’ve all been expecting.
With Dan Azeez already working with promoter Ben Shalom the stars aligned perfectly when Buatsi moved back across to Sky Sports the same month Catterall joined Matchroom.
Buatsi has long been ear-marked as a potential world champion but six years and 17 fights as a professional does not average out well for the 2012 Olympian. Having begun with Hearn and Sky Sports the future was bright but to date his biggest win came against former Dmitry Bivol opponent Craig Richards in May 2022. One that looks credible because of the link back to the Russian but not one that should be rolled out too often to measure where Buatsi ranks on the world scene.
His debut for Boxxer in May against Pawel Stepien in Birmingham, where Azeez was given punditry duties by Sky Sports, was a performance where cliches were needed by his team and supporters to justify his display. Ring rust, for example. He may have won on points but there was little else to remember.
The story of Dan Azeez, Lewisham’s best tribute to the late great Marvin Hagler, is of the feel-good variety. Years spent on the small hall circuit ended when he stepped up in class to blitz Hosea Burton to become British light-heavyweight champion. Shakan Pitters, Rocky Fielding and Thomas Faure have all been beaten since giving Azeez Commonwealth and European titles.
His friendship with Buatsi is used as a sub-plot for October 21 as is the number of rounds they have sparred together. It’s a peppery ingredient for a recipe that already looks tasty.
Buatsi v Azeez is the right fight for Boxxer. It’s the right fight for Azeez. For Buatsi you could argue it’s a step back from Richards or one sideways. Crucially, what it will be is a far more competitive fight than Catterall v Linares. The south London derby creates a worthwhile debate on who will win and is a something that everyone should be looking forward to. On the same night in Liverpool is a reminder that boxing wheels out names every so often to pad records.
Unless you are using two devices to somehow try and take in both night’s main events then Buatsi v Azeez is by far the one that boxing fans should be tuning into.