THERE was an inauspicious beginning, a stressful middle and a glorious end to Dan Azeez’s Parisian story, but c’est la vie for the new light-heavyweight champion of Europe.
Azeez missed his initial Eurostar to Paris and was initially told he would have to wait until Thursday of fight week to get on another one. In the end he only had to wait for a few nervous hours at St Pancras before he was safely on the next available train.
Then there were problems for some other important items in transit. Firstly, his new fight shorts, resplendent in French blue to signify his trip across the Channel, never showed up. Neither did the suitcase belonging to his trainer Buddy McGirt.
Both of those issues were trivial, however, alongside his struggle to make the 175lbs championship weight in order to fight local man Thomas Faure for the European title. He got it right at the second time of asking and the show went on.
Azeez has not put a foot wrong yet in his career, famously winning Area, English, British and Commonwealth titles before this obvious next step on his journey. As a man with a masters in accounting, he knows all about calculated risk.
Travelling to Paris for this fight was one of those but it paid off at the Zenith de Paris in the La Villette district of the French capital. Faure, undefeated in nearly five years, put up more resistance than many had predicted but he eventually fell in the 12th.
Live on Sky in the UK and on Canal+ in France, Azeez boxed well against the taller man, slipping inside Faure’s long jab and firing either a screw shot through the middle or an overhand right over the top. He could barely miss with either.
In a pair of his old red shorts, Azeez nearly forced a stoppage as early as the sixth but Faure, who looked spent, somehow rallied and ended the round in the ascendancy. Indeed it looked as though the 33-year-old from Chateauroux would make it to hear what the judges thought but Azeez had other ideas.
In the 12th, the Londoner parried an incoming jab from Faure and landed with a fast jab and a numbing short right hand that stiffened the Frenchman up. Referee Anssi Perajoki rushed in to stop it but Azeez had already clubbed him again for good measure. There were 50 seconds gone in the round.
“Step by step I’m climbing the ladder,” he said afterwards. “British, Commonwealth, and now European.” It has already been some journey for Azeez, for a long time the forgotten man in the British light-heavyweight division. A world title down the line would be his piece de la resistance.
In the show’s nominal main event, Carlos Takam rolled back the years to win a split decision against Tony Yoka, who looks like a busted flush at the top level of the heavyweight division.
In truth, this should never have been a split, so dominant was the 42-year-old Takam against his 30-year-old opponent. The 96-94 scorecard in favour of Olympic gold medalist Yoka returned by Smail Alitouche goes straight into the Hall of Shame. Thankfully both Vincent Dupas and Ali Oubaali had it 96-94 for Takam to ensure, at least, the correct man won.
Nevada-based Takam had not won a fight since 2020 and had arrived off the back of two defeats, to Joe Joyce and Arslanbek Makhmudov respectively. But he walked down Yoka for the majority of the fight and never once looked even remotely troubled. He now hopes this, his 40th career win, will fire him into a fight with Dillian Whyte.
One man who did not get the decision his performance deserved was Wythenshawe’s Macaulay McGowan, who boxed beautifully at long range to frustrate and nullify undefeated Frenchman Farrhad Saad.
McGowan, a scaffolder by day, appeared to have laid the foundations for a hugely significant win and his first over eight rounds since 2017. Saad had a good fifth round, but it was hard to make a real case for him racking up any of the others obviously and it seemed McGowan was not only a winner but a clear one.
Inexplicably, however, none of the judges thought he won. Jean-Robert Laine somehow scored it 77-75 in favour of Saad so when Alitouche and Vincent Dupas both had it 76-76, the result was a majority draw. Ali Oubaali was the referee.
McGowan could do nothing but laugh as the result was read out. It was either that or cry. “I put my heart and soul into this,” he said. “I thought I won it, everyone back home thought I won it and the crowd thought I won it. but it is what it is, what can you do?”
It was also a big night for 2020 Olympic champion Lauren Price, who stepped up to eight rounds for the first time as a pro, in just her third fight. Frankfurter Naomi Mannes was a decent opponent but the Welsh welterweight was near enough punch perfect. The 80-72 cards returned by Alitouche, Laine and Oubaali were a testament to her dominance.
Earlier Victor Yoka, Tony’s younger brother, moved to 2-0 (1) with a six-round shut-out over Bijeljina’s Branislav Malinovic at middleweight. Alitouche, Dupas and Laine all scored it 60-52 while Oubaali was the referee.
There was also a decision victory for Frenchman Lyad Tormos, although it wasn’t quite as clear-cut. Laine scored his light-middleweight four-rounder against Georgia’s Goga Kevlishvili 38-38 but Dupas and Oubaali both scored it 39-37 to Tormos. Alitouche reffed.
Verdict: Another big night – and big step – for Dan Azeez in quest for world domination.