It’s easy to become disillusioned with boxing. Whether you land on a good news story or a bad news story has become akin in its chances of hitting red or black on a roulette wheel — and the addiction to keep spinning is just as prevalent.
I am just as guilty as any other fan. No matter how many times boxing knocks you down, the urge to clamber to your feet grows stronger; wincing in pain through gritted teeth, anticipating the next left hook to your solar plexus.
But I am also a sucker for the Monte Carlo fallacy — after a month of drug test debacles, super-fight mismanagement and sanctioning body hypocrisy, surely, we are due a favourable spin?
OK, maybe I am beating down on boxing a little too hard, but this past weekend’s performance by British light-heavyweight Dan Azeez (19-0, 13KO) gave me a much-needed shot in the arm and a reminder of how wonderfully pure this sport can be.
The 33-year-old embodies that throwback spirit of a fighter in the 1970s, turning heads on cards inside smokey halls as well-dressed onlookers nod in approval. You can imagine those in attendance scribbling down “D. Azeez” on the underside of their cigarette packet and spreading word in the bars post-fight. His velvet trunks and knee high socks are a charming nod to Marvin Hagler and he shares the ethos of the late, great middleweight: ‘got gloves, will travel’.
It was almost a case of ‘got no gloves, can’t travel’ as Azeez and his team combatted a missed Eurostar train and his trainer, Buddy McGirt’s, lost suitcase. Coupled with missing weight at the first time of asking, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the numbers weren’t adding up for the Finance and Accounting graduate.
Azeez hasn’t had to travel an iota of that of “Marvellous” yet in his career, but the ethos rings true as he bounces up and down the United Kingdom treading the prestigious and storied route of domestic belt-collecting.
Southern Area, English, British and Commonwealth titles have adorned Azeez’s torso in recent years, and a jump across the English Channel added the European title at 175-pounds to that checklist as he stopped Thomas Faure in the twelfth and final round of their title fight on Saturday night in Paris, France.
Azeez dominated the lengthier, relatively unknown, Frenchman who was stopped by the Briton for just the second time in his career. Azeez’s overhand rights were a cause for concern for the hometown fighter throughout the contest, but he takes home credit for hearing the bell for the start of the final round, along with his busted nose and pounding head, despite coming close to falling on his shield earlier in the argument.
The ending was ferocious. A punctuation mark on an impressive away performance as referee Anssi Perajoki saved Faure for another day.
Sure, Azeez was as short as a 1/16 (-1600) favourite going into the contest, but many of his ilk have come unstuck at European level in recent years. And they didn’t have to travel to Paris on an undercard to prove their worth.
The next rung on the ladder is world honours and Azeez has demonstrated succinctly why he should be grouped into the same conversations as those at the top of the light-heavyweight tree. Callum Smith – who he shares camp with – Joshua Buatsi, Craig Richards and Anthony Yarde will all be arguing their own corners. Rightly so.
But whatever is next for Azeez, I’ll be there. The term ‘throwback fighter’ can sometimes seem disrespectful to fighters themselves — perhaps it’s tarred with being old-fashioned, beatable and edging towards a journeyman status. But for me, it’s hard to think of a higher compliment.
Dan Azeez is strictly business. He has earned his stripes running down a road steeped in tradition and values and, despite coming late to the sport, is making up for lost time. Saturday’s win in France was the crème de la crème of his career to date, but I suspect he’s en route to much, much more.