Week in, week out, young prospects across the country edge their toes into the murky waters of professional boxing. The excitement of fighting in the paid ranks can often lead to messy debuts; images of an over eager Anthony Fowler striking his debut opponent whilst down, spring to mind as over keen performances that borderline on the reckless.
It is so tempting to go for the big knockout. That highlight reel shot that christens a maiden victory has become almost commonplace for debutant performances. Thus, the most intriguing and interesting debuts come from the men who come to highlight their boxing skills.
The highly touted Dan Azeez boxed on his debut like a man who had spent years seasoning in the professional roster. Timing. Precision. Power. All the telling signs shone through in a controlled and devastating manner, as the 27-year-old made his opening statement in professional boxing.
Light Heavyweight, Azeez, made his much-anticipated debut last weekend, boxing to a classy four round shutout victory on the MTK London show. Streamed on IFL TV, the talented amateur was given the perfect platform to open his professional account. Talking exclusively to FightTalk.net, Azeez only had hope and praise when discussing his relationship with the management giants.
‘’It feels great….don’t think I could of joined at a better time, especially with the signings of Frampton and Fury. The MTK brand is growing and it looks like real exciting times ahead for the team.’’
‘’No stress. Just training’’ is the mantra at the Koolbox Gym in London. Headed by former ABA Coach of The Year, Micky May and Brian O’ Shaughnessy, success in boxing is something these men are very familiar. With over half a century of experience in training fighters, May taught at the legendary West Ham ABC, responsible for making over 100 national champions.
‘’I’m trained by Brian O’Shaughnessy from KoolBox Gym out of East London. We got a real lively growing stable there and we are all grafting to get to the top.’’
Iron sharpens iron. A phrase all too applicability to boxing. Development does not solely come purely through the expertise and guidance of trainers, but from the company that surrounds a young man in the gym. Friendships built over years on the amateur circuit come to fruition in the paid ranks. The likes of GB Olympic star, Lawrence Okolie (6-0) the unbeaten duo of Umar Sadiq (1-0), and Muheeb Fazeldin (11-0), provide the perfect environment for hungry, young fighters such as Azeez to learn their trade. Motivated and ambitious, the Londoner paid tribute to the daily grind he endures with his gym mates and friends.
‘’I’ve always worked and trained with talented boxers even from the amateurs. It’s good because it sets the bar and we can push each over. On the other hand, training with novices and beginners also keeps your wits about you and reminds you of the fundamentals and basics.’’
The romance of boxing is everywhere. Dotted across every city across the country, each with their own unique story, the draw of a boxing gym is often too much too be resisted. Watching friends, siblings and family members, people you look up to and idolise, experience the thrill of the ‘sweet science’ only adds fuel to a fire that, for people like Azeez, would burn for a long time.
‘’I used to always get into fights with peers etc. I remember going past Honor Oak ABC (South East, London) when I was younger and going into the gym and just seeing everyone grafting and training. I asked if I could join but I think they has no more spaces.
I wonder how different Dan’s life might have been if he had taken that first ‘No’ , and left boxing as a simple adolescent fantasy in his mind, like the majority of others. Determined to break into the sport which would soon become his profession, Azeez would try again years later whilst studying at Essex University.
‘’Years later at University I use to watch loads of Roy Jones Jnr and David Haye highlight reels and in pure awe of wanting to be like them. I joined a local club then later joined my university boxing club.’’
Reflecting on his first dabbles with boxing, he joked, ‘I soon realised I weren’t no Roy Jones Jnr but wanted to get to a level where I could actually say I can box.’ Azeez would go on to become the champion of South England three times… Not bad going for a rookie going up against men with up to ten years more ring experience.
‘’My experience at Essex Uni boxing club was really good. We travelled numerous places together and were quite a successful university boxing club. I found boxing as a stress reliever during my university days which in turn made me a better student as I had to be more disciplined and organised in the way I went about doing the both.’’
When I walk round my own University campus, I always have the upmost admiration for the athletes who juggle employment, studying, and competing at a high level of sport. I would consider myself a very casual sportsman, and yet still struggle to find the time to exercise around the trials and tribulations of my course. So, to people like Dan Azeez, who have fully immersed themselves into dedication to their sports, I fully tip my hat.
Amateur boxing can only satisfy a taste in a boxer for so long. Sooner or later, the irrevocable draw of the bright lights, the wild crowds and the glitz of the professional ranks tempts even the most loyal of amateur servants.
‘’With over 60 amateur boxing contests, I think I’ve done my apprentice as an amateur boxer and I think now is the time to make the transition over to the paid ranks. The switch has been fairly straight forward, apart from more training sessions and the mentality as this is effectively my profession and how I want to eventually feed my family.’’
In 2014, Azeez would come face to face with the biggest decision in his boxing career today. Heritage and blood lines meant that he could qualify to box for Nigeria, who had invited him to trial prior to the Glasgow Commonwealth games. Accepting the offer would have implications on his career in national championships in the UK, a prospect that the ambitious young fighter did not see aligning with his ambitions in the sport.
‘’It all came down to the fact of, if I can’t be the best here (England), then why go elsewhere where it will possibly be easier and I have more of chance being at the top. I’m all about the hard graft and grit, and I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a mighty ocean.’
As time draws on and the miles begin to tick on the professional clock on Dan Azeez, we will begin to learn much more about this young man. Challenging himself in every aspect of life whilst maintaining a humble and levelled attitude, Azeez could well be a household name in years to come.
Written by Thomas Humber