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The Opening Round: Joshua Buatsi v Dan Azeez

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Friends will become foes when Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez finally meet in an eagerly-awaited light-heavyweight clash at the OVO Arena, Wembley on Saturday night.

Initially pencilled in for October, the contest was rescheduled after Azeez sustained a back injury in training and the delay has only heightened expectations for this seismic clash.

The undefeated duo have been refreshingly honest about their long-term friendship; the pair hail from south London, are University-educated and were forming sparring partners.

For many boxing rivals, it’s a case of setting aside their differences but in this instance, Buatsi and Azeez will need to set aside their similarities. In a fight of this magnitude, any ounce of empathy is a sign of weakness.

It’s fascinating how both reached this stage of their career. Where Azeez took the domestic route and battled through the small halls, Buatsi’s journey began from the decorated path of an Olympian.

There is a frustration that’s encircled Buatsi, who is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most gifted fighters, because yet for his immense talent, he has sometimes flattered to deceive.

Since winning bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics, his career has been tailored for a world title fight and victory here would finally establish Buatsi as the leading contender in the ultra-competitive light-heavyweight division.

Buatsi is the favourite to win this bout at 1/4 and yet Azeez, priced at 3/1, has all the tools to conquer his long-time companion.

Whatever the outcome, we’re in for a spectacle.

bet365’s boxing expert Rob Tebbutt takes us through his thoughts on the contest…

“Two unbeaten light-heavyweight contenders on the fringe of a world title shot, both friends and former sparring partners but they will put that friendship aside this weekend at Wembley Arena,” he told the bet365 Sports & Betting News site.

“This is a really good fight. Buatsi had a lot of hype surrounding him in the early stages of his career but he hasn’t really made the most of it in recent times, having suffered with inactivity and not really showing what he’s capable of.

“Whereas Azeez has taken things step-by-step, winning the Area title, English, British, Commonwealth and European title.

“A lot of people see this fight as a pick’em but for me I do see Buatsi as a decent favourite.

“I think the best version of Buatsi beats Azeez and he will need to be at his best this weekend if he is to emerge victorious.

“I do expect both men to be familiar with one another and I expect in the early rounds we will see both feeling each other out; they will be very familiar with what the other brings to the table.

“With Buatsi and that extra injection of pace in the middle to late rounds, it should be enough to get past Azeez and I see Buatsi winning this by stoppage, which is priced at 13/5.”

Buatsi v Azeez headlines another stacked BOXXER card, with Adam Azim (1/10) the heavy favourite to retain his European super-lightweight title against undefeated former champion Enock Poulsen (6/1).

Not only is Poulsen keen to end Azim’s meteoric rise, he’s desperate to recapture the title that he never lost in the ring, and while the Danish fighter believes he is the rightful holder to the belt, Tebbutt expects to see Azim prevail.

“Azim had a very good year in 2023 and shown that he is a lot more than just a puncher,” he said.

“He went the full 10 rounds against Santos Reyes before going the full 10 against Aram Faniian but in his last bout, he broke down the very tricky and negative Franck Petitjean.

“He’s shown a lot of improvement but also displayed patience and maturity in the paid ranks. I think he’s going to have to do the same this weekend against Poulsen.

“I think Azim will have too much for Poulsen and I do expect him to get the stoppage; I like the look of Azim in the second half of the fight at 6/4.”

The flamboyant Ben Whittaker is also in action at Wembley Arena on Saturday night.

Closing 2023 with an emphatic knockout of Stiven Leonetti Dredhaj, the Olympic silver medallist is aiming to produce another clinical performance against French fighter Khalid Graidia.

“Whittaker’s struggled for consistency so far in his professional career and hasn’t been the most active after suffering with injuries,” stated Tebbutt.

“He’s back quickly after boxing in December on the undercard of Chris Billam-Smith’s victory over Mateusz Masternak and this weekend he faces off with Graidia, who if you know your boxing, is a very familiar name for upcoming prospects to be facing at the early stages of their career.

“Graidia is 41 years old, has a few losses on his record but is very tough, very experienced and doesn’t get stopped often.

“I think if Whittaker can get the stoppage against Graidia here, it will come in rounds five to eight, which is the second half of this eight round bout and priced at 21/10.”

bet365 are also offering Bet Boosts across all of Saturday night’s BOXXER action, meaning you can take advantage of even BIGGER prices on the headline bout and the full undercard, including BOOSTED Bet Builders on the aforementioned fights.

The bet365 Sports & Betting News site houses plenty of pre-fight content, including a comprehensive All You Need To Know guide for the main event, as well as a detailed Tale of the Tape article which houses all of the vital statistics of both Buatsi and Azeez.

View the latest Bet Boosts and odds for the full BOXXER card and all other upcoming boxing at bet365

Bet Boosts and odds displayed within this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time. 

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