Dan Azeez Defends British Light Heavy Crown Saturday
British and Commonwealth Light-Heavyweight Champion Dan Azeez defends his two belts this weekend against veteran former Super-Middleweight WBA titlist Rocky Fielding at the Bournemouth International Centre on England’s South coast.
An archetypal crossroads encounter, the fight pitches the aging Fielding against the emerging Azeez. Despite there only being two birthdays between them.
It will be an intriguing contest with complimentary styles and, to this observer, well-matched protagonists. Both have much to gain, and defeat will shift perceptions too.
For Azeez, Fielding is the aging name with lingering credibility, now settled in the higher division and for Fielding, Azeez is the blue-collar incumbent whose title he will hope to leverage toward loftier aims. The key component of the best examples of matchups like this, two career arcs assumed to have opposing trajectories, is the relative ambition of the declining fighter.
Will Vet Fielding Provide A Test?
If Fielding arrives at this bout with aspiration, despite his 35 years and the lucrative nature of his engagement with Saul Alvarez four years ago this weekend, he will provide a significant barometer of Azeez’s ability and the plausibility of the younger man’s pretensions beyond domestic level. At 33, Azeez is a late bloomer having taken up boxing, while studying a degree in Finance and Accounting at Essex University.
There is precedent for boxers with Azeez’s type of educational pedigree, the Klitschko brothers a recent example, and one of Azeez’s predecessors as Commonwealth Champion, Nicky Piper, famously had an IQ of 153, but it remains a novelty. His rise has been steady, without the fanfare of contemporaries from the Olympic programmes, and is scripted as the fresher of Saturday’s pairing with potential still to unfurl. It has been a productive 13 months for the Londoner, this will be his fourth 12-round fight in that period and his fifth in 15 months. A good activity level in the modern era.
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In those fights he has adapted to overcome a 6 ft 6 Shakan Pitters and beat capable Hosea Burton in the 7th of a competitive bout a year ago. The finish of Burton, himself a former champion, momentarily switching to southpaw and smashing the taller man with a round house left, was impressive as it was violent. Azeez had boxed well, showing authority in his jab and an excellence in changing the height of his attacks.
Subsequent sparring with Artur Berterbiev will only have polished his attributes and deepened his sense of belonging at championship level. In the shadow of Anthony Yarde, Joshua Buatsi and others, Azeez has developed outside the spotlight and developed a loyal, cultish following.
Fielding is substantively a step up from the competitive domestic level Azeez has begun to excel at. Most of his success was achieved at 168 pounds – a tight points win over John Ryder five years ago is a result that improves with age – and he did win a lesser WBA title at the weight too. Beating a hyped Tyron Zeuge in Germany in five rounds. This was the belt Canelo Alvarez used to segue into the division when poleaxing Fielding in their 2018 clash. His second knockout defeat, a rampant Callum Smith destroyed him in the opening round in 2015.
Subsequent to the Canelo defeat, Fielding boxed a trio of circuit fighters at the new weight. All three were experienced and, notably, significantly under the 175-pound limit. Caution existed in this matchmaking despite superficially respectable records. Azeez is a legitimate light heavyweight with solid power and a good work-rate.
The outcome could hinge on who establishes their jab consistently, as is so often the case. Fielding tends to leave his chin available when punching at range and as Burton discovered, Azeez is adept at closing ground quickly to land his heavy left jab with an overhand right proving effective behind it. It is easy to conjure a scenario where Azeez’ lands that right hand and follows in with further power shots with Fielding trying hard to cover up.
Too simplistic, or disrespectful to propose Fielding’s durability is depleted and he will succumb. Defeat here is the end of the road for him as far as meaningful bouts with good purses go. He will surely leave everything he has in the ring this weekend. He has good hand speed in flurries. Against Zeuge his shot selection was good with the left-handed power shots, but time has lapsed since. 35, despite modest ‘mileage’ is still getting up there in age. If Azeez nails Fielding and can dictate pace and the exchanges he will add much to his reputation and solidify his place alongside a crop of British 168/175 pound contenders who would make for a terrific round robin.
The type of sequence of fan friendly fights boxing is woeful at delivering.
As a fan of Azeez’s old school style; the velvet shorts, the Hagleresque white socks and lust for competitive fights, and with concerns about Fielding’s habit of holding his head high, I’m going to venture Azeez can secure the win here. He may have to come through some challenging moments in the middle third as Fielding finds a groove, but sense Azeez will win over the championship distance in a good fight.
With a Fielding touchdown along the way.