WHEN Dan Azeez was picked up in Toronto to spar with Artur Beterbiev he could not believe what he got himself in for.
The WBC, IBF and WBO champion called on Azeez's services last year and brought the Londoner out to his Canada training base.
But when Azeez caught a lift from the airport with one of the sparring partners already out there, reality set in.
He told SunSport: “I jumped in his car and he turned around to look at me and he was black eyed, lips huge, everything.
“I said, ‘Surely you weren’t sparring Beterbiev?’ He goes, ‘Yep.’ I was like, ‘Oh no! What advice would you give me?’
“He said, ‘Just keep your hands up.’ I said, ‘What kind of advice is that?’ But that was funny.”
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Beterbiev is not only one of the best fighters in the world but also one of the hardest.
He currently reigns as boxing's only champ with a 100 per cent knockout ratio having stopped all 19 of his opponents.
And Azeez can attest to just how heavy-handed the Russian is.
He said: “Oh, it was horrible. It was like getting hit with a pole. It was horrible.”
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Beterbiev cuts a stoic look when he fights, wearing all black and rarely cracking a smile.
But Azeez – who fights Joshua Buatsi next – revealed behind the Terminator persona is actually a puncher with personality.
He said: “It was weird because he doesn’t speak too much English, he comes in and just smashes everybody up!
“But as the weeks went on with him, he’s got a sense of humour, he’ll make jokes and what not.
“It’s weird he reminds me of Buatsi, very devilish in the ring, he’s got that spite but outside of the ring such a nice, humble, respectful person.
“Beterbiev is the exact same person. In the ring, mate you don’t even want to spend one second in there but outside he’s funny, give you advice, nice guy.”
Azeez, 34, prepares to put friendship aside with Buatsi, 30, for their London derby at the O2 Arena on October 21.
And the winner will be next in line for the WBA belt held by Dmitry Bivol, 32, currently the only title not held by Beterbiev, 38.
A win for Azeez over Buatsi puts him next in line for Bivol and he is full of confidence thanks to his gruelling rounds in North America.
Azeez said: “It gave me a real confidence boost because if I can spar and be in there with him and as the weeks went on, I was getting better and better with him, I could take his shots and power.
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“It really let me know, I’m not too far off that level. Don't get me wrong, I won’t mix my words they’re at that top elite level. But I know I’m not too far.”
- Watch Buatsi vs Azeez live on Sky Sports on October 21st from The O2 in London. Tickets available via BOXXER.com
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