Before the most important fight of a boxer’s career, they’ll picture themselves at work. Most fighters will think of themselves at their best, boxing to the exact gameplan, sticking to everything they worked so hard to perfect in camp. But Dan Azeez is different.
He pictures himself hitting the deck, struggling, and battling back.
“It’s so weird,” he admitted.
“I always imagine myself getting knocked down but having to get off the ropes and knock out the guy. I don’t know why. Every fight I’m always like that. So I build like a monster out of my opponent.
“I always visualise, maybe he’s outboxing me and I’ve got to switch it up, change it up. Maybe I’m losing and in the last second I knock him out. That’s what I visualise.”
It is an unusual approach to mental side of the sport. He doesn’t spend too much of his time in positive thinking.
“You’ve got to think it and become it or whatever, no. I like to think of the hard road, ‘It’s not going to be easy, Dan’,” Azeez told Sky Sports.
“Boxing, you never know. You might have to show a bit of guts to get to the glory. Not I’m just going to box perfect, no. Sometimes I want to feel that adversity and have to do something extra.”
That’s something he relishes. “To come back and actually stop the guy, that’s such a great thing to do. Those dire moments, I love it,” he said.
“You need to prepare yourself for the worst. And if it isn’t as bad, it’s win, win.”
So far in his professional career though he hasn’t come close to hitting the deck.
“The first time I’ve ever touched canvas was in my first amateur fight. My first one I got stopped early. Early. Maybe 30 seconds or one minute,” he said. “I was fuming, embarrassed.
“But that’s the only time.”
He added: “I’m one of them guys, if something doesn’t go my way, I’m very stubborn, I’m like no I have to try and get this right. I have to learn this. That’s what I’ve got in my head.
“But I know for sure if I hadn’t carried on no one would begrudge me. [They’d think:] ‘Fair enough Dan, that obviously wasn’t for you,'” he laughed.
After a humble beginning, Azeez’s single-minded approach has paid dividends. He’s won English, British and Commonwealth titles already.
On Saturday he will take on Thomas Faure for the European light-heavyweight title in Paris, live on Sky Sports.
It’s another belt that is hugely important to him.
“You’ve had people like Max Schmeling [who won this title in 1927]. He beat Joe Louis but obviously Joe Louis smashed him in the rematch. You’ve got John Conteh from Liverpool. There’s some big names that have won that title. It’s a prestigious belt, it’s another prestigious belt that I’m trying to get,” Azeez said.
It’s also a bout that will be crucial in the Londoner’s development. “We’ve got to get over the hurdle this Saturday before we start looking anywhere else. It is a vital step for me,” he said.
“People try and jump a step and then they get found wanting. I never, ever want to be in a position where if I lose it’s ‘because he lacked experience’ or ‘he wasn’t ready’. It needs to be I lost to the better man, plain and simple. That’s one thing I try and eliminate out of my career.”
Azeez faces this test in Faure’s home country. “We are in enemy territory. That’s what you’ve got to do sometimes. You’ve got to go overseas to get what you want,” he said.
“I’m definitely not someone to try and tiptoe around my way to the top. No, that won’t give me no satisfaction. I’m coming out to France, I want to feel that animosity from Faure’s fans.
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“I want to be entertaining, I don’t want to be in boring fight,” he continued. “Even if it’s me being hit I want to hear that ‘ooh, aah,’ screaming, all that kind of thing.
“I like fights that show adversity, where someone is like losing, they’ve had to really dig deep and win.
“Those are the fights that I really enjoy.”
Against Faure on Saturday, Azeez is ready to do whatever it takes.
Watch Azeez vs Faure and the heavyweight clash between Tony Yoka and Carlos Takam, as well as Olympic gold medallist Lauren Price live on Sky Sports on March 11.