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It’s Dan Azeez’s time to show whether he’s championship material

Dan Azeez’s big moment has arrived.

The 175-pound contender, who has built a perfect record in spite of a late start in boxing, is scheduled to face fellow Londoner Joshua Buatsi in what could be a defining fight for him on Feb. 3 at OVO Arena Wembley.

The winner of the WBA title eliminator will be first in line to face champion Dmitry Bivol, although Bivol appears headed toward a showdown with Artur Beterbiev.

The Azeez-Buatsi fight, originally scheduled for October, was postponed after Azeez injured his back.

“I still have so much to prove to everyone,” Azeez told Boxing Junkie. “I want to show that, yes, I’m a legitimate challenger and I’m going to be a world champion.”

Azeez (20-0, 13 KOs) dabbled in the sweet science as a minor but didn’t become a competitive boxer until he was 19 or 20, when he was at university.

The odds of succeeding are stacked against a fighter who takes up the sport as an adult. Azeez, now 34, beat those odds by reaching the top four of all four major sanctioning bodies.

That doesn’t mean the learning process was easy, however. He had to work harder than his peers who started boxing as children.

“I did feel like I had to play catch up,” he said. “Maybe you’re sparring a 14- or 15-year-old and their technical skills are so much better than yours. They take to it like fish to the sea. For me it was a bit more difficult. The footwork, I was a bit more rigid.

“… But I had the mindset. That kept me [on pace] with people who were in boxing longer than me. I always wanted to learn, I wanted to absorb everything like a sponge.”

He did so, which is why he could be only two victories away from realizing his dream of winning a major belt.

Of course, the first victory is not expected to come easily. Buatsi (17-0, 13 KOs), a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and longtime friend of Azeez, is the more established fighter and about a 3½-1 favorite (average of multiple outlets) to win on Feb. 3.

That’s what makes the matchup so significant for Azeez. If he wins, he’ll reach star status in addition to earning a shot at Bivol.

“I didn’t get into boxing to be a star,” he said. “I didn’t even get into boxing to earn money. I just wanted to prove to myself that something you’re not good [initially] at you can do, that with dedication you can get to the top. But, yes, this is my coming out fight worldwide.

“In the U.K., when I won the British title, yes, we had another really good light heavyweight. But worldwide, this is definitely my coming out.”

That’s exciting for Azeez. More than a decade of hard work and sacrifice could pay off in his next few fights.

“It’s exciting. It can be nerve wracking. There’s pressure,” he said. “This is what it’s all about, having these moments, overcoming real challenges. You have a mountain in front of you. You either climb it or you fall. There’s no other way to put it. Either you do or you don’t.

“This is what shows what you’re made of, these kinds of moments.”

Story originally appeared on Boxing Junkie