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Dan Azeez eyeing world title shot after sparring with Artur Beterbiev ahead of Joe Smith Jr fight

Watch Artur Beterbiev and Joe Smith Jr's light heavyweight unification bout live on Sky Sports this weekend. Dan Azeez is expected to return to the ring this summer as he looks to extend his unbeaten record

Dan Azeez
Image: Dan Azeez is eyeing a world title shot

Dan Azeez is ready to propel himself into world title contention after recently experiencing life at the top by working with fearsome champion Artur Beterbiev.

The British light-heavyweight prospect spent time training with Beterbiev amid preparations for his world title unification clash against Joe Smith Jr in New York this weekend, live on Sky Sports, boosting his own stock in the eyes of the champion's team.

It looms as a fight Azeez will undoubtedly have one eye on as he seeks to continue his rise through the division after extending his unbeaten record to 16-0 (11 KOs) with an eighth-round stoppage of Reece Cartwright in March.

"He's been training with Beterbiev for the fight so he knows all about him," BOXXER CEO Ben Shalom told Sky Sports. "I think they were extremely impressed with what they saw.

"I know they were trying to sign him while he was out there, he's an impressive guy, Dan, and people are going to be surprised at the level he can compete at. We'll see what happens, everybody wants the world titles, whether it's Dan Azeez, (Joshua) Buatsi, Anthony Yarde.

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Reece Cartwright put in a valiant performance but Dan Azeez proved to be too much, finishing his opponent in the eighth round

"I know Anthony Yarde is perhaps mandatory for the WBO, and then there might be the unification with (Dmitry) Bivol, but Dan Azeez wants to be in that bracket, in that mix.

"Hopefully we're going to get him out this summer in a big fight and hopefully he can start knocking on the door for world titles."

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Beterbiev is 17-0 entering his clash with Smith Jr having retained his titles with a ninth-round knockout victory against Marcus Browne in December.

Azeez has backed him as a 'heavy favourite' and, having shared a ring with the 37-year-old himself, believes it will be "testament" to Smith's toughness should he last more than six rounds.

"I heard loads of stories about how he is in sparring and how demonic and brutal and savage he is," Azeez told Sky Sports. "But I've always had this mentality that if you want to be the best you've got to mix it up with the best and I got the call to go out there and spar him, train with him, learn from him.

"I was a bit nervous going into the unknown but I was ready and prepared, it was such a brilliant experience.

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Artur Beterbiev will be hoping to unleash his ferocious attacks on Joe Smith Jr in their huge light heavyweight unification fight

"He's a savage in the ring, but an angel outside, I learned a lot from him. When I went out there I realised there are levels but there are levels on levels.

"Artur is a brilliant fighter, he's very very strong, very good boxing IQ as well. I can't wait to watch the fight and see if he can pull off what he was practicing in the sparring and training."

Azeez is making a beeline for his own championship ambitions, with Shalom suggesting the 32-year-old is "one or two" fights away from a coveted world title shot.

He is currently ranked 14th in the IBF world rankings, but is hopeful of closing the gap on British rivals Joshua Buatsi and Anthony Yarde, who are ranked second and third, respectively.

"I think he waited a long time to get his opportunity so he feels more than ready," said Shalom.

"In a similar way to Richard (Riakporhe), he's had to do it the hard way. No Olympic background, no help, nothing, Southern Area champion, English champion, British champion, Commonwealth, he's done it the hard way so doesn't want to mess around.

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Richard Riakporhe reflects on a comfortable win over Fabio Turchi and says he's ready to get a world title fight arranged

"He feels like he's ready and he's got a lot of confidence from sparring with Beterbiev who is far and away considered the best light heavyweight in the world right now.

"He now knows where he's at and feels like he's ready so one or two fights and he'll be knocking on the door."

Elsewhere on the domestic scene, Olympic silver medalist and new BOXXER signing Ben Whittaker has been quick to target Azeez, insisting he wants to face 'Super' within five fights of launching his professional career.

As far as Azeez is concerned, he has work to do.

"I laughed when I heard that but he's won at the Olympics, I rate his skills but you can't put him in with the likes of my name," said Azeez. "I feel like I've built my way up, he's still got to build his name up.

"We're in the day and age where nobody wants to take the stairs to the top, I took the stairs, I've earned my stripes and he's got to do the same.

"Everyone wants to take the elevator straight to the top, not with me. I look forward to it, it's another competitor so let's see how it goes."

Watch Artur Beterbiev vs Joe Smith Jr, live on Sky Sports from 2.30am on Sunday morning.

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