All the right moves: Paul Butler interview

Shaun Brown
30/09/2017 7:00am

Cheshire bantamweight Paul Butler tells Shaun Brown he is aiming for the bantamweight big guns - but he needs to defeat Stuart Hall first...

Paul Butler wants to set the record straight against Stuart Hall tonight.

Their WBA bantamweight world title eliminator, which takes place at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, is a rematch of their 2014 encounter. A fight Butler won to become IBF world bantamweight champion in just his 16th fight, a record for an English fighter at the time which was equalled by Anthony Joshua last year.

Butler’s victory over Hall came via a split decision verdict. It was a bout of two halves after the challenger dictated the first half of the fight and the then champion came on strong in the second. While, for many, there was no doubt who the winner was Butler senses that there are still doubts about who the better fighter is. Three years on and the 28-year-old is looking to make something of a statement in the rematch.

“It’s something I can put straight as well because I’m sick of his [Hall’s] little mates on Twitter giving it the big ‘He got robbed’,” Butler told Boxing Monthly.

“Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a runaway fight where I clearly won it but from my eyes and everyone around me I won that fight. Stuart Hall seems to think he’s won every fight apart from the Jamie McDonnell fight [in 2011]. He seems to think he gets robbed in every one. It’ll be nice to settle the score and to show that I am the better man this time, not a boy.”

Butler was 25 years old when he won his only world title to date. Hall, nine years his senior, has since gone on to give admirable performances in defeat against the likes of Randy Caballero and Lee Haskins – both IBF world title fights at 118lbs – as well as winning a thriller against Rodrigo Guerrero last year. At 37 time is the enemy for Hall right now. Butler believes that it will catch up sooner or later with his opponent.

“He’ll be nearly 38 by the time we step in that ring, and at 38 as a bantamweight it’s eventually going to catch up with you and take it out of you. I’m 28, I’m coming into my prime. I’m feeling like the best I’ve ever felt in the gym.”

The gym in question is home to trainer Joe Gallagher. The meticulous Manc added Butler to his all-star stable earlier last month after Butler parted ways with long-time trainer Arnie Farnell. This coming after Butler left Frank Warren to team up with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing - tonight sees his debut for the British promotional juggernaut.

And while Butler and Gallagher may have only been working together for a short time, the fighter is already beginning to see developments and improvements in himself thanks to his new trainer.

“I feel like I’m learning every single day in the gym. I’m watching world class operators around me,” said Butler. “I’m a more rounded boxer. I’ve been watching the first fight with Stuart Hall constantly. I was all over the place. When I was under a lot of pressure it just didn’t look good, even though I won the fight.

"I look back and think if he can’t beat me when I was like that then he’s in trouble, because I’ve improved so much under Joe. I’m more composed, I don’t waste my shots like I used to. If you watch the fight with Hall I’d throw threes and fours and only one would get through, with the rest hitting the gloves. Now, I’ll touch, touch and bang, and make that one shot land and count. Find the gaps, the openings. It’s about timing.”

Timing is everything in boxing. Whether it’s placing the right shot at the right time or making moves in your own career. However, opportunities sometimes arise not at the best moments. A full training camp is obviously the preferred option for any fighter whether it’s at Area level or world title level, but beggars can’t be choosers.

After the cancellation of Billy Joe Saunders' second world middleweight title defence against Avtandil Khurtsidze after the Georgian was arrested for alleged links to organised crime, moves were made by promoter Frank Warren to pit Butler against WBA bantam champ Jamie McDonnell. The downside, however, was Butler would have been taking the fight at four weeks’ notice.

“I was going to take on one of the best bantamweights in the world, or that’s what people think, in Jamie McDonnell. I was going to take him on at four weeks’ notice and I was confident of beating him, and I would have beat him,” Butler predicted.

“We got offered it when Billy Joe’s opponent got arrested. We got offered to box on the Copperbox bill [on 8 July 8] and we accepted. It wasn’t feasible so that’s why that didn’t get made. We were then looking for another date and couldn’t find a date.”

The blessing in disguise for Butler though comes in the shape of this Hall rematch. While it might not be a 'necessary' fight, Butler’s eyes lit up at the prospect of facing his old foe in a world title eliminator.

A win for Butler and the once fallen through McDonnell fight is back on - albeit dependent on how the champion’s own rematch goes on 4 November against Liborio Solis in Monte Carlo. It will have been nearly a year to the day when the two men go at it again, after a somewhat controversial unanimous decision verdict for McDonnell last November. Scores of 116-112, 115-113 and the slightly absurd 117-111 from judge Robert Hoyle have, eventually, prompted the rematch to take place. Doncaster’s blue-collar world champion wants to right the wrong in the eyes of people who had Solis winning, and Butler believes he will do just that second time around.

“I don’t think he did win the last time but I think he wins it in better fashion this time,” said the former world champion.
“I think he got Solis at his very best and you got a very bad Jamie McDonnell last time. I think Jamie will come through that one, hopefully he doesn’t move up a weight. He can move up when he’s lost that title.”

It’s all systems go at Matchroom HQ and their business in the competitive bantamweight division. Butler, Hall and McDonnell are all represented by the Essex outfit and strutting their stuff on Sky Sports, but it’s their new IBF world champion Ryan Burnett who has caught many a passing eye, particularly after dethroning the tricky Lee Haskins to win his portion of the world crown at 118lbs.

Despite the incongruous scoring of 118-108 from judge Clark Sammartino in favour of Haskins, quickly reversed in favour of Burnett after the American had somehow gotten the boxers mixed up, Irish eyes began to smile and breathe a sigh of relief as the man deemed the heir to Carl Frampton’s throne as the North’s number one boxing export fulfilled on the promise shown from his early days a pro.

Butler saw that promise too when he sparred the Belfast man a few years ago.

“He’s always been a good kid. I sparred him a few years back when I was with Arnie. He’s calmed down a lot since then, he was like a little Tasmanian Devil back then!” he recalled.

“We were meant to do six rounds and he blew himself out after four trying to take my head off. I controlled the spar pretty well to be honest, but I think I was British champion then and he was coming up. You can’t read nothing into that. Back then I thought he was going to win titles, he’s a decent kid.”

And Burnett’s first defence arrives in Belfast in just three weeks against the under the radar WBA ‘super’ bantamweight champion Zhanat Zhakiyanov.

“He’s in a tough fight next time out,” Butler said of Burnett’s next outing. “I don’t think Zhakiyanov is gonna get someone with a better set of skills than Rau’shee Warren [who the Kazakh beat to win the world title], even though Ryan is very skilled and well-schooled himself. Will he keep Zhakiyanov off? I’m not so sure. I think he [Burnett] could run away with it early doors but it could be a bit sticky for him later on.”

One look at the division worldwide and Butler believes that the titles will change hands over the next 12 months, with his own waiting to do the damage that could see him grab his second world title at the weight.

2018 could be a big year for Butler. Should he beat Stuart Hall once again, then one would imagine it would be straight on to the winner of McDonnell vs Solis before a possible unification against the winner of Burnett and Zhakiyanov.

“There are some massive fights for all of us,” said Butler. “I don’t think many will want to give me a voluntary unless it’s for a lot of money. Jamie McDonnell asked to box me, then if I win that the doors are wide open for me. Then there’s the winner of Burnett and Zhakiyanov. So, next year is a big year for me if everything goes to plan.”

 Click here to read Danny Winterbottom's interview with Stuart Hall