The return of Paul Butler
In less than a year, Paul Butler has experienced the high of winning a world title and the low of losing in a challenge for another.
Last June saw super-flyweight Butler, 17-1 (8 KOs), add on another 3lbs to challenge Stuart Hall for his IBF world bantamweight title. After a fight of two halves, the challenger emerged with his hand raised by referee Phil Edwards after a split decision victory.
Butler decided to move back down to his natural fighting weight, after vacating his first world title without a defence, to take on the relatively unknown Zolani Tete for his IBF 8st 3lbs strap in March. The result was comprehensive, but not the one that Butler, and others, had expected.
"The first shot he threw was a jab to the body in the first round. That jab to the body, that power, I hadn’t felt anything like it in my life," the 26-year-old Butler told Boxing Monthly when looking back on his first professional loss. That jab was harder than Stuart Hall’s right hand. I’ve never felt power like it, it was unbelievable."
Butler, the former British and Commonwealth super-flyweight champion, returns to action at Manchester Velodrome on 11th July eager to make up for the defeat to Tete and rebuild a path to world honours. That path, Butler believes, will take him down the WBO route. A world title that is currently in the possession of, arguably, the best super-flyweight in the world, Naoya Inoue. "I’m hearing Inoue could be going up a weight at the end of the year apparently," said Butler. "The plan is to get in line and work our way up the WBO rankings."
One fight that Butler and his team have been looking at is a high class domestic showdown with 'The Mexican' Jamie Conlan, who himself returns to action in July in Dublin. Butler hopes that, should Inoue vacate and move to bantamweight, he and Conlan can get it on for the vacant belt. "That's a huge fight," enthused Butler. "Jamie’s a good kid and he seems a proper down to earth nice lad. We'd have a right good tear-up. He comes to fight, I come to fight so it’ll make for a cracker. I’m sure the public would love to see it so I’m sure if that WBO title becomes vacant then hopefully me and him can get it on."
That's for the future, for now Butler is just keen to get back in the bike he fell off thanks to Tete. During the fortnight after that KO loss, Butler decided to go on holiday with his friends. He didn't want to dwell on the defeat like so many would have. After a well-deserved break, it was time to get back to business.
"I was sparring the first week back," he told BM. "The only thing that really troubled me from the Tete loss was when I [was floored] I went down pretty bad on my ankle and done all my ligaments. That was the only bad thing, other than that I could do everything. But, in sparring, I had to just stand there a bit more and couldn’t go round on my feet."
Butler and trainer Arnie Farnell have been working on a few minor things since the Tete setback. There's been no major surgery carried out on Team Butler, just a few minor tweaks like working on his defence. Especially after tasting that Tete uppercut and the shot being one of the South African's favoured on the night. Butler admits that he's fostered a bad habit of letting other fighters hit him on the chin, particularly in sparring, to prove how tough he is.
"I done it with the likes of Scott Quigg, Dyah Davis… done it with loads, all a lot bigger than me and soon as Tete landed that jab I thought “Oh” this kid’s tasty,” said Butler. “I thought looking at his record that the 16 KOs out of 19 wins most of them could be when he was fighting mediocre class. He carried serious power, never felt anything like it."
BM asked Butler would he welcome a rematch with Tete. His honesty was admirable and deserving of the greatest respect. "He’s got a world title so it’s hard to knock that back but he is a world class operator. If I was to pick between world champions I’d sidestep Tete straight away,” admitted Butler. “If he was the only one then you take it. He’s a massive mountain to climb because he’s a phenomenon. He’s like the Golovkin of the super-flyweights.
"I haven’t watched the fight because I know exactly what went wrong. I just couldn’t get into the fight, his tactics were bang on [during] the night which is praise to him. He just didn’t let me anywhere near him, but you can’t knock it. I don’t need to watch the fight it was a bad night at the office and the better man won.
"I know he won, I’d say, all the rounds,” continued Butler. “I think at round seven I went back to Arnie and said 'This is a shut out'. There was a little bit of pressure or ringcraft to try and get a round or two but that was the talent of Tete not letting me anywhere near him to try and win a round."
The Ellesmere Port fighter has nothing but respect for Tete. In defeat, a small silver lining for Butler is that far more know about the champion and, in turn, that gives the smaller weight classes greater exposure. As witnessed on Saturday night in California on HBO and Boxnation, the likes of Roman Gonzalez, and Inoue, are giving the ‘little men’, for want of a better word, a much bigger profile.
"No-one had ever heard of Tete and when I boxed him the whole of Britain was talking about him," said Butler. "All the social media were talking about following his career from now on because he talked about buying his mum a new leg with the money. A lot of people like that type of thing and they’re going to follow him because he beat me.
"You get a lot more entertainment in [the lower] weights. Not getting as many KOs, but you’re getting busier fights, they’re more exciting than your heavyweights,” continued Butler. “The heavyweights were exciting when Tyson was about, when Lewis was about but other than that it’s pretty boring. I know the average Joe boxing fan wants to see a knockout but the diehard boxing fans wants to see a good entertaining fight.
"With the flyweights, super-flyweights and bantamweights you’re going to get entertained and entertainment in most of the fights anyway because we work so hard and, now and again, you do see the odd special talent coming through like Inoue, Gonzales and Tete at the moment.
"Tete’s going to super-bantam," he added. "I think he’s got a mandatory then he wants to unify then move up to super-bantam. Obviously, the size of him on the night those 3lbs to get to bantam mustn’t be an advantage. He must be struggling that much."
After taking a dip in bantamweight waters with great success, does Butler foresee a future where he moves north, in pounds, once again?
"Yeah, most definitely. I will be going back up,” Butler told BM. “Obviously, my dream is to win a world title at super-flyweight. I can’t see myself holding down the weight at super-flyweight for a great period of time; a year, a year-and-a-half and I’ll be back up to bantamweight most definitely."