Jamie McDonnell and Lee Haskins might presently be perched on the WBA and IBF thrones but Ellesmere Port talent Paul Butler declares himself as Britain’s best fighting man at 118lbs and is primed to prove it in 2017, writes Glynn Evans.
‘I’ve definitely got the beating of the pair of them,’ claims the 28-year-old IBF title holder who completes a year with an international 10 rounder against hardened Mexican hombre Alexander Cazares in Paisley, Scotland this Saturday.
‘In a recent interview Eddie Hearn acknowledged that he’d received an offer for me to challenge McDonnell so the ball’s definitely in motion. Promoters have started working together for big fights recently so I’m sure it could be made early in the year.
‘The McDonnell fights been mooted for quite a while now because he held the WBA bantam when I held the IBF. I’ll happily box him anywhere. I went to Newcastle to challenge Stuey Hall, didn’t I!’
‘To be honest, I don’t really rate Jamie. He’s achieved well with what he’s got but he’s very limited. In his last fight, (Liborio) Solis battered him over in Monte Carlo. I had the Venezuelan at least three or four rounds up when I was trying to give Jamie rounds. Once you get past McDonnell’s jab, he sort of falls apart, starts to panic. He leans back, doesn’t know where to go. My head movement would give him fits.’
‘Haskins has got Shohei Omori in Japan in late December. If he comes through, there’s talk of a defence against (current British champ) Ryan Burnett. But if I was offered a chance, I’d fancy it.
‘Lee’s awkward and dangerous – can punch a bit – but he was shocking against Stuey Hall. He was tricky for four rounds but once Stuey found a home for his right hand, Haskins tired very quickly and ran out of game plans. Had Stuey gone to his body, he’d have got him out of there. The secret with Lee is to make him work, make him fall short.’
Formerly an English ABA champion and seasoned amateur international, this classiest of box-fighters had gobbled up British and Commonwealth super-fly honours, plus assorted Inter-Continental belts, prior to winning his world title at 8st 6lbs during a productive five year stint with ‘Arnie’ Farnell in Failsworth, Manchester.
‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ now endeavours to build upon that solid foundation under Bolton based guru Joe Gallagher. And the tandem got off to a terrific start in October when the 5ft 8in Cheshire lad pitched a punch perfect 10 round decision over useful Mexican Alexis Ruiz.
‘We didn’t need to get Ruiz out of there,’ states body snatcher Butler, who has demolished 12 early whilst compiling a 22-1 CV.
‘I needed rounds to try out new stuff I’d been working on with Joe in the gym. We’d studied Ruiz a lot and the traps we’d planned all seemed to be paying off. It was also good to go back to the corner and listen to his advice, build our relationship. I’ll be hoping for more decent rounds Saturday.
‘Under Joe, I’m becoming more disciplined, especially defensively. Previously, I was getting caught up in brawls unnecessarily. If I was caught with two or three I’d have tried to retaliate immediately and risked making mistakes. I’d come out of exchanges with my hands round my hips and, against better opposition, I’ll get punished for that. Now, I’m catching and riding a lot more shots.
‘Being part of a big successful gym is brilliant. Most of the lads are either champions already or really hot prospects, and we’re all learning off each other. You pick up things watching the likes of Liam Smith and Scott Quigg sparring.
‘As soon as I joined, there were two absolutely massive fights involving Anthony Crolla and (Jorge) Linares plus Liam Smith against ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez) and it was brilliant to be around. The atmosphere at both fights were unreal and I’m desperate to be a part of that myself.’
The rout of Ruiz also represented Butler’s enforced return to 118lbs where he had briefly reigned on the IBF throne in 2014, prior to abdicating as undefeated champion.
‘Those last three pounds had become a nightmare to get off. In the final week, I’d become very ‘narky’, a horrible person,’ disclosed Butler.
‘Over the past year or so, I’ve properly grown into bantamweight. At 118, I’m a little bit stronger, punch a little bit harder and now I can spend the final two weeks of camp concentrating on tactics and the techniques I’ll need, rather than panicking to get weight down in a sweat suit.’
One downside to his exodus from the 8st 3lb division is that the long mooted and potentially lucrative shootout with feted Belfast battler Jamie Conlan failed to come to fruition.
‘That was very disappointing because we definitely wanted it,’ insists Butler.
Still, I’m sure Jamie will get a world title shot at super-fly and I genuinely hope he wins it. He’ll move up to bantam eventually. It could still happen.’
But right now punishing Paul’s sights are set on a new division, new rivals and a new audience. And the ‘Assassin’ knows he must sizzle against the never stopped Cazares in Scotland on Saturday if he’s to crash the 118lb rankings and titillate taste buds for a ‘tear-up’ with McDonnell.
‘I boxed up there as a 16 or 17 year amateur – can’t remember where – but never before as a pro,’ says Butler.
‘But I hear the crowd are very knowledgeable and the atmosphere always seemed unbelievable when Scott Harrison and Alex Arthur had their big title fights. I’m really looking forward to showing the Scots what I’m about.’