By Richard Hubbard
After a solitary setback in March of last year, Paul Butler was in the midst of a typically efficient rebuild when he elected to launch a bolt from the blue corner.
In what was probably the surprise split of 2016 after the stringing together of four wins on the spin, Butler opted to part company with his long-standing trainer Anthony Farnell, leaving behind a gym where he was part of the furniture, not to mention the fun.
The 28-year-old acted on instinct, a gut feeling that change would be for the better in his bid to, once again, become a proud holder of a world championship belt.
Calling time on a long-term relationship doesn’t happen without much soul searching and plucking up the resolve to actually do the deed didn’t come easy.
“Yeah it was hard, probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my professional career because I was with Arnie for five and a half years,” reflected the Ellesmere Port stylist. “It was hard to pick up the phone and actually tell him.
“I believed in myself that I needed to make the move because I felt I was going a little bit flat, a little bit stale and that I wasn’t progressing. So I personally felt that I needed to move and since then I have I’ve felt like I’ve had an extra kick in my step.”
Butler pointed out at the time that he in no way wanted his decision to be associated with the single blemish on his record at the hands of Zolani Tete. Himself and Farnell worked together for a further four fights, including the capture of the WBO International super flyweight title.
“It never crossed my mind to leave, even after the Tete loss. I thought I could still go forward, it was just that Tete was clearly the better man and too good for me. It wasn’t like tactically we got it wrong or anything like that, it was just Tete was too good and it was time to rebuild with Arnie – that was the plan.
“We had four wins, but when I was coming to the third and fourth win after Tete – the third was a title fight – during training I didn’t feel right, something wasn’t there. After the fourth one I just thought it was time to make the change and, if I didn’t, it was only going to become harder and harder. I probably wouldn’t have done it.
“It is my career at the end of the day and I don’t want to look back on my career and think I should have done this or that. It is a selfish sport and you only get one crack at it. Arnie is one who should understand because he done it himself three times.”
Some sporting divorces are laced with acrimony, but for Butler and his former mentor, a relationship has been maintained.
“Yeah, we still chat, obviously not as much as we used to, but he still messages me saying good luck and good performance after my last fight.”
Butler headed in the direction of the training base of former Amir Khan coach Oliver Harrison but found a place of work devoid of the high jinks and comradeship he had previously immersed himself in.
He may have felt like a fish out of water in Salford, but refutes the suggestion that he rocked his own boat by choosing to switch camps while on something of a roll.
“No, with Oliver I was just going in the gym and something wasn’t right there either. I think it was because at Arnie’s it was such a madhouse where everyone would go in and have a laugh before training and stay behind afterwards playing pranks on people and stuff.
“When I went to Oliver’s you would just walk in, say alright to people, do your training and go home. There was no conversation or laugh, I just didn’t feel like I was part of their gym, it felt like they were already in their little clique.
“I didn’t have a fight with Oliver, it was like I’ve been there eight weeks and it’s not worked, so I’ll move on.”
The then super flyweight was indeed set for a fight under the stewardship of his new strategist at the Echo Arena in June in what would have been a final eliminator for the WBO world title, but this time he suffered defeat to the scales.
Failing to shed the surplus poundage was not, he insists, a symptom of circumstance in not being content in an unfamiliar environment. Shredding down to 115lbs had proved a debilitating experience in recent previous attempts.
“No, because I know what I tried to do to make that weight. I’ve never felt so weak after doing everything right and I am so strict about my diet. The previous fight when I was with Arnie I struggled like mad to make it and was only just on the button.
“I said then that I was struggling at the weight, but then the eliminator got offered and I thought ‘you know what, I’ll change a few things up’, but it just didn’t work.”
His super flyweight fixture list was subsequently aborted following his failure to hit weight, which resulted in a frustrating hiatus before being in position to jump aboard the bantamweight boat for the second time, having won the IBF world title in the higher division against Stuart Hall in June 2014.
“It was hard, not so much that point in particular, but in the weeks and months afterwards because I was fit and ready to go. I was on the Klitschko bill in Manchester, but then Tyson Fury done his ankle in, so that one got called off.
“I asked to go on the Cardiff bill, but it was too busy and there was no room left on it.
So I was fit and ready for a long time until I boxed in Bolton and that was the first fight I’d had since I left Arnie. Eight months of inactivity was so frustrating for me, it was horrible, especially with moving gyms and wanting to get in there and impress.”
By the time he boxed in October he was happily ensconced at the Bolton bolthole of celebrated trainer Joe Gallagher, also home to Queensberry teammate Liam Smith.
There were no issues with fitting into a new team this time around as he was surrounded by familiar faces from his elite amateur days and, after testing the water, he was happy to take the plunge.
“I had a two-week trial with Joe, which we kept under the radar and told nobody, to see how the lads felt with me and I felt with them – and obviously see how the relationship was with Joe. We went from there.
“People ask what is it like in the new surroundings, but I’ve known most of them since the age of 11 or 12.”
His first operation with his new commander was a resounding success, a technically supreme display of punch picking and footwork that flummoxed the capable Mexican Alexis Ruiz. Butler credits the training regime implemented by the Ring Magazine Trainer of the Year for being able to execute such a precise performance.
“I was really happy with it, I didn’t have one bad comment, where normally you get people on Twitter giving you stick. I felt unbelievable in there, the fittest I’ve been and I did loads of different training.
“I’ve never swam before and did lots of track work. I had always done my running before but, as Joe said, you give yourself an engine but you are not giving yourself a gearbox where you can do up and down the gears.
“When we are doing track further out from the fight, we’ll start off with eight lots of 800m before bringing it down to 400m and end up with 200m sprints. You are doing it as quick as you can and it is giving you a gearbox to go up and down.
“It is something I am pleased with and the swimming as well. People ask ‘why do you swim when you are a boxer?’, but it works every muscle in your body and you don’t half feel it after you’ve done it.
“You get the benefits and I think it was one of the best performances I’ve had in a long time. It was technically right, my defence was a lot better, when I was pushing out I wasn’t pushing out with my hands down, I had my hands up nice and relaxed as well.”
Gallagher is polishing up a diamond who has sparkled pretty much from the off in his career. He is not attempting an overhaul, simply making tweaks and casting a fresh pair of eyes over proceedings.
“Yeah, it is like Joe said when I was sparring the other day. I came off the ropes and, where I had the whole ring in front of me, I went back to the ropes where I was just stood. He said, ‘what are you doing?’ It is common knowledge that you go back round into the gap, then you are on the front foot.
“He makes everything sound so much easier with the way he explains things and you think ‘that’s obvious, why didn’t I do that?’”
Butler should be one of the principal benefactors of the forthcoming wedlock between BT Sport and BoxNation that will see boxing on the box taken into a new era.
“I think so, I think Sky have got something like 20-odd million buyers and BT have got 30-odd so what people say about getting more publicity on Sky has been blown out of the window now because BT gets more viewers than Sky Sports.
“BT are good and always promote stuff well, so they will do that with the boxing. I’m looking forward to next year and seeing it all happen.”
Last week the cat was let out of the bag over one potential punch-up for the new year that could see him make a challenge for the WBA world title.
“Hopefully it is a busy year for me and we can start the year with a massive fight. Eddie Hearn did an interview the other day and said there was an offer for me and Jamie McDonnell.
“That is a big fight for the start of the year if it can be made and hopefully it is a fight I can win and push on from there,” pondered Butler, who reckons McDonnell will stay put at bantamweight after being awarded a fortunate points verdict against Liborio Solis last time out.
“I hope so, I think he’ll take it. If I was him I wouldn’t want to go out of the bantamweight division on that performance against Solis, I would try and go out on a statement.
“That was a terrible performance against Solis, I thought he got absolutely battered and lost by three or four rounds. God knows how he got that result, so if I was him I would want to go out on a high note with a good win.
“We had this fight talked about two and a half years ago when he had the WBA and I had the IBF. Unfortunately it didn’t get made then, so hopefully it can be made now.”
Even without BT on board to bolster the prospects of the BoxNation, Butler says he has never considered the prospect of jumping ship as his admiration for his Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren remains undiminished.
“I have a great relationship with Frank and always have done since I started. He is a top man and I’ve always said to him ‘you don’t need a contract with me, just a handshake’. Frank said to me when I first signed and got the British title fight, ‘we’ll make you a world champion’ and within 16 fights he delivered and there are not many promoters in the world who can do that.
“Especially down at bantamweight where I’d only had one fight for an Intercontinental title before going straight in for Stuart Hall.”
The Babyfaced Assassin is now back at bantam with a pre-Christmas date booked in on BoxNation this Saturday. With his chopping and changing now behind him, his eyes are firmly back on the ball – and the belts.