“I feel better now than when I was world champion.”

Paul Butler’s car had not long got a flat tyre when Boxing Social phoned to interview him.

“Nightmare. I was driving home from the gym. Just had to drive 50 miles at 35 miles per hour. Thankfully, I’ve got RunFlat tyres. I’m in a queue now to get a new tyre,” he said.

Plenty of time then to discuss his first fight of 2020, a low-key 2019, Eddie Hearn, Lee McGregor, coaching amateur fighters and more.

On Sunday, the 31-year-old former IBF bantamweight champion dips his feet into boxing, Covid-19 style, in an eight-round contest against Ryan Walker at Production Park Studios, South Kirby. The bout forms part of MTK Global’s undercard on their promotion headlined by Jay Harris defending his Commonwealth flyweight title against Marcel Braithwaite.

“This is the longest I’ve been out the ring. It’ll be 10 months. I am really looking forward to it. The dieting’s probably the best it’s ever been to be honest with you. I’m feeling good, I’m feeling sharp. It’s fight week so I’m excited,” said Butler (31-2, 15 KOs).

Dieting. A chore and the proverbial pain in the behind for you, me and others who carry the phrase, ‘I’ll start next week’, around with them as a reminder that inside them is a six pack waiting to get out and a six pack in the fridge they are trying hard to put in the bin.

For a fighter, it’s part and parcel of their job. Fighting weight, championship weight, stay ready for the phone to ring. Straying a few pounds overweight for a boxer can have dire consequences for their career both short and long-term.

“During lockdown I went heavy. I got up to 10st 5lbs,” Butler admitted.“The first three weeks of lockdown I carried on running because I thought this will blow over and we’d all be straight back in but it never, so I done nothing. I got bored of sitting at home doing nothing, so I started training and ticking over. I train the amateurs as well so I’ve got keys to the amateur gym [Wirral CP club], which no-one else could use apart from the coaches so I started training myself, ticking over and losing the weight and then it was just dropping off.

“When I got back in with [trainer) Joe [Gallagher], I was only sitting around 9st 4lbs. It’s just been a slow progression, chipping away at it each week. A pound or two a week and it’s been flying off to be honest. It’s not been a struggle like I’ve had in the past on a fight week. I feel good, I feel refreshed. I’ve just done plenty of rounds there on the pads with Joe. Normally fight week, I’ll feel a little lethargic, a bit tired but I felt like I could keep going and going today.”

The ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ was giving off a Duracell Bunny vibe. He turns 32 next month but it means nothing to him. He isn’t feeling his age, he even tells us to go and ask his trainer Joe Gallagher or some of his gym-mates like Natasha Jonas how well he is performing and how all the records in the gym are being set by him. Feeling better than ever at the wrong side of 30 and better than when he was world champion are words we have heard before from fighters in his shoes but, an examination of his career proves that not a lot of tough miles have been added to a professional career that began nearly 10 years ago.

“Go through my whole career,” he said. “Apart from [losing to Emmanuel] Rodriguez, which was a tough night’s work, go through my two losses. Rodriguez, yeah, a tough night’s work, took a bit of punishment but it didn’t add miles to the clock. [Zolani] Tete, I was just chasing shadows for most of the night and he caught me with one big shot. That, again, put no miles on the clock. Other than that – the Stuart Hall fights took nothing off me especially the second one. I’ve got no miles on the clock.”

Butler may seem a veteran in years, but he has relatively few miles on the clock.
Photo: MTK Global.

Butler’s 2019 certainly didn’t take its toll on his body and mind. Four fights, four wins, but three of the fights were six-rounders and the other an eight-rounder. Opponents he was expected to beat during a period which included him being a reserve during the World Boxing Super Series, eventually won by the head of the table at bantamweight Naoya Inoue. 

Next year could bring a world title opportunity for Butler. Now he is ranked at No.3 by the IBF with the number two spot lying vacant. Their number one contender is Filipino southpaw Michael ‘Hot and Spicy’ Dasmarinas. This is the fight Butler has his eye on. Inoue may be champion, a monstrous one, too, but the Japanese phenom may move up to 122lbs, which could lead to a vacant world title opportunity for the Brit. There are options open for Butler. Recent speculation had linked him to a fight against former WBA super-flyweight champion Kal Yafai but his promoter Eddie Hearn would have to make Butler see pound signs in his eyes, and hear the old cha-ching noise, for that to happen.

“We’ve both got nothing at the moment,” Butler stated of he and Yafai’s lack of belts predicament. “The money that Eddie would offer me would be shite to be honest. Eddie couldn’t get me on a six-rounder on Callum’s [Smith] undercard when I asked to be on Callum’s undercard against John Ryder. He couldn’t get me a six-rounder. For the wages that he would have given me I’d have made double that in ticket sales but if he can’t be arsed then he’s going to be paying out of his pocket to get me on one of his shows now.”

Butler, in the British bantamweight rankings at least, could be described as a bit of a veteran. The positivity about his prospects was clear for Boxing Social to hear. In our own UK rankings, Butler sits at No.1 and there has been nothing to suggest that he would be moved from his perch for a long time. While hot prospect Dennis McCann continues to receive his education, two bantamweights from Scotland are looking to take over from Butler – Lee McGregor and Kash Farooq. The duo may be the future, but they will have to get past Butler first. The former challenges for the European title, on another MTK Global promotion, next month against French boxing stalwart Karim Guerfi.

“I fancy him to win the European title. He should have far too much for Karim,” Butler said of McGregor’s chances. “Lee’s making headway and he’s boxing for the European title so maybe I should be keeping an eye on him. He looks good, he’s young, he’s hungry and I fancy him to win the European title and more than likely he’s going to be on my heels and pushing on for a world title. I’m sure that will be his goal after winning the European title if he comes through which I think he will. Maybe [he can] make one or two defences then he is knocking on the door for a world title. And, if I’ve got it, he can have a defence.”

McGregor is no stranger to Butler’s opponent on Sunday Ryan Walker. The Scot fought Walker back in August and got the job done by the fifth round. Butler saw some of the fight. Enough to be impressed by McGregor and enough to say yes to having Walker as his first opponent of 2020. 

Liam Williams told Boxing Social recently, before his British middleweight title defence against huge underdog Andrew Robinson, ‘Let’s be honest, realistically I should be going out and doing a job on him’. Butler was of a similar opinion on his upcoming fight against Walker. Levels need to be on display, he says.

“On Sunday, I’ll go in there and I should deal with him in top form and show levels. He’s been beat at English level and I’ll show him what a world-class operator is all about,” he said. “It’ll be sheer class. It’ll be the way I go about it. I can out-box him for the eight rounds, I can go in there and put it on his toes and try and put him out of there. I’ll get in the ring; I always have a look at them for a minute or two and then I’ll go to work. If I feel like I can go in there and smash him to bits I’ll do that but if it feels like I have to dissect him and pick him apart and take him out I will.”

The career of Paul Butler has mileage left but how much will come down to him, the right matchmaking and what happens when he returns to world level. In a two-year period between 2012 and 2014, Butler and his then promoter Frank Warren turned on the afterburners as we watched the fighter, then 24, pick up British and Commonwealth honours at super-flyweight before going up in weight to take a worthwhile risk against Hall and win the IBF bantamweight title. Butler knows that it may have been too much too soon but… “You don’t knock them opportunities down.”

A world champion at 25, Butler lost it in his first defence against South African Tete before being comprehensively outpointed by Rodriguez when contesting his old (vacant) IBF world title two years ago. Within these highs and lows, there is plenty of wisdom to pass on to the fighters of tomorrow. And for the last two years at Wirral CP club (formerly known as Butler’s old stomping ground Vauxhall Motors), where he began when he was 10 years old, Butler has been training kids where another ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ may be born.

“It’s watching a kid grow,” said Butler when we asked what he specifically enjoys about coaching.

“I’ll tell them something, they might not get it the first or second time, but you can see their heads ticking away and their brain working and then when they finally get it, you think that was worth doing. I’ll do one-to-one’s with kids and it might take them half an hour, sometimes an hour but it’s just specific things. If their feet are wrong, then certain shots won’t land in a certain way. I like to think I’m a bit of a perfectionist probably because I’ve been round Joe for three or four years now and Joe’s a perfectionist and he obviously rubs off on me.

“I enjoy doing what I do. I’m in there Monday, Wednesday, Friday with them. They’re only there for an hour and I was always taught as a kid you’re only there for an hour you may as well put it in. It’s nice just to watch them learn and listen and to take it into fights, even when we’re doing the corner. I like it when they’ve won one round each and they’re going into the third round and you tell them something and you get that reaction off them. It’s nice to see and they actually trust you and listen to you.”

Main image: Matchroom Boxing.