BANTAMWEIGHT Ryan Burnett is in the business of collecting world titles – he has two (the WBA Super and IBF) to his name – but the WBO belt, currently owned by South Africa’s Zolani Tete, is one he can do without.
That’s the view of former Tete opponent Paul Butler, himself a one-time IBF bantamweight champion, who this week told Boxing News the idea of Burnett, or anyone for that matter, boxing Tete is a bad one.
“Who would want to fight that guy?” he said. “Zolani Tete is the man nobody needs. He’s an absolute nightmare. He’s a long southpaw with absolutely frightening power. All I’d say to Ryan Burnett is this: ‘Don’t go anywhere near him unless you have to.”
Butler was unbeaten in 17 fights when he came up against Tete in 2015. It was, back then, a fight he was expected to win; Tete was 19-3; he’d lost fights in Mexico and Argentina; he seemed happier at home. But that counted for little once the South African settled into the fight and planted his first southpaw jab in the pit of Butler’s stomach.
“His punch power was frightening,” said Butler. “He walked out the first round and landed a jab to the body and I thought, wow, nobody hits like that. No one has that kind of power. He carried unreal power.
“Going in, we didn’t know much about him. We just thought he was a South African brought over for me to beat and then take his title. Even the bookies had me down as a 1-to-3 favourite or something like that. Not many people knew a lot about him and it was just unfortunate I was the one to find out how good he was. I’ve learnt a lot from that loss. That’s where you learn – from your losses.”
The sixth round stoppage defeat hurt Butler. It snapped his unbeaten record, prevented him becoming a world champion at super-flyweight, and made him question his ambitions in the sport. Yet, over time, he has taken a more philosophical approach to the setback, one aided by Tete’s subsequent rise to worldwide prominence.
“We’re starting to see how good he really is now,” said Butler, 26-1 (14). “I think he’ll go on and win multiple world titles in multiple weights. He can go to super-bantam and to featherweight and not look out of his weight-class. I think I’ll look back in years to come and say to people, ‘Yeah, I boxed him. I shared a ring with him.'”
Butler telling Burnett to steer clear of Tete is not meant to be taken as a slight on the Belfast man. Butler wishes to make that clear. It is, instead, more a mark of how highly he rates the only man to beat him so far as a professional. Put that same WBO title in the hands of someone else, anyone else, and Butler would have no qualms urging Burnett, a fighter he respects, to go after it and add it to his haul.
“It’s a great little story,” Butler said of Burnett’s rise to double-champion status. “He’s had something like seven fights for Matchroom and five have been title fights. You can only praise him. He’s young in his career and has only had 18 fights. He’s done well. He’s flying. Ryan’s a good, very talented kid.”
As well as good and talented, Burnett is also someone Butler would very much like to challenge at some point in 2018. Indeed, unlike the Tete option, that’s one fight Butler would actively encourage the WBA and IBF kingpin to pursue.
“If I got the chance against Ryan Burnett, I’d jump at that,” he said. “I think we’d make for a brilliant fight; a proper thinking fight. It would be like a chess match. We’ve got good hand speed and foot movement. There’d be plenty of exciting exchanges.”
*** Paul Butler has a ‘defend or vacate’ message for WBA Regular champion Jamie McDonnell in the current issue (digital February 6, print February 8) of Boxing News ***