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Paul Butler targets the winner of Naoya Inoue vs Nonito Donaire

Paul Butler
Lewis Storey/Getty Images
After being confirmed as the WBO bantamweight belt-holder Paul Butler sets his sights on the division leader, writes Elliot Worsell

LAST Wednesday Liverpool’s Paul Butler received some unexpected but welcome news. In bed at the time, he was woken by the screams of his girlfriend, who then delighted in telling him that John Riel Casimero had been stripped of his WBO bantamweight belt, meaning Butler, for so long linked with Casimero, was now its new owner.

“My girlfriend came running in saying ‘Guess what? Guess what?’ and I thought somebody had died,” Butler told Boxing News. “I asked her what had happened and she said I had been elevated to full champ. My dad then rang me and Joe [Gallagher, trainer] rang me. I’m just buzzing.”

Twice now Butler has been scheduled to fight Casimero for the WBO bantamweight belt and both times the Filipino has been unable to show up, with weight-making issues seemingly the root of his problem. This has twice left Butler in limbo, the first time not fighting at all, and the second time learning of his replacement opponent only on the day of the event.

“In the back of my head, I was thinking, Will they, or won’t they? Will they make me fight him next?” he said. “But it’s twice now. The first time could be a mistake but when it happens again you have to think he’s taking the mick a bit. I thought they would strip him because of that but you just never know in boxing, so I could never be sure.

“Towards the end of the last training camp I was hearing rumours and by fight week I was just sick of hearing about him, to be honest. I just couldn’t wait to finish hearing his name. After the first time, I sort of felt sorry for him, but then he did what he did in Liverpool and I just think, Good riddance to you. He’s no good for the sport. He’s just horrible. He’s got no respect for the sport or his belt. His whole team are cowboys.”

The last time Butler was supposed to fight Casimero was on April 22 in Liverpool. But, alas, that fight would have to be scrapped when Casimero, contrary to British Boxing Board of Control rules, used a sauna in order to lose weight when arriving in Liverpool, losing a reported 10 pounds in just three days. He was then at the 11th hour replaced by Jonas Sultan, another Filipino, whom Butler went on to outpoint over 12 rounds.

“We put all our eggs in one basket and concentrated on Casimero,” said Butler. “We knew how unprofessional he was and knew anything could go wrong at any time, but we trained literally just for him. We expected him to make weight this time and didn’t entertain the prospect of there being other opponents. The only time I got to watch Sultan was the morning of the fight.

“I was really happy with my performance, though. Considering we had only 15 minutes to run over a game plan, I thought we nailed it. We spoke on the phone, me and Joe, about how we’d go about it, but we only actually had 15 minutes in the changing room to work things out before the fight.

“I know it was a few years ago he beat Casimero [in 2017], but Sultan’s still a top operator. He could bang, definitely, but I knew I could take one or two shots pretty clean and not feel it. If he put three, four or five together and caught me clean, that’s when I would have struggled. But I was fine with one punch. There was no stage where I was buzzed. You could see him desperate to let his hands go but I just nullified him.”

Now, with Casimero a name Butler will never again have to say, the 33-year-old can look forward to other opponents and opportunities, the biggest of which might reveal itself on June 7, when Japanese star Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue rematches Nonito Donaire in Saitama.

“My main target is the winner of Inoue vs Donaire,” Butler confirmed. “I’d be silly not to look at the winner of that. If that could get made soon, that’s even better for me. It would be for the undisputed title and I’d be daft not to want to be involved in a fight like that.

“Either one of them, you’re in with a legend of the sport. More than likely it will be Inoue, even though Donaire caused him a lot of problems last time. I just think Inoue comes out on top in the rematch.”

Butler, 34-2 (15), added: “If I fight Inoue next, I’m stepping in with an absolute legend. He’s someone who is going to go on and win many, many more world titles at numerous weights. He’s magnificent.

“I watched him live at The Hydro [Glasgow] against [Emmanuel] Rodríguez and thought Rodríguez had a really good first round. I was expecting it to be a competitive fight, but then Inoue came out for the second and as soon as he caught Rodríguez clean that was pretty much it. He’s just so destructive. He’s a very smart fighter, too. He’s someone I enjoy watching as a fan even though he’s in my weight category.”

Best of all, should Butler fight Inoue later this year he will be able to replace the fear of an opponent not showing up with, in boxing terms, a far more natural and productive fear.

“If you don’t have that fear factor, there’s no point being in the ring,” he said. “I’ve had loads of fights where I’ve gone into the ring with no fear at all. My first few fights after losing against Rodríguez [in 2018] I was thinking, I’m going to win this anyway. You don’t have fear in training and you don’t diet properly as a result. You’ve got to have that fear and Inoue certainly gives you that.”

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