Fight fans should finally discover the full extent of Paul Butler’s precocious talent this Saturday when he challenges Darlington’s iron tough IBF bantam boss Stuey Hall at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena.
A former world class amateur, the 25 year old from Ellesmere Port cruised to British and Commonwealth honours plus a string of InterContinental belts down at super-fly whilst posting perfect 15-0 stats as a pro. And the media have been left drooling over his silky skills and rib bending body attacks.
But hard man Hall represents an altogether stiffer test to anything Butler has previously encountered. Victory this weekend would cement his standing as the brightest young thing in British boxing.
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‘The Baby Faced Assassin’ was bristling with self belief when boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with him last night.
You made a sensational debut at 118lbs in March scything down Argentina’s Oreste Bernabe Nieva with body shots in round four. Physically, what were the advantages of competing in the higher weight category?
I felt more powerful and able to really sit down on my shots. The guy had lost just two of 19 going in and had never been stopped before so I was very eager to make a statement to force the fight with Stuey. Clearly it worked cos here we are.
But it wasn’t just the added weight that improved me but also all the hard graft I’ve been putting in to develop in the gym under ‘Arnie’ Farnell.
I’ve been working with new strength and conditioners since January. It’s not just about looking bigger, eating more food, drinking more fluids. We’ve tried to add he weight scientifically, developing pure muscle in the right areas, similar to how Amir Khan did it when he moved up from light-welter to welter recently. He looked fantastic on the scales and we’ll be the same.
I’ve been developing my upper body and lifting dead weights; explosive bursts to increase my speed and power.
Was the rise to bantamweight by necessity or simply to provoke a fight with Stuey Hall?
To chase the IBF title fight. We check my body fat every fortnight and it’s still safe for me to make 114 pounds, one pound inside the super-flyweight limit.
But we got wind that we could get an opportunity to fight whoever for the IBF bantam last December so have been working towards that ever since. I expected to get my chance in March but when Stuey chose Martin Ward, I thought the opportunity would pass me by. But Frank’s worked his magic and we’re just five days away now.
Regardless of whatever technical limitations Hall’s detractors may wish to list, few could dispute that the champion is formidably strong and rugged at 118lbs. How do you intend to negate that?
By giving him a boxing lesson. It’s not all about standing in front of him and having a grapple. Boxing’s an art and I’ll find the angles to frustrate him.
I know they’re intent on trying to drag me into the later rounds where they think his brawn will tell but after six rounds it becomes MY fight, not his.
Stuey ‘gassed out’ after half way against Malinga. It was just the occasion, the crowd, that got him through. It was his big moment and he responded positively.
Both sides have been making a lot of noise regarding the spars that you shared a few years ago. Nevertheless, on the basis of that experience, were you surprised that Stuey went on to compete at world level?
Definitely. I didn’t think he’d be anything more than a good British or European level fighter. Fair play to him. Like they say, it’s a real Cinderella story. Not many boxers can look back on their careers and say they made it to world champion. But now he’s got something that I want.
And I don’t think he’s improved massively since when we sparred back then. His left hand still comes back low after he jabs. His hands dangle by his waistline when he hooks and these are things that I intend to exploit.
Look, Stuey’s very game if you just stand in front of him. That’s where others have gone wrong. Jamie McDonnell didn’t stand in front of him, Lee Haskins didn’t stand in front of him. They both beat him comfortably. Anyone with speed and know how can beat Stuey every day of the week.
Stuey’s the naturally bigger man, boasts greater experience and is fighting on home court yet still the bookies have installed you as a clear favourite. Does that bolster your confidence or add unneeded pressure?
It doesn’t faze me. I don’t look at that. All I’ll say is the bookies rarely get it wrong. You don’t see any riding a bike. They’re wealthy for a reason.
Were you as impressed as everybody else by Stuey’s world title win over Vusi Malinga in December?
Stuey boxed great that night. But he tried to fight every battle. He could’ve made it far easier for himself by stepping back once in a while. Malinga was just tough and strong. After Stuey dropped him with that right hand in round three he made a big mistake trying to get rid of Malinga. Still, he showed a load of grit to get through to the end with one eye badly closed.
You’re likely to receive a lively welcome from your Geordie hosts on Saturday evening? Is that a concern? Have you experienced anything similar previously?
When I was just 17, I once boxed (London 2012 silver medallist) John Joe Nevin over in Ireland. That was quite hostile and I was very young. John Joe was a very good kid but I still beat him so I don’t expect to be fazed by Newcastle.
I’d rather fight in the other fella’s back garden. I thrive off the animosity. I buzzed off fighting Ashley Sexton before his mob at the York Hall.
Anyway, I’ll be bringing 500 of my lot across. I won’t be without support.
Have you encountered anyone previously, amateur or professional, who poses similar problems to those that Stuey is likely to set you on Saturday?
Ashley Sexton was probably the closest. People bang on about Hall’s strength but they forget that Sexton was unbeaten in 14 and outweighed me by ten pounds inside the ring. Yet I beat him comfortably on his own patch.
Sexton tried to capitalise on the weight advantage. It didn’t work for him and it won’t work for Stuey Hall. I know he thinks he’ll try and get through the first half then put it on me in the later rounds. No chance. In sparring, my later rounds have been far more impressive than my early rounds.
Saturday represents the biggest challenge of your career thus far. In what ways have you stepped up your programme to prepare for it?
Apart from the strength and conditioning changes I mentioned earlier, to adjust to the weight, I’ve prepared similarly to how I always have. Obviously tactics vary from fighter to fighter but you don’t change what isn’t broken. I’ve been working towards beating Stuey Hall since January.
What particularly do you need to be mindful of?
Stuey throws a nice one-two if you stand in front of him. He doesn’t like to take a step back. However, as McDonnell and Haskins both showed, if you slip and slide, side to side, he gets lost. I don’t plan standing in front of him.
And what does Stuey need to be mindful of?
Everything. I can box, fight, push him back, hurt the body…….They can’t possibly have a clue what our game plan will be. In a recent interview he admitted that I hurt him to the body when we sparred but said he disguised it well. If I hurt him wearing big gloves on, I’ll snap him in half with small ones.
Fight week is now upon us and all the hard physical prep has been done. All that’s left now is to get your mind right and perhaps score a few psychological points at the head-to-head presser on Thursday or the weigh-in on Friday. Is that a part of the sport which you enjoy?
Yeh, I quite like all that. It’s part and parcel of the game. I’m looking forward to the head-to-head before his crowd. Stuey seems to fancy himself as a hard case on the street so might try to put it on me but I’ll definitely be standing my ground. If he’s looking for a reaction, he can expect to get one.
Finally, what type of fight can fans expect to see on Saturday night? Why are you confident that Paul Butler will be crowned world champion?
It’ll be high paced. I want to make him feel the pace because I know he can’t stay with me. Once I start to push him backwards over the second half, I’ll gradually start to hurt him. I’m much better in every department. Stuey Hall can’t beat me. No way.