Saturday, March 02, 2024  |



Paul Butler bursting with confidence ahead of Tete clash

Fighters Network
Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images


Unbeaten junior bantamweight Paul Butler has already fulfilled his dream of winning a major title and gets the chance to claim another one when he faces IBF titleholder Zolani Tete this Friday at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England.

The British boxer/puncher dethroned countryman Stuart Hall to capture the IBF bantamweight title last June; however, the swift jump to 118 pounds was for one fight only.

Having relinquished his prize, Butler now meets Tete for the chance to become a two-division titleholder and the man known as “The Baby-faced Assassin” is well briefed on his opponent’s plusses and minuses.

“Tete uses his height well and that southpaw stance makes him very awkward,” said Butler, 17-0 (8 knockouts). “He can punch because he’s had 16 knockouts in 19 wins, so there’s obviously a threat in the power department.

“One of his weaknesses is that he hates being pushed backwards and seems to buckle if pressure is put on him properly. If you just walk to Tete without a plan, then he’ll pick you off all day with long punches and that’s why you have to be smart when closing the gap.”

When Butler defeated Hall, he had to rely on punch variety and lateral movement against the bigger and stronger man. That will not be the formula for Tete, THE RING’s No. 5-rated junior bantamweight, because he enjoys both time and distance.

Butler said, “This is a whole different ball game. We knew Stuey Hall wouldn’t shy away from a fight, so our plan was to stay at center ring and outbox him. The challenge against Tete will be making him work and taking him out of his comfort zone.

“I’ve spoken to Arny [trainer Anthony Farnell] about this. We can’t let Tete settle because if he gets into a groove, then I could be in for a very hard night. He’s been out of the ring for eight months, so I plan to take advantage of that by putting it on him from the start.”

The UK boxing scene has been buzzing about Butler for just over two years. The diminutive dynamo from Cheshire looked needle-sharp coming up the ranks, was British and Commonwealth champion by his 11th pro fight and always maintained that fans would see the best of him at world level.

“This is the way I wanted my career to progress because I didn’t want to hang around the domestic scene for too long,” confirmed Butler. “I wanted to push on and get as far as I could because I knew I could cut it against the best fighters in the division.

“It’s a great feeling to have another world title shot, particularly since I’m only coming up to my 18th fight. Most fighters, at this stage of their career, would be approaching a British title shot.”

Butler was ecstatic to have won a major title and was forced to earn it from the rampaging Hall, who stayed on him for 12 torrid rounds. It was a bittersweet experience when Butler had to return the IBF belt and that makes his match-up with Tete all the more important.

Butler said, “I knew I was giving up that title and, in my view, a proper champion should defend. I just wasn’t at my natural weight against Stuey Hall, whereas if I beat Tete, I prove myself on the world stage at 115 pounds.

“Tete is one of the best in the world at this weight, up there with [WBO titlist] Naoya Inoue, strictly because of his height and his awkwardness. If I beat him, it will open up some huge doors for me and then I’ll take on all comers.”

A lot of fighters believe it’s taboo to plan ahead in boxing but Butler throws himself at the future with the same viciousness with which he delivers his patented left hook to the liver. The Englishman is already thinking several moves ahead.

“I would like one defense at the Echo Arena and then I want to unify,” said Butler.

“I’m mandatory challenger for the WBO title. We could have a massive unification fight, although I’m not sure what [Inoue]’s plans are. I’ve heard he’s maybe dropping down to fight [RING flyweight champion] Roman Gonzalez. That being the case, I could box for the vacant [WBO title] and defend my title at the same time.”

So what can Tete expect when he makes the long trip from South Africa to Liverpool? British fans aren’t likely to welcome him with open arms and neither will Butler.

“I honestly believe I can stop him,” said the challenger. “With the pressure I’ll bring and the pace I set, I don’t think he can live with it. It’s not about getting close to him; it’s about educated pressure, making him work, making him think and getting him tired.

“I want to break him down systematically, like I’m chopping down a tree. I’ll be banking the rounds, so that I have confidence in winning a decision, but I believe that I’ll dishearten him and take him out.”

Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing