There will be no big celebration tonight for Paul Butler despite being elevated to being WBO bantamweight champion after the decision by the WBO to strip John Riel Casimero of the title. Butler already had plans, which meant he was at his old amateur club training youngsters.
The news was no great surprise after Casimero, who had pulled out of a defense against Butler in Dubai in December when he was struggling to make weight, fell foul of British Boxing Board of Control rules against using saunas to make weight for a rearranged date last month. The bout was scrapped, and Butler beat Jonas Sultan for the interim title instead.
Now there is the prospect of boxing for the undisputed title against either Naoya Inoue or Nonito Donaire, who meet for the WBC, WBA and IBF titles in Japan next month.
“I found out at half seven this morning,” Butler said. “I was fast asleep and my girlfriend came running in the bedroom. It was like ‘Guess what? Guess what?’ I thought someone had died. ‘You’ve been upgraded to full champion’. I was made up.”
For 33-year-old Butler it ended a long wait to be champion again. Eight years ago, he was IBF champion, but he gave it up to step down to super-flyweight in an attempt to win a world title there. It did not work out as planned.
“Back then everything was a mad rush for me – 16 fights world champion,” he said. “The British title came quickly, then the Commonwealth. I was young. This now has been a long wait. I worked hard, I got beaten by Rodriguez and it has been a long, hard route back on the small hall shows, working my way into mandatory positions.
“I wanted it in Dubai badly, I wanted it here at the Echo [Arena] but I think the WBO have done the right thing. The first time you can call it a mistake, the second time he is taking the mickey. I can move on from here and we can stop talking and worrying about Casimero and what he is doing.”
Butler said he had sympathy for Casimero when he struggled to lose wait in Dubai but was shocked by the stupidity of using a sauna in the UK, which is forbidden to stop boxers dangerously dehydrating, and then live streaming him doing it.
“I felt sorry for him in Dubai because I have been in that position and I watched him in the gym three times a day,” Butler said.
“To walk out to the sun loungers by the pool we had to go past the gym, and we would see him in there constantly. Everyone was saying ‘he didn’t want to fight’ – he did want to fight because I watched the hard work that he was putting in.
“So, I felt sorry for him afterwards, because he had obviously done things wrong, he saw me and thought he only had to make weight, but it didn’t work out.
“But this time around he is uploading live videos to his live Facebook, they are in the gym and say ‘let’s go sauna’ and then they are videoing him in the sauna. What type of team does that? It’s just wrong.
“They had boxed here twice before, they know the rules and he had obviously done his homework with the WBO after Dubai and knew there that as long as he didn’t get on the scales he’d not lose his title. You knew there was nothing wrong with him in Dubai.
“They tried to wriggle out of it again, but it was there on video. So, they can’t say he didn’t use it. I don’t feel sorry for him now, because if he struggles that much, he needs to go up to 122 pounds.”
Butler has fallen foul of the anti-sauna rules himself, so he knows how difficult it can be.
“I got pulled out of a WBO super-flyweight eliminator in 2015 because I used a sauna,” he said. “Then I went up to bantamweight and we started to work towards where we are now. It is there for the safety of boxers. I think the British Boxing Board of Control do a great job.
“There will be no celebration. Tonight, I will be in my old amateur gym [Wirrall CP] training the kids. We have got championships coming up, have two in semi-finals next weekend and hopefully pushing them towards national titles.
“It was hard for them in lockdown. It is hard to keep kids disciplined at the best of times, let alone when they have two years to do what they want when they are not allowed in gyms for months at a time. But we’ve been flying since lockdown, we have had a few national champions and the club is really bouncing. Hopefully with me being made full world champion, it will give them the extra ten percent to push on and achieve what I have.”
If he gets the chance to box the winner of Inoue and Donaire for the undisputed title, he will not refuse.
“If the winner of that wants to unify the whole division, that is the route I will go,” he said. “If they don’t, I will have to get a defense in around September or October time.
“You would think that they would both like to unify the division. I know Inoue has aspirations of moving up again, but I am sure he would want to unify first.
“I have never met them. I boxed on the same cards as them, when Inoue boxed [Emmanuel] Rodriguez and then when Donaire boxed [Ryan] Burnett, but I am not the type to go up and ask for a picture, even though they will both go down as legends.
“It would be an honor to share the ring with either one of them. I know I would be a huge outsider, but it is a challenge I would love. I was underdog for Sultan, let alone Casimero. My dad has always said you only get one bite of the cherry, so best take it.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 – covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.