By Paul Mason
You might be forgiven for thinking the title of this article alluded to Marco Antonio Barrera once again taking on old nemesis Manny Pacquiao. But an intriguing contest takes place as chief support on the big Bellew v Haye II bill, as Ellesmere Port’s likeable and talented Paul Butler goes for World Title number two, and to attempt to regain a Title he never lost in the ring. He takes on the Puerto Rican largely unknown quantity in Emmanuel Rodriguez, with the IBF Bantamweight World Title the prize for the winner.
Butler gained the IBF title in an entertaining scrap in Newcastle in 2014, with a points win (split decision) over Darlington’s Stuart Hall. Butler has since repeated the trick over “Stuey” in more emphatic fashion at the Echo Arena, Liverpool, in September 2017 to leave no doubt as to who was the better man. The original plan then was to try and lure WBA Bantamweight Champion Jamie McDonnell to the ring, as the repeat win over Hall was a big ranking builder with the organisation. However, as we now know, McDonnell has again signed up to a massive task, when he takes on the WBO Super Flyweight Champion, Japanese “monster” Naoya Inoue, who moves up in weight to challenge the Doncaster man for his belt. The fight takes place in Ota City, Japan, on May 25th.
Instead, Butler gets a just as tough assignment of his own, but one he is more than capable and confident of winning. The IBF Title is currently vacant due to Ryan Burnett’s obligations as WBA (Super) Champion preventing him from satisfying both governing bodies at the same time following his unification win over Zhanat Zhakiyanov in October 2017. Despite Butler being a former World Champion, and still a World level operator, he finds himself a 12/5 betting underdog (Ladbrokes) for the bout with Rodriguez.
Following his coronation in Newcastle in 2014, Butler decided that his weight lay still at Super Flyweight, a weight where he had had so much success in the past. He had already captured both British and Commonwealth crowns at the weight, as well as fringe WBA and WBO belts. So it was no surprise when, after a routine near shutout win on his return to Super Flyweight, he grabbed the chance to fight for the IBF World Title at Super Flyweight as soon as the opportunity arose. Unfortunately for Butler, the man he would run into was a man making the second defence of his Title, the then-underrated South African, Zolani Tete. We now know Tete to be an explosive puncher and skilful operator, and this was demonstrated in ruthless style in Liverpool in March 2015. Butler’s dreams of becoming a two-weight World Champion were cruelly dashed by Tete, who, after controlling the fight, dropped and then emphatically stopped Butler in the eighth round, handing him his first career loss in the process.
Changes were needed, and firstly, Butler changed trainers in early 2016, from Anthony “Arnie” Farnell to, first Oliver Harrison, and then to the burgeoning stable of Joe Gallagher in Bolton. Butler enjoyed seven straight wins after the Tete setback with the various training teams, and a promotional change was then in order. Butler made the move from Frank Warren to Eddie Hearn and has looked a lot more content ever since. He began with a routine six rounder, stopping Carlos Ruben Dario Ruiz in four at the Manchester Arena. Then came the Hall repeat win, and in his last fight, he stopped Jefferson Vargas in the last of an eight-rounder in February at the same arena he will box in on Saturday night.
His opponent on Saturday comes to London with a 17-0 record, with twelve knockouts on the slate. A professional since June 2012, Emmanuel Rodriguez racked up nine straight wins, seven in his native Puerto Rico, and two in Nicaragua, before gaining the WBO Latino Bantamweight belt by spectacularly knocking out the 13-1 Miguel Cartagena inside a round.
He defended the belt twice, winning both by stoppage, before picking up the WBA Fedelatin and interim WBC Latino Titles, knocking out Alex Rangel in seven. Rodriguez would then make his US debut, stopping Eliecer Aquino in seven rounds. The Seminole Hard Rock in Bollywood would be the next stop and a unanimous ten round decision win over Alberto Guevara.
His last two fights have been back in his homeland, knocking out Robinson Lavinanza in a round before his last contest, a fourth-round retirement win over the 16-5 Giovanni Delgado. So we know that Rodrigues has knockout power, but Butler has a great engine and is a skilled boxer. For my money, if Butler can negotiate the first six rounds, his superior fitness should be enough for him to hold off Rodriguez. I have a sneaky feeling this fight could be similar to when Ricky Burns won the WBO Super Featherweight Title with a win over another Puerto Rican, in the teak-tough Roman “Rocky” Martinez back in December 2010. Burns was down in the first but managed to overcome some rough patches to triumph on the cards. I think Butler wins this on points.