Big-punching Steven Butler resurrected his career with four wins in a busy 2022. Those wins helped cement his place in the middleweight division and went some way to earning him a shot at WBO titlist Janibek Alimkhanuly at the Stockton Arena, Stockton, Calif., on Saturday.
Butler, who had lost to WBA beltholder Ryota Murata (TKO 5) in his previous world title attempt in December 2019 and then surprisingly to Jose De Jesus Macias (TKO 5), admits to falling in love with his own power and knew he needed to breathe new life into his flagging career after back-to-back loses.
“We had a great year, last year,” Butler (32-3-1, 26 knockouts) told The Ring. “I’m glad for this opportunity. We only work for an opportunity like this.
“Before my losses to Murata and Macias, I felt like nobody can beat me. I felt my power was too strong and you’re young and undefeated and can knock everybody out.
“[The losses] put me in a better position to [improve] and to practice on some specific things that weren’t good, like my defense. I’ve just dedicated myself more to working on the things I’m not as good at. I learnt a lot about myself from the defeats.”
Butler knows Alimkhanuly is an elite fighter but welcomes the opportunity to not only fight for a world title but also show he can mix with one of the best 160-pounders in the world.
“It’s a very big fight, he’s a great boxer, I’ve got nothing bad to say about him,” said Butler. “That experience helps me, for sure because when I go to the ring with Murata, I see the difference between a guy like Murata and a guy that I fought in Canada. I saw the International boxer is different. I sparred with Canelo [Alvarez] Miguel Cotto, [Demetrius] Andrade, I sparred with a lot of elite boxers. I can see the difference and I adjusted myself to be a boxer like that. I want to be a part of the elite boxers. I think at 27, I will be a part of the elite boxers after May 13.”
The Montreal resident comes into this fight with a heavy-heart after losing his best friend earlier this year.
“He was a strong part of my motivation for this fight because nobody wanted me to be a world champion more than him,” said Butler tinged with sadness. “That’s his dream, my dream, we had a dream together. We know outside on the streets there is nothing good for us. It is very difficult but we have to live with [his passing.] We cannot change the past but we’re working to change the future and have a great life. He is my biggest motivation for this fight.
“It is a dream come true [to be a world champion.] We’re working on every detail. We’re ready for anything, we’re ready for the best Janibek. We’re hungry and we need this fight. I need to take my chance when it comes, I need to seize on any mistake in the fight. I’m just excited about May 13 to put everything together and win the fight.”
Camille Estephan, of Eye of the Tiger Management, is optimistic his charge can become his company’s newest world champion.
“I know it’s a cliche but Steven truly has had the best camp of his career so far, he’s super focused and motivated,” said Estephan. “I think he will test Janibek’s will. It is going to be a war.
“Obviously, it would be huge for Eye of the Tiger and we’re coming to Stockton confident.”
Alimkhanuly enters as a strong betting favorite. However, as Butler said he’s supremely motivated after the personal loss and has the one thing every underdog wants in their armory, fight ending power. The defending champion will have to be careful of that. I expect a fan-friendly fight between two offensive fighters.
Alimkhanuly (13-0, 8 knockouts), The Ring’s No. 3 rated middleweight, won gold at the 2013 World Championships before representing Kazakhstan at the 2016 Olympics, where he lost at the quarter-final stage. As a professional, he moved quickly and scored impressive wins over Rob Brant (RTD 8) and Hassan N’dam (TKO 8).
The 30-year-old power-punching southpaw took a part Danny Dignum (KO 2) to win the vacant WBO interim title. When Demetrius Andrade didn’t return to middleweight, Alimkhanuly was upgraded to full champion. He has since looked less impressive edging past unheralded Denzel Bentley (UD 12) in his maiden defense.
Alimkhanuly-Butler and Moloney vs. Astrolabio will be broadcast on ESPN beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
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