British bantamweight star Paul Butler lived up to the hype by snatching the IBF title from countryman Stuart Hall via majority decision in Newcastle, England on Saturday. The crowd was pro Hall but they got quieter and quieter as Butler pulled away on the scoring and gave his own large contingent of fans plenty to cheer about.
Two officials scored 115-113 and 117-111 for Butler with the other judge, having a particularly poor night, giving the bout to the champion. THE RING scored 117-112 for Butler.
“It was a tough fight,” said Butler, who was only making his second appearance at 118 pounds. “Things went as I expected and my speed was a factor. Stuart came back like a champion, as you would expect, but the movement gave him problems.”
The jab worked wonders for Butler from the start and there was a clear and decisive edge in hand speed. Hall appeared bewildered in the opening minutes and some of the action was disconcerting to watch, as the challenger appeared levels above.
Butler, with only 15 fights on his resume, was the smaller man but he confidently occupied center ring and popped his man with rapier combinations to the head and body. Hall had a glimmer of success against the ropes in Round 3, but Butler was just too busy and too sharp.
Hall, an immensely proud fighter, bit down hard on his mouth piece in Round 5 and succeeded in applying effective aggression for the first time in the bout. Butler lost a touch of accuracy and the 34 year old veteran took advantage, although he did sustain a nasty gash over his left eye.
The drive continued from Hall into the seventh. Hard jabs were setting up a nice straight right hand to the head and Butler was forced to use his feet to locate escape routes. The pressure was mounting, although the 25 year old challenger still looked extremely fresh at this point.
The eighth was the best round of the bout and produced spirited action by both. Butler took his licks, but he fired back with blazing fists and the variety of his assaults remained eye catching. Hall was catching a lot on the gloves, but he wasn’t getting off and time was running out.
Still Hall would not knuckle under and stood up to the very best Butler could offer in the tenth. He roared back with a furious combination, trying everything in his power to hold on to the title and it was the same again in Round 11, when he pushed Butler to the ropes and let his hands freely.
Both men went to war in a terrific closing round, which turned out to be the entire bout in capsule form. Butler scored brilliantly with combinations to the head for long periods and, only occasionally found himself trapped against the ropes by the champion.
“Paul is a great fighter,” said Hall, who dropped to 16-3-2 (7 knockouts)."
He’s very hard to pin down and very sharp. He was also clever at rolling shots, but I felt that I was getting to him in the middle rounds. I’ll come back stronger as I’m still learning.”
More than one critic felt that Butler would struggle to match his opponent for strength, given that he had only made the jump to 118 pounds in March. Unfortunately for Hall it was skill which was decisive, as the challenger proved too slick and smart.
Accepting a world title tilt was an incredibly audacious choice for the Butler camp to take, but it has paid off in spades. The only issue now, with a mere 16 fights, is that he can’t go backwards. “The Baby Faced Assassin”, as he is known, will now be the target for the cream of the crop at bantamweight and must raise his game in kind.
It was a sad end for Hall, who at 34 years of age, will struggle to get back on the horse. With that said his career has been a rousing success and to have annexed British, Commonwealth and world titles, during his six year tenure, is an achievement which he should be extremely proud of.
Both men weighed in at 118 pounds.
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing