Paul Butler was prepared to leave his home country for a shot at becoming a two-time bantamweight titlist.
The patience that has come in waiting out a new fight date will now come with a home game.
John Riel Casimero will move forward with his mandatory defense of his WBO bantamweight title versus Butler, with the sanctioning body approving a request to reschedule for April 23 in Liverpool, England. The ruling handed down Thursday comes more than a month after Casimero was forced to withdraw from their previously scheduled December 11 main event in Dubai after contending with pre-fight gastritis.
“Please be advised that the WBO World Championship Committee grants sanction approval for the above-referenced Bantamweight Mandatory bout between John Riel Casimero and Paul Butler, scheduled for Saturday, April 23, 2022, in Liverpool, England, United Kingdom,” Luis Batista-Salas, chairman of the WBO Championship Committee noted in a letter to all involved parties, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. :[K]indly note that Casimero has not discharged a mandatory title defense since winning the title against Zolani Tete on Saturday, November 30, 2019, at the Utilita Arena, Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom.
“Thereafter, Casimero had two successful voluntary title defenses against Duke Micah on Saturday, September 26, 2020, at the Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, Connecticut, and against Guillermo Rigondeaux on Saturday, August 14, 2021, at the Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, California, USA, respectively. Consequently, more than two years have elapsed without a mandatory title defense, and therefore, Casimero must discharge his mandatory defense obligations per WBO Regulations.”
Casimero (31-4, 21KOs) will attempt the third defense of the title he claimed in a third-round knockout of Tete in November 2019. The rescheduled bout with Butler will mark his first fight back in the U.K. since his win over Tete to become a three-division titlist.
A string of bad luck has since followed the brash Filipino, in part due to the pandemic though other circumstances further complicating his career progress. Casimero was scheduled to face fellow three-division and reigning WBA/IBF bantamweight champ Naoya Inoue (22-0. 19KOs) in an April 2020 title unification bout in Las Vegas. The event was canceled due to the pandemic, with event promoter Top Rank never coming back around to reschedule the fight.
Two title defenses have followed, beginning with a third-round knockout of unbeaten but untested Duke Micah in September 2020. Casimero was set to move forward with a title unification clash versus countryman and reigning WBC bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire (42-6, 28KOs), only for the fight to fall apart over a very public and ugly dispute over drug testing and crass comments from Casimero’s camp.
Casimero went on to face Miami’s Rigondeaux in an August 14 clash that registered as the worst-performing title fight of 2021. Casimero won a split decision, though both fighters were roundly scorned for failing to take the lead.
Hopes of revisiting a title unification bout were trumped by the WBO calling for an overdue mandatory title defense versus Butler (33-2, 15KOs), a former IBF bantamweight titlist currently riding a seven-fight win streak.
The matter went to a purse bid hearing, with Probellum—an upstart company founded by Richard Schaefer whose roster of recently fighters includes Butler—claiming the rights with $105,000 as the lone bidder. The fight was to headline Probellum’s first promotional venture, only for Casimero to fall out during fight week.
Efforts to keep Butler on the show included a contingency plan in the form of a fight with Joseph Agbeko, who was on the undercard and prepared to step up for the makeshift interim title fight. Butler declined, preferring to just revisit plans for his due shot at Casimero.
That wish was granted, with the fight now taking place less than 30 minutes from Butler’s hometown. The 33-year-old contender made his 2010 pro debut in Liverpool, with the city hosting nearly half of his 35 pro bouts to date. Butler’s last appearance there came in a March 2019 stay busy win in his second fight following a twelve-round loss to then-unbeaten Emmanuel Rodriguez in their May 2018 vacant IBF bantamweight title fight.
Butler has fought twice since the pandemic, earning an eight-round win over Ryan Walker in October 2018 and a ten-round split decision over Willibaldo Garcia last June 25 in Bolton, England.
The April 23 date satisfies a deadline imposed by the WBO last December, stating that the fight must take place no later than April 30, 2022. The extensive amount of time between mandatory title defenses leaves zero tolerance in place for either fighter to drop out of the fight.
Should Casimero fail to proceed with the title defense for any reason, he will be stripped of the title and with Butler eligible to fight for the vacant crown versus the next highest-ranked available challenger.
If Butler is unable to honor the April 23 fight date, he will be removed as the mandatory challenger. Casimero would then be free to defend against the next highest-ranked available challenger and thus relieve himself from a mandatory title defense obligation until the next assigned period.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox