Steven Butler provided his undivided attention when the discussion within his team turned to fighting for a major title.
The only hesitance in learning that his next challenge would be for the WBO middleweight title was becoming familiar with its claimant, Janibek Alimkhanuly.
“To be honest when the fight was mentioned to me, my first question was “The champion is Janibek? Who is this guy,” Butler confessed to BoxingScene.com. “Then they explained how [Demetrius] Andrade [vacated] his title and Janibek upgraded their little belt (the interim WBO middleweight title) for the big one.
“So after that, I became familiar with him before I took the fight. I believe Janibek has a really good style for me."
Alikmhanuly-Butler will headline a May 13 ESPN telecast from the Stockton Arena in Stockton, California.
The opportunity was wide open for Montreal’s Butler (32-3-1, 26KOs), aside from having to wait out the process where he entered the WBO’s Top 15 middleweight rankings. There was no line to get to Kazakhstan’s Alimkhanuly (13-0, 8KOs), who has struggled to land relevant opposition despite his greatest efforts to secure the division’s best.
Alimkhanuly had to settle for an interim title fight versus Danny Dignum after failed efforts to entice then-WBO middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade and number one contender Jaime Munguia. The unbeaten Kazakh southpaw made quick work of England’s Dignum, scoring a 2nd round knockout to claim the interim title.
The same two fighters turned down opportunities to face even with the full title at stake. Andrade vacated the belt to instead campaign at super middleweight. Munguia’s team never bothered with a response to an offer to enter a mandatory title fight event after Alimkhanuly was made to look human versus Denzel Bentley last November 12 in Las Vegas.
Butler has never been shy about running towards a challenge. It hasn’t always worked, particularly in his failed December 2019 bid for Ryota Murata’s WBA middleweight title in Yokohama, Japan. The setback was the first of back-to-back defeats, from which he has rebounded to win his last four starts.
Saturday’s bout will mark just the second in the U.S. for Butler. His previous stateside trip came in a well-deserved ten-round win over Ukraine’s Vitaly Kopylenko in May 2019 to set up the title shot versus Murata later that year. The 27-year-old middleweight has familiarized himself enough with Alimkhanuly to believe he will win his second fight in as many tries on this side of the border and return home to Canada with the WBO title in tow.
"He’s a southpaw and carries his hands down," noted Butler, who outpointed Joshua Conley over ten rounds last December 16 in his most recent outing.. I have a strong right hand and strong mind. I need a fight like this to be hungry. I need to be challenged. In a challenge, I need a good boxer to put my mind in the right place.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox