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Naoya Inoue v Paul Butler Title Fight Undisputed Disappointment

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Naoya Inoue v Paul Butler Title Fight Undisputed Disappointment

To call a pro boxer a bum or a tomato can is not something that should be done, almost ever. If someone steps into a ring, and gives their best effort to win, they deserve respect, even if their skills are lacking. But on Tuesday, the performance of Paul Butler against Naoya Inoue was such that he earned rightful scorn from those who took the time to watch the bantamweight title fight, which unfolded in Tokyo, and was available for viewing in the US on ESPN+.

Maybe Butler, who held the WBO version of the 118 pound belt, went to Japan with the intention of doing his level best to best Inoue, who entered the ring holding the IBF, WBA and WBC straps. The efforts of the Englishman, who came to Japan with a 34-2 record, however, as the rounds progressed, told viewers that he sought to survive, not thrive.

Paul Butler comes to the ring to face Naoya Inoue.

What was Butler thinking as he strode to the ring? How he had next to no chance to beat The Monster?

The 34 year old Butler, who defeated 18-5 Jonas Sultan in April to grab the WBO “interim” belt, didn’t have an obvious career best win coming in…so maybe blame should be dispersed accordingly. How did he ascend to the top of the WBO’s ratings, and “earn” a crack at The Monster?

Yes, this bout is a prime example of the tomfoolery which is so typical of the sport, which deserves its dwindling status when this sort of shady matchmaking runs rampant. This was a foregone conclusion, and shame on those involved for being party to it.

For those good souls who set their alarm clock for 6 am to take in the spectacle, so sorry, because Butler did his best to earn a symbolic victory, by going twelve rounds. Naoya Inoue, who raised his record to 24-0 (20 KOs), took out the Brit in round 11, much to the delight of those who’d watch him sprint around the ring to avoid contact.

Naoya Inoue holds four bantamweight title belts

Yes, Inoue is “undisputed.” But if one of those belts was held by a “champ” of iffy caliber, how meaningful is the honor?

Inoue entered the ring a 60 to 1 favorite, so questions should be directed to the WBO, as to why they had that level of boxer situated so sweetly. And this sort of outing does no favor to Inoue co-promoter Top Rank; they have one of the five best boxers on earth on their roster, and his talent is wasted when he’s put in with this caliber of pugilist.

The stats, ugly as they are: Inoue connected on 151 of 665 punches, while Butler landed 38 of 301. Do the math, friends, Butler let his hands go at an unacceptable rate, about 27 punches a round. Thankfully, his strategy wasn’t rewarded, with Inoue ramping it up in the 11th, finally able to get around and through Butlers’ high guard.

Repeatedly, Naoya Inoue gestured and indicated his desire for Butler to act like he was in a fight, not a track meet. Butler, fighting out of Cheshire, England, used “Eye of the Tiger” as one of his entrance songs, and he should be forced to pay 25% of his purse to charity for this false advertising.

Analyst Tim Bradley said, “I’m OK with that at the moment,” when talking about Butlers’ focus on defense in round one. The focus didn’t waver, though. By round three, Bradley noted that Butler wasn’t matching his pre-fight talk. “Punching bag work” is how the Hall of Famer-to-be described things in round four.

Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley calling the Inoue-Butler fight.

Credit goes to Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley, for not sugar coating the showing by Paul Butler.

To start round five, Butler fired some jabs, so watchers hoped, OK, maybe now the Brit would open up some, because otherwise how would he hope to win? Yes, his output in this round was within the bounds of reason, he moved plenty, but he also threw.

Indeed, Butler would now and again fire a combo, as he did in round 8. So you held out hope that the Brit had a plan to ramp it up late on Naoya Inoue, maybe.

Nah, there was to be no ramping.

And honestly, this sort of outing wouldn’t draw such scorn if the stakes were different. Boxing, though, does itself no favors hyping unification fights of this sort. Really, come on, who cares about the designation “undisputed” when the foes are so obviously lesser grade combatants? You can fool all the people some of the time, sure, but smart boxing fans know that much ado is being made of an accomplishment that sounds better than it is, in reality. It’s like when Adrien Broner protests that his legacy is in fact on high ground, because he’s won world titles four times, or whatever. This is a degraded era, and the level of dilution, because of the proliferation of title belts, means boxing is at the level it deserves in the grand scheme of things, within the sports world at large.

Bradley got props for saying it like it is, as he said to partner Joe Tessitore of the cyclist-pugilist after 8, “He’s content, Tess, content with going the distance.”

The fans at Ariake Arena were too polite to send a message to Butler, and his coach Joe Gallagher, who applauded his boxer for moving laterally so skillfully. “Tess, I’ll let you know right now, I’ll be happy if I don’t see Butler ever again, he’s not even contending in this fight. I’m just flabbergasted…he’s not competing, just surviving,” Bradley said.

The way I hear you talk, and what I see out of Butler, you get the sense to him the victory was getting the contract signed,” Tessitore, to his credit, answered.

Mercifully, the bout didn’t go the distance, and so Butler wasn’t rewarded for his strategic shitting of the bed.

A right to the body and a left hook to the chin by Naoya Inoue started the end game sequence. A nine punch parcel of Inoue head shots had Butler drop to his belly. He raised his head, thought up getting to his feet, but shook his head, silently answering the voice in his head which commanded him to follow the fighters’ code. Nope. “Dismisses an unengaged Paul Butler,” is how Tessitore artfully worded the closing scene.

Butler came over, and kissed Inoue on the ear, offering congratulations to his conqueror.

Paul Butler kisses Naoya Inoue after Inoue knocks him out.

Paul Butler, kissing his conqueror Naoya Inoue.

As Inoue had his hand raised, and got that fourth belt placed onto his body, Paul Butler clapped. Nope, he was not, apparently, too disappointed at losing to Naoya Inoue, because to him, just being there was a win. That is understandable, I guess, to a point, he is a being who like all of us is simply doing the best they can to navigate life. So, probably the best takeaway from this isn’t to savage the legacy of Paul Butler, but instead to point the fingers at the system of the sport, which encourages cynical exercises like this one. There is ample blame to be allocated, and all involved deserve a portion. Here was yet another occasion where the sport showed why its fanbase dwindles.

Editor/publisher Michael Woods got addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the thought to be impregnable Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and for Facebook Fightnight Live since 2017. He now does work for PROBOX TV, the first truly global boxing network.