22-year-old unbeaten flyweight Connor Butler (4-0-1, 1KOs), trained by Paul Stevenson at the thriving Everton Red Triangle Gym, spoke exclusively with BBN’s Editor Tim Rickson during lockdown from his Liverpool home.
The ‘Top Dog’ is a European bronze medalist and currently unbeaten in five fights as a pro. His last assignment was against Brett 'The Theat' Fidoe in February 2020 at the Grand Central Hall in Liverpool, which Butler won on points with a mature, disciplined and classy performance against a strong opponent, who has challenged for an English title and beaten English titleholders.
Here's what the 'Top Dog' had to say:
How’s life during lockdown for you? Have you been training still?
“I’m still working and been doing loads of overtime, so just been smashing work really, and only been getting one day off a week.
“I’ve been ticking over, been doing loads of running, been keeping in touch with Paul [Stevenson]. I managed to get a bit of training equipment, so I’ve been doing garden sessions; I got one of those ‘Bob’ bags, you know in the shape of a dummy, and been using that.
“I haven’t been training full out, just doing bits, staying ready and fit, so when I get back to the gym I’m straight into training. It’s just mainly loads of running and cardio work, bit of shadow boxing. To be honest, I can’t wait to get back in the gym.”
How difficult is it to train without something to aim for?
“I don’t mind it, to be honest, I enjoy training anyway but I miss the environment of the gym.
“When I wake up in the morning I like to think, ‘Right, I’m going to the gym’, but I still do it at home, I get up and do weights in the garden, but it’s not in the right environment, but you got a job to do so you do it, but it just feels strange. The hardest part is not having the lads around me, it feels weird.”
Do you count yourself lucky to have been one of few to have fought already this year?
“Yeah definitely! It’s a little bit frustrating because I boxed Brett Fidoe and I won comfortably on points, and that was sort of the start of it for me – the momentum for a great year. Venues and dates were all sorted – our gym is probably the only stable that organises their dates for the year ahead – so I feel I have missed out on three or four fights. It’s frustrating for me, but I can just imagine what it was like for the people that had fights ready but were cancelled.”
You mentioned that your gym (in association with Black Flash Promotions) schedule their fight dates for the entire year – tell us more about that?
“We’re a very lucky bunch, we get our fight dates for the entire year and I don’t think there’s any other stable in the world that does that, it’s just a shame we can’t get those dates in anymore. But sometimes people don’t know when their next fight is, whereas we do, so we’re lucky.
“We want to get as many fights in as possible, knowing we were going to have five fights this year and now we don’t know when our next fight is... it’s hard, but just got to stay fit and ready for when it’s back again.”
Will you fight behind closed doors if the opportunity is offered?
“I’ll fight anyone, anywhere; behind closed doors makes no difference to me!
“I’ve boxed in Russia in prelims where there’s no one even there. When you’re in that ring, focused on job in hand, my ears only listen out for Paul [Stevenson]. Only time I acknowledge the crowd is the walk to the ring and after the fight. I only hear Paul or the ref, and even then I don’t hear the ref, he has to slap me on the back or pull my arm away! I only select my hearing to pick out Paul’s voice. You do hear other people obviously, you’re not human if you don’t, it’s whether you pay attention to it, and I’m half deaf anyway!”
If life returns to normal within the next month, what would your plans be for the rest of this year?
“If I could have my way, it’d be to have as many fights as possible before the end of the year. Can’t have it all your own way, so I’m happy just to get back in the gym and back training as normal. Just have to take it one fight at a time, but at least one fight before the end of the year and I’ll be happy. My weight’s not bad, so I’m ready to go, just give me four weeks notice!”
How do you see boxing events returning after this pandemic?
“I’m not signed with Frank Warren or Eddie Hearn, as of yet, so they’re only going to put the big fights on, the big names; are you going to want to fill a TV slot with a 5-0 prospect?
“I honestly think the fans make sports; look at the German football league, it’s empty and quiet. Our fanbase is a big part of our shows and finances, small hall shows rely on that, so how’s it all going to work, I don’t know. Me, I’m not signed, so I’d fight for whatever money, my career is just about getting in as many fights as possible, getting my record up, and the money will come.”
Taking about small hall shows relying on ticket sales, how do you think selling tickets will be after all this?
“It’s going to affect ticket sales, one way or the other. People haven’t been out for like 16 weeks, so I reckon you could sell a lot of tickets, but then it might work the other way and people might not want to go out to shows.
“But I don’t think the world will ever be the same again. It’s a proper gamble, I do alright with tickets, I can always do 100 tickets per fight, so I reckon if can sell 100 tickets to the next show then I’ll always be able to.”
Three of your stablemates – Nick Ball, Bradley Strand, Andrew Cain – recently signed with Frank Warren, what has that done for you and your gym?
“Do you know what, I’m made up for Nick, Andrew and Brad, they’re class fighters and they deserve it. When you look at our stable and the talent that’s there – all great fighters, all done well in the amateurs – it’s that little opening of the door; as soon as everyone sees what we’re capable of… but for their own careers, I’m made up for them, that’s a massive leap.
“We box on small hall shows, so as soon as Nick, Andrew and Brad get on TV they will dazzle on them shows. I always watch Frank Warren shows and think ‘imagine if one of us was on that bill, we’d light it up!’
“We are going to be recognised as one of the greatest stables in Britain one day, just need that bit of luck; not even luck, just need that exposure. It’s a weird sport, you could have a killing machine in the gym and no one even knows. We’re not on Sky Sports and BT Sport, but in next few years we will be and people will say ‘Where have these kids been?’
“We’ve all got years in the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’d be lovely to box on Sky now, but I’m 22-years-old and got years ahead of me”
And the head coach of Everton Red Triangle, Paul Stevenson, will his good work be recognised soon too?
“Million per cent! The knowledge that man’s got is just unbelievable. Me telling you just doesn’t do it justice.
“There’s eight fighters in our gym, there was more at one point, but Paul will individually work with each one of those fighters specifically.
“He’s always there for you as well, he wants to know what’s going, he wants to know you’re ok, he’s a good man. He’s boss!
“I’m telling ya, all the lads will say the same thing, when we all come out of the woodwork in the next few years, everyone will know all about Paul and the gym.
“Peter McGrail is one of the best amateurs this country’s ever seen, and Paul’s worked with him the whole way. His younger brother, Joe, is next. Even their older brother, Chris, is as strong as an ox, I think he started boxing late though and has other priorities.
“For us, it’s our job and Paul has got an individual bond with every one of us. There’s mornings where we all go out together for cups of tea and stuff, it’s like a family. I can do a session in my garden, but I miss the gym and that environment; we go to the gym to train hard but also it’s nice to catch up with the lads. It feels weird to only speak to Paul on the phone and not see him for 10 weeks, I feel a bit lost and out of routine. I just want to get back into a routine and get back in the gym and be training again.”
Everton Red Triangle Gym, in association with Black Flash Promotions, plan their entire year’s events ahead. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and subsequent ban on all boxing events under the jurisdiction of the BBBofC, May and July’s events were cancelled. The remaining planned dates are September 5 and November 14.
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