ELLESMERE PORT bantamweight Paul Butler, 36-3 (17), will return to title action on May 11 when he fights Norbelto Jimenez of the Dominican Republic for the lesser-regarded IBO version of the bantamweight crown.

The fight, which will take place in Ellesmere Port (just two miles from Butler’s home), marks Butler’s first scheduled 12-rounder since losing against Naoya Inoue in a spirited but ultimately unsuccessful title challenge in December 2022. Following that defeat Butler has fought twice, stopping Jeison Cervantes in six rounds and Nabil Ahmed in two, but has yet to find himself in another title fight or indeed threatened by a well-ranked opponent.

That will change against Jimenez, however.

Jimenez, 33-10-6 (18), is a familiar face in the lower weight classes and has previously boxed for the WBA super-flyweight belt not once but twice; drawing against Kohei Kono in Japan in 2014 and then losing a unanimous decision against Khalid Yafai in 2019. More recently he has been seeing fighting to a draw against Filipino veteran Donnie Nietes and losing widely on the cards against Andrew Moloney, one of the world’s best super-flyweights.

Very much a gatekeeper, then, the challenge for Butler on May 11 will be to perhaps stop Jimenez, something no opponent has managed since 2011 (when Juan Gabriel Guzman Pichardo achieved the feat). Even if unable to, though, there is a guaranteed durability to Jimenez his previous two opponents have lacked and that, for Butler, could be just what he needs as he launches one final run at a major title; or, to use Butler’s words, one of the “big-boy belts”.

“If I didn’t fight in December (against Ahmed) I’d have probably thought, F**k it, I can’t be arsed, and hung the gloves up,” Butler admitted to Boxing News this afternoon (April 5). “I know the kid was no good in December, and he would have never taken a round off me in 50 rounds, but I just needed something. I needed something to get me out there and remind myself I was boxer.

“I got that in December, which I was happy about, and then the plan was to fight Prince Patel. But he obviously vacated his belt, which didn’t really come as a surprise. You only have to look at his record to see he hasn’t boxed anyone. He then didn’t win the purse bids for the fight and funnily enough he vacates. I think he was banking on him winning the purse bids and me then thinking, F**k that, I’m not going to Ghana for seven grand. But I would have done.

“We’ve gone through a few opponents and come up with this kid (Jimenez) who has boxed Yafai and Moloney. He is cute on the inside and he throws nice shots. He knows what he’s doing. He’s no divvy. If I’m not on my game, he will definitely take rounds off me. There are plenty of ways to be beat him, though, and I’m sure we’ll turn the screw as the fight goes on.”

Paul Butler

Paul Butler with his coach, Joe Gallagher (Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

Now 35, Butler, a former IBF bantamweight champion, knows it is imperative that he turns the screw on his professional career as a whole. He knows, in other words, that he cannot afford to waste time or, for that matter, suffer another defeat; even if all three of his to date – against Naoya Inoue, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Zolani Tete – have come against the very elite.

“It’s tough trying to explain it to people who don’t really get boxing,” said Butler. “A few of my mates say to me, ‘Yeah, you’re 35 but you’re still good; you’ve still got it. You boxed Inoue last year.’ But that’s not the point. I can sit here and tell you that I’m a better boxer now, knowledge-wise, than I was at 24. Paul Butler beats the 24-year-old Paul Butler just because I know too much. But the body doesn’t give you time. It’s like that old saying: ‘Father Time waits for no one.’

“I’ve always said that the day my performances start to dip is the day I walk away. I’m not going to be no divvy. I’m not going to have Eddie Hearn ring me up one day and say, ‘I’ve got this young kid you should fight. Take the fight.’ I’ll never be that yardstick. It will never come to that.”

To some extent, Butler boxing in Ellsemere Port on May 11, almost 15 years after he last boxed there, would be a fitting way for his boxing career to conclude. Yet that, rest assured, is not the plan for Butler.

“It’s an eight-minute drive from me,” he said. “I haven’t boxed in Ellesmere Port since my last ever amateur fight in 2010. After I won the ABAs, we had a kind of farewell show and the venue was a stone’s throw from where I’ll be boxing in May. So it’s nice to think it has all come full circle.”