Steven Butler was presented with a direct path to a title shot. In choosing another direction, the streaking contender has now disrupted plans for two middleweight fights.
The timeframe will remain the same for Canada’s Butler, whom BoxingScene.com has learned will now instead challenge Ryota Murata for the latter’s World Boxing Association (WBA) secondary middleweight title. The bout is being targeted for December in Japan, to stream live on ESPN+ in the United States although an exact date and location have yet to come to surface.
ESPN.com senior writer Dan Rafael was the first to report the development.
News of the bout comes just days after Butler (28-1-1, 24KOs) was due to enter negotiations for a mandatory title challenge versus Demetrius Andrade (28-0, 17KOs). The fight was formally ordered by the World Boxing Organization (WBO), although conflicting comments from all parties involved suggested the matchup was likely dead on arrival. Butler’s co-promoter Golden Boy Promotions was eager to enter talks with Eddie Hearn, Andrade’s promoter whom had already whispered to reporters that such a fight was already being targeted for mid-December.
Meanwhile, Camille Estephan—Butler’s manager and local promoter in Canada—noted to BoxingScene.com over the weekend that they had several options to weigh before deciding on whether or not to entertain talks with Andrade, a 2008 U.S. Olympian and two-division titlist who was looking to make the third defense of his middleweight crown.
Apparently that decision has been made, although Estephan has not yet replied to a follow-up inquiry from BoxingScene.com seeking comment as this goes to publish.
The change in plans comes as a surprise, not so much in the choice of opponent but that it also means a different path for Murata as well. The 2012 Olympic Gold medalist from Japan was due to enter a rubber match with Rob Brant, which was also being targeted for later this year.
Murata regained his old middleweight title in July, scoring an emphatic 2nd round knockout of Brant just nine months after dropping a lopsided decision to the high-octane American middleweight last October in Las Vegas, Nev.
Despite the one-sided rematch, Brant was all too eager to do it again as he immediately exercised a rematch clause for a third fight. A rematch clause was also in the contract for their first fight, although Murata (15-2, 12KOs) allowed Minnesota’s Brant (25-2, 17KO) an optional defense, in which he scored an 11th round knockout of previously unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov this past February in his home region of Hinckley, Minn.
From there came the rematch, despite Murata having not fought since the aforementioned loss which ended his first title reign at exactly 52 weeks. His first tour as a secondary middleweight titlist also came on the heels of avenging a past defeat, scoring a 7th round stoppage of Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in their Oct. 2017 sequel, just five months after suffering a highly questionable 12-round defeat.
In making room for Murata to now face Butler, Brant has reportedly softened his stance on entering an immediate third fight, BoxingScene.com has learned. Next steps in his career remain unclear, as his team would neither comment on that subject nor confirm his agreeing to step aside for a Murata-Butler title fight.
As for Andrade, the search continues for what he hopes will be his third fight of 2019. Assuming that Butler will be removed as the WBO mandatory once his fight with Murata is made official, the likely order of business would be to order a fight with the next highest ranked contender. Currently sitting in that position is Alantez Fox (25-1-1, 12KOs), a 6’4” middleweight from the greater Washington D.C. area who has won two straight since dropping a 12-round decision to Andrade for his lone career loss in Oct. 2017.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox