The latest feature interview in Probellum’s ‘In Their Corner’ series focuses on Peter Phelan, the man who has been there every step of the way with Paul Butler, from the amateurs to world title glory and heartache, and back again.
Peter Phelan laughs when asked the question.
“We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a few years on, isn’t it? Although I don’t want to try to lift him and not do it!”
It was June 2014 in Newcastle and Paul Butler had just finished 12 rounds with Stuart Hall, with the IBF world bantamweight title on the line.
Butler’s team were confident of victory, but the challenger became nervous when he saw Hall hoisted onto the shoulders of his coach in celebration.
“Paul looked back and said: ‘Get me up, Mac’, calling Phelan by his nickname.
It would become the defining image of Butler’s most glorious night as a professional as he won the world title, on a split decision, in only his 16th professional contest.
“I lifted him up and the picture went everywhere,” Phelan recalls.
“There’s a lad in Manchester who’s an artist and Paul had it painted for me, I’ve got a little office in the house and that’s where it sits.
“It was very emotional, him giving that to me. I suppose in the end, I should take it to the gym, but it’s me and him on it so, in the office at home, is the probably the right place for it.”
Three fights earlier, Phelan had not been part of Butler’s inner circle but, rather, his old amateur coach who would join friends and family at ringside in support.
But the 65-year-old’s lifetime in the sport, coaching Butler and hundreds of other young boxers at Vauxhall ABC and, then, Wirral CP, meant that Arnie Farnell, the lead trainer at the time, wanted him on board.
Butler and Phelan were only too happy to be reunited and have remained that way ever since.
Phelan, by the way, is into his 41st year as a coach.
And tonight, at Probellum Liverpool, Phelan will be in the corner alongside Joe Gallagher, offering his expert view but, also, acting as a source of comfort for the boxer he first coached well over 20 years ago.
Butler faces late replacement Jonas Sultan in a WBO interim world bantamweight title fight, after the champion, John Riel Casimero, was forced off the show after a ruling by the sanctioning body and the British Boxing Board of Control.
“I try and be a little calming influence at times when things might be getting a bit hectic, certainly with things that have been going on over the past six months,” he said.
“Joe, he asks my opinion, and we get on fine, and so it all works. Joe seems happy with it; Paul is happy with it and I’m made up with it.”
Phelan and the Butler family have become close over the years as the hugely respected coach grew into an important figure in their son’s life.
“Well, I certainly know all the family very well,” he says, smiling.
“We all see each other quite a bit. They are a lovely family, me and his dad are mates now.
“If I’m in Ellesmere Port [Butler’s hometown] and fancy a cup of tea, I go and knock on his door. We do get on very well.”
Phelan says being asked to rejoin Butler’s coaching team was a “very, very special” moment but their bond has strengthened further in recent years by the fighter’s decision to return to his old amateur club as a coach.
“It’s perfect,” he said.
“That’s what sustainability is, you know, and the kids are loving it. They love to be trained by him because of the persona that he’s got. And he’s very good with them.
“Paul coming back, as far as I’m concerned, he’s the future. Yeah, there are a couple of coaches above him in the pecking order but it’s all about keeping the place going and we worked hard to achieve where we are now.”
So how long after Butler walked through the doors as kid weighing no more than 28kg, did Phelan know he had a special talent?
“It’s a question I’ve been asked loads of times and I’ve heard other people say, about different boxers: ‘Oh yeah, I knew right away, when I took this kid…’ he said.
“Look, he was a decent kid, he listened but he was a young boy enjoying what he was doing as well. He always threw a good left hook, which is not something you see. He always threw a good left hook to the body and the head, and when you see them get that, you think: ‘Oh, ok, there’s a little bit about him here’.
“When did I think he had something extra? Probably the second time we took him to New York. The first time he went was in 2000 and we boxed on our show at the Waterfront Crabhouse and he got beat, it was a very close decision and he was he was really upset about it. He was always upset when he lost a contest but when we went back in 2006, he was a totally different animal, really switched on, whereas everyone was: ‘Oh great, we’re in New York’ he was like: ‘I’m here to box and I’m here to win and nothing is going to take this away from me’.
Butler will have that same mindset this evening, with the interim world title on the line, against the dangerous Sultan.
“Hopefully, everything goes well tonight, and he walks away with another title along with that accolade, and he’ll probably be in the gym Monday, telling the kids what they should be doing because that’s the way it is. That’s him,” Phelan said.
But not before he’s been launched onto his shoulders. Maybe.
Butler vs Sultan for the WBO interim world bantamweight title is live, free and exclusive on Probellum.com