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World Boxing Federation Champions Of The Past: Lionel Butler

Posted on July 7 2015                                              Bookmark and Share
By: Clive Baum



Since the World Boxing Federation was originally founded by American Larry Carrier in 1988, many of the sport’s biggest names have won a WBF title, and proudly defended the blue, red and gold belt all over the world.

In the Champions Of The Past Series we take a closer look at some of the boxers who held WBF titles in years gone by, from lesser known champions to world renowned fighters, legends of the sport and current or future Hall of Famers.

A native of New Orleans, Heavyweight Lionel “The Train” Butler turned to professional boxing at twenty-one years of age, and made his debut in February of 1989 against 2-0 prospect Phil Jackson on a small club show in Biloxi, Mississippi.


Recently released from prison, and with only three amateur fights, expectations were limited despite Lionel showing some talent in the gym. He lost a four-round decision to Jackson, and the story-line of his early career was set when he was matched with Olympic silver medalist Riddick Bowe only two weeks later.

Clearly over-matched against future Hall-of-Famer Bowe, who was making his pro debut, Butler was stopped in the second round. While he won his third paid fight, on points over debutant Michael Carroll, there were no signs that “The Train” was heading anywhere but Journeymanville.

In August of 1989 Butler lost in two rounds to Cleveland Woods (4-1), and, in another gross mismatch, he closed out that year with another inside the distance defeat at the hands of future world title-challenger James Pritchard (21-4-2), managing to last six rounds.

Matched more sensibly, he scored a decision over debutant Troy Jefferson in January 1990, and two weeks later he showed some of his potential when he upset undefeated prospect Jerry Goff (10-0), stopping the favorite in the second round at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans.

Over the next twenty-one months Butler won three more fights and drew once, but lost 6 times, including a ten-round split decision to Oliver McCall (14-3) who would go on to win the WBC World Championship by stopping legendary Lennox Lewis in London four years later.

With a less than impressive 6-10-1 (2) record, it was hard to blame anyone for not predicting a bright future in the ring for Lionel Butler. But amazingly, after losing a split decision to Kevin Ford (10-1) at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California in April of 1991, Butler´s career took a massive turn for the better.

Respected trainer Joe Goosen saw that Butler´s potential was much better than the subpar statistics suggested, and convinced his brother, accomplished promoter Dan Goosen, to sign him up. With the protection and guidance of Dan and Joe, and much better training conditions, Butler started to flourish.

As a regular on Goosen´s shows at the Reseda Country Club, Butler went unbeaten in his next seventeen bouts! After six wins in seven months, the first big test of his new career was against former WBA world champion Tony Tubbs (30-3) on August 18 1992 at the Bayfront Auditorium in Pensacola, Florida.

Tubbs had only lost to Tim Witherspoon by majority decision, to Mike Tyson by second round stoppage, and to Riddick Bowe by ten-round decision, and was still considered top class. Butler however was unimpressed, and came out firing on all cylinders, knocking Tubbs out with a short left hook in the first round.

With the Tubbs annihilation televised by the USA Network, Lionel Butler was starting to make a name for himself, and after a stay-busy victory over trial-horse John Morton (10-22) he won the vacant IBO world title in February 1993 with a fifth round technical knockout of Tony Willis (21-5).

Four more victories followed, against mediocre opposition, before a third round stoppage of another former WBA world champion, James “Bonecrusher” Smith (39-12-1), confirmed that Butler was not just a one-hit wonder. But unfortunately he struggled with substance abuse, which resulted in a positive drug test and him being stripped of the IBO crown.

In February 1994 he stopped Jerry Jones (9-7) in the first round, and in April got rid of Eric Curry (21-3) in the third. But when Butler again tested positive for an illegal substance, the Curry-result was later changed to a No-Contest, and, for whatever reason, he decided to severe ties with the Goosens.

"You could see what was happening" Dan Goossen told The L.A. Times in 1996. "He was virtually not training. It's a sad story. Sometimes you get on the wrong road in life.

I always liked Lionel. I didn't want to take him on because of his record, but Joe was impressed with him and he twisted my arm. Then I thought he was tremendous. Believe me, I never wanted him to leave."

After almost a year out of the ring, Butler returned in March 1995 to stop no-hoper James Flowers (6-8-2) in one round at the Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Having signed with the most famous promoter of all time, Don King, his career seemed to be going well again as King secured him a WBC final eliminator against Lennox Lewis.

But against Lewis (25-1), in May of 1995, Butler came in at the heaviest weight so far in his career, 118,4 Kgs. (261 Lbs.), and looked horrible as the Englishman destroyed him in five rounds in front of more than 8000 fans at the Acro Arena in Sacramento, California.

The loss to Lewis send Butler on a downward spiral of not training properly, and continuing his self-destructive ways with partying and doing drugs. He managed to defeat over-the-hill Mexican Mauricio Villegas (22-11) in his first fight back in March 1996, but was stopped by a soft-punching Chris Byrd (15-0) in April.

Shortly after the Byrd-loss, Butler was arrested on a marijuana-possession charge and spent five weeks in jail. Things were looking very bad for him again, but it would prove too early to write him off completely, and following his release he signed on with Mansfield Collins as his co-manager, a California attorney who still saw opportunities to get “The Train” back on track.

To the L.A. Times, Collins said: "He is, probably not the heavyweight champion of the world right now because of drugs. The new Lionel Butler, you're not going to see him come into the ring overweight. He's the best of Mike Tyson and the best of Joe Frazier, when he's serious and committed."

Big words indeed, but after undergoing drug rehabilitation treatment a rededicated Butler didn’t disappoint his new team. Back in shape and with new focus, he stopped Salvador Maciel (21-10) and Bomani Parker (14-3-1), to line up a crack at the vacant WBF World Heavyweight title in January 1997.

With big names Rafael Ruelas and Jorge Arce squaring off on the undercard, Butler tore through Marcos Gonzalez (17-7-1) from Mexico, forcing a first round knockout. With a fierce body-attack he brought Gonzalez guards down, before sending him to the canvas twice with overhand rights.

The WBF world title belt strapped around his waist, a jubilant Butler said after the short fight: “This time I don’t have to worry about any test being positive. This is just the tip of the iceberg...”

But unfortunately it wouldn’t be long before the iceberg started to melt. In his very next fight, on April 19 1997, Butler headlined a show at the Las Vegas Hilton against undefeated Michael Grant (23-0) and was disqualified in the fourth round.

Butler was deducted a point for a headbutt in the second round, deducted a second point for a blatant low-blow in the third round, and eventually disqualified by referee Richard Steele for another low-blow in round four. Much of the momentum he had rebuild were now gone again, and he never defended his WBF world title.

The following October Butler won a rematch with Cleveland Woods (now 14-13), but would be out of the ring for over a year before traveling to Denmark to face Brian Nielsen (44-0) for his old IBO title in November of 1998. Nielsen stopped an uninspired Butler in the first round, and that was the last time Butler competed for a world championship.

It looked as if the journey was over for Butler as a fighter, but in January 2002 he launched a comeback and won four straight against poor opposition. Weighing as much as 132,5 Kgs. (292 Lbs.), he was nowhere near his best days and in September 2003 it took Andre Purlette (36-2) only two rounds to beat Butler.

After six years of retirement he almost miraculously returned to win a split decision over undefeated prospect Fred Kassi (12-0) in September 2009, but at 42 years of age he finished his career with two defeats in 2010, to Andrey Fedosov (20-1) and Damian Wills (27-2-1).

Former WBF World Heavyweight Champion Lionel Butler retired with a professional ledger of 32-17-1 (25), and these days reside in Venice, California.

While he accomplished a lot under the circumstances, his record would undoubtedly have been even better had he had better management early on, and with a better lifestyle there is no telling how successful he could have been.

  Part 18: Mads Larsen
  Part 17: Ken Sigurani
  Part 16: Orlando Fernandez
  Part 15: Roger Turner
  Part 14: Roy Jones Jr.
  Part 13: Fitz Vanderpool
  Part 12: Steve Roberts
  Part 11: Thulani "Sugarboy" Malinga
  Part 10: Junior Witter
  Part 9: Jimmy Thunder
  Part 8: Juan Lazcano
  Part 7: Jeff Malcolm
  Part 6: Ricky Parkey
  Part 5: Carl Daniels
  Part 4: Angel Manfredy
  Part 3: Samson Dutch Boy Gym
  Part 2: Greg Haugen
  Part 1: Johnny Nelson
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