Dan Rafael has confirmed an earlier report from Jake Donovan that WBO middleweight champion Janibek Alimkhanuly will face Steven Butler in a May 13th ESPN main event.
Alimkhanuly (13-0, 8 KO) got the call to fight mandatory challenger Liam Smith last month, but “Beefy” is on the hook to rematch Chris Eubank Jr. Though I haven’t seen confirmation one way or the other, I’m guessing this is technically a voluntary defense while Smith takes care of business.
No. 6 Butler (32-3-1, 26 KO) is honestly a step back from Denzel Bentley, who gave “Qazaq Style” quite a bit more trouble than expected last November. “Bang Bang’s” durability issues have consistently kept him from getting over the hump; Brandon Cook stopped him in 2017 and Ryota Murata did the same almost three years later. While you could write off the former defeat as Butler being young and the latter as a consequence of Murata just being a damn good fighter, there’s no excuse for getting mollywhopped by Jose de Jesus Macias immediately afterwards.
I mean, hell, Macias nearly got swept by Kerman Lejarraga one fight prior.
To be clear, I don’t think this particular bit of bad matchmaking is Alimkhanuly’s fault; the Smith situation is weird and the other guys above Butler in the rankings are either fellow Kazakhs, otherwise occupied (Felix Cash), or dead-set on never fighting for a title (Jaime Munguia). It would just be nice to finally see him fight a genuine top middleweight for once.