Butler's odd world of walkabouts

Ken Jones in Sacramento on an elusive opponent for Lennox Lewis' world heavyweight title eliminator
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An indication of Lionel Butler's erratic behaviour is the harrassed look worn by those who are employed to keep him in order. Never knowing what to expect, they answer the telephone nervously. Another day, another problem.

For example, earlier this week, shortly after Butler confounded persistent rumours by showing up for a World Boxing Council heavyweight title eliminator against Lennox Lewis in Sacramento this Saturday, police officers investigated reports of a violent incident at his quarters. On the floor of a room next to Butler's on the open first floor landing of a modest motel, the Canterbury Inn, they found an empty magazine from a hand-gun and a trail of 9mm rounds. After abandoning a search for the parent weapon one of the officers quipped, "Guess they must have been throwing the bullets."

Butler will never be mistaken for a dedicated type who reserves his eccentricities for the ring. As various promoters will testify, finding him can be a problem. Over the past few months, with no obvious intention, he has been sighted in San Francisco, Miami, New Orleans, Houston and Los Angeles. He disappeared from a hotel in Houston leaving the Duva organisation, Main Events, with a massive bill that was discovered to include telephone calls of more than $1,000 (£625) to its deadly rival, Don King.

Not even King, whose step-son Carl is strategically placed as Butler's manager, can always be sure of his whereabouts. It is possible that King does not care. The prospect of Lewis defeating Butler to become No 1 in the WBC ratings intrudes upon the grand plan King has in mind for Mike Tyson who has been guaranteed elevation to leading contender once he resumes his career.

With that in mind it can be assumed that King will not be sending out search parties should Butler choose suddenly to go walkabout. A squalid if perhaps remote possibility is that Lewis's opponent could be Ray Anis, who has remained in serious training since a contest against Frank Bruno failed to materialise. Greatly to King's benefit, the WBC would not sanction Lewis versus Anis as an eliminator.

So far, Butler has given every indication that he will be there. "Tell me who's been suggesting that I won't fight?" he asked. "Did it start with Lewis's people?" A powerfully built man of about six feet and around 17 stones, with arms like howitzer barrels, Butler, 28, was sitting alongside Pepe Correa, the trainer Lewis dumped last year after a violent loss to Oliver McCall when defending the WBC title.

Claiming that Lewis chose arrogantly to ignore critical expositions of theory and practice, Correa launched a blistering attack on his former employer. "Lennox was deaf to everyone who didn't kiss his ass, who didn't agree with everything that came into his mind," he said. What Correa harbours for Lewis repudiates immediately the assertion that he does not bear any bitterness: thrusting both legs forward from a sitting position, ankles pressed together, he said: "I don't just want to see him lose, not just knocked down, but carried away like this, stiff as a board. I'm talking about a man whose head grew as large as this room. A bully with no heart."

There were other criticisms, too, that Lewis has learned nothing since turning professional as the 1988 Olympic champion; that he has no desire; that he has had it easy.

Correa's garrulous expansion of his role as technical consultant appeared to irritate other Butler attendants. "Can we keep the focus on Lionel," one of them said. A rotund man of incalculable weight, he is constantly on the telephone to King pleading for assistance. Butler is too much for him. "Mad as they come," he said.

If Butler was putting on an act it was performed to perfection. In repose, cuddling his 17-month-old daughter, he looked a picture of contentment. Born in New Orleans, he claims to have grown up on similar lines to Mike Tyson. "It was hard," he said. "I was soon out on the streets, hustling and robbing."

Delinquency got Butler two years in an institution. Otherwise vague about the life led before taking up boxing in 1989 at the age of 22, and without any amateur experience, he thinks that the sport saved him. Not that he was given an easy introduction. In his first professional contest, Butler went in against Phil Jackson who later unsuccessfully challenged Lewis for the WBC title. Second time up he was stopped in two rounds by Riddick Bowe. He lost a 10-round decision to McCall when they were both mainly employed as sparring partners. All that, he said, was merely a rehearsal. Begining with a first-round knockout against James Ruffin in February 1991 he has recorded 17 straight victories. The word on Butler is crude but dangerous.

Mention of another word, drugs, brought a protest from one of Butler's cohorts. "That's enough, we're out of here," he said. It is impossible to deny anything without mentioning it, but the topic was taboo, more difficult than any of them could handle.