By Niall O'Connell
One of the most dominant fighters in boxing, Janibek Alimkhanuly [12-0, 8 KO’s], will defend his WBO world middleweight title for the second time on Saturday, May 13th, when he faces Steven Butler at the Stockton Arena in California. The fight will be broadcast live on ESPN+ in the United States.
“We are excited to bring two world championship fights to the wonderful fight city of Stockton,” said Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum.
“Janibek is the most avoided middleweight in the world, but Steven Butler did not hesitate to take on the challenge. Jason Moloney has been close to a world title before, but he’ll need to be at his best to defeat a determined Filipino in Vincent Astrolabio.”
The man nicknamed ‘Qazak Style’, Janibek (13-0, 8 KO’s) first earned his reputation in the amateur ranks, where he represented his homeland of Kazakhstan in winning a World Championship gold medal, and competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. His professional debut came later that year, and what has followed has gone down as one of the most destructive runs in the recent memory of the 160-pound division. The best wins of his career came in 2021, when he reeled off consecutive victories against former titlists Hassan N’Dam and Rob Brant. Janibek, who defeated another British fighter in the form of Danny Dignum last May to win the WBO interim middleweight title, was awarded the organisations world title shortly after, when previous champion Demetrius Andrade vacated the strap in order to move north to the super middleweight division. Another British opponent fell in his first defence of the crown, as he defeated a brave but severely outmatched Denzel Bentley over twelve rounds in Las Vegas back in November. If Janibek can make an expected routine second defence against Butler in California, he will leave himself in an excellent position to challenge more of the divisions elite champions in massive unification bouts heading into the rest of 2023.
“All of the middleweights have run scared, so I give Steven Butler a lot of credit for accepting the fight,” Janibek said.
“I want to unify the division, but I cannot overlook Butler. He is a tough, powerful challenger, and I look forward to giving a tremendous show to the fans in Stockton and those watching on ESPN.”
The man tasked with slaying the monster, Butler (32-3-1, 26 KO's) turned professional back in 2014. The Canadian native stopped Janks Trotter in 2016 in his home nation to pick up the IBF North American super welterweight title. He has challenged for a world title once before, travelling to Japan to take on local favourite Ryota Murata in 2019 for the WBA middleweight crown. Despite a valiant effort, Murata stopped Butler in five rounds. In his comeback bout, he suffered another huge setback, losing to Jose de Jesus Macias in the same round in 2021. Butler has rebounded well, winning his last four fights in a row, and is now relishing the role of the underdog against Janibek when he will attempt achieve his dream of being a world champion at the second time of asking.
Butler said, “No detail will be spared in this training camp. Expect a big upset on May 13. I am confident that I will bring the belt back to Quebec.”
In the co-main event slot, another world title collision will be served up as Jason Moloney (25-2, 19 KO's) takes on Vincent Astrolabio (18-3, 13 KO's) for the vacant WBO Bantamweight title.
“On May 13 I will become champion of the world. Nineteen years of hard work, countless sacrifices, and complete dedication to the sport all come down to this moment,” Moloney said.
“Whatever it takes to have this world championship wrapped around my waist, nothing will stop me. I want to say a big thank you to Top Rank and my team for giving me this opportunity.”
Astrolabio said “Ever since I started boxing my dream was to fight for a world title, and dreams do come true with hard work
I have played this moment over and over in my head, and I will not be denied the world title. I want to thank my promoter, Manny Pacquiao, and Sean Gibbons for getting me this WBO bantamweight world title shot.”