LAS VEGAS – Radzhab Butaev made the most of his second championship chance Saturday night.
Nearly two years after he was cheated in his first shot at the WBA world welterweight title, the Russian-born Butaev stopped a battered, bloodied Jamal James in the ninth round to win that title. Butaev beat James in the main event of Showtime’s tripleheader from Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s Michelob ULTRA Arena.
The 27-year-old Butaev, of Indio, California, battered James, who demonstrated a lot of toughness against a harder puncher whom James couldn’t hurt. Butaev basically walked through James’ best shots, kept the taller, longer James on his back foot throughout their bout and eventually wore down James.
Butaev never knocked James to the canvas, but referee Celestino Ruiz had seen enough of the one-sided action as Butaev aggressively unloaded head and body shots on him during the ninth round. The official time of the stoppage was 2:12 of round number nine.
“This is very important for me,” Butaev told Showtime’s Jim Gray following his impressive victory. “It’s a big first step. It’s always been my dream to become a world champion. I took the first step today and I’m very happy.”
Butaev remained unbeaten (14-0, 11 KOs, 1 NC) and thrust himself into position to make more money within the loaded 147-pound division. Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) is the WBA’s “super” welterweight champion, but that sanctioning organization eventually could order Ugas to box Butaev.
Minneapolis’ James (27-2, 12 KOs) lost by knockout for the first time in 11 years as a pro. His only previous loss came against Cuba’s Ugas, who beat James by unanimous decision in August 2016.
“I felt it could have ended a lot worse,” Butaev said in reference to Ruiz’s decision to end their fight. “I thought it was stopped at the right time.”
Butaev was ahead on the scorecards of judges Max De Luca (78-74) and Don Trella (78-74) when their fight was stopped. Patricia Morse Jarman had James in front by one point through eight rounds, 76-75.
Butaev redeemed himself in his second attempt to win the WBA world championship. Countryman Alexander Besputin beat Butaev by unanimous decision in their November 2019 bout, but Besputin was stripped of his WBA belt and the result was changed to a no-contest because Besputin tested positive for a banned substance.
The 33-year-old James failed in his first defense of a secondary WBA welterweight title he won by beating Thomas Dulorme in August 2020. James defeated Dulorme by unanimous decision in their 12-round fight for the then-vacant WBA interim 147-pound crown at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
“I’m good,” James said. “It wasn’t my night tonight. A big shout out to Butaev and to [Jaron] Ennis [who knocked out Dulorme in the first round before James battled Butaev]. They did their thing tonight. I’m sorry I couldn’t bring my belt back to Minneapolis and the guys at Circle of Discipline [his gym in Minneapolis].”
Though James and his handlers complained that the stoppage was premature, at least a technical knockout seemed inevitable based on the punishment James absorbed through eight-plus rounds.
The ninth round was completely one-sided, which prompted Ruiz to step between them and halt the action.
Butaev backed James into the ropes early in the eighth round and landed several vicious body shots. James seemed tired by then, though he continually tried to keep Butaev honest.
Butaev pressured James yet again throughout the seventh round and made James pay with punishing body shots. James kept firing back, but he just didn’t have the power to make Butaev think twice about pressing the action.
Butaev battered James for much of the sixth round, when he took clear control of their bout. Butaev tattooed James with a right hand just before that sixth round concluded.
Butaev blasted James with a right hand about 25 seconds into the sixth round, which caused James to hold him.
Butaev’s right hook rocked James with about a minute on the clock in the fifth round.
Ruiz deducted a point from Butaev with 31 seconds to go in the fifth round, for hitting James from behind. That marked the fifth time in their fight that Ruiz warned Butaev for various infractions.
Butaev began the fourth round in a southpaw stance to try to confuse James. Butaev landed two hard lefts to James’ body with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth round, the first of which James complained was low.
An unintentional head-butt by Butaev seemed to hurt James with just over 40 seconds to go in the fourth round. Butaev followed up with several hard head and body shots while James was backed into the ropes, but a game James fired back with power shots up top that backed Butaev off of him.
James landed multiple right uppercuts in the opening minute of the third round, but Butaev came firing back with hard shots of his own. Ruiz warned Butaev for hitting James on the back of his head with approximately 1:40 to go in the third round.
A left hook by Butaev got James’ attention with just under 1:20 on the clock in the third round.
James remained on his back foot throughout the second round. He pumped his jab and tried to fend off an ever-aggressive Butaev, who threw thudding shots at James’ body.
James’ right hand up top, followed by a left hook to the body, was his best sequence of the second round.
James snuck a right hand around Butaev’s guard halfway through the first round. The defending champion otherwise dealt with Butaev’s pressure by working off his long jab in the first round.
Butaev landed a hard right to James’ body just before the opening round ended.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.