We asked Mr Harry Williams to share with us three ‘Where Are They Now?’ articles that stood out to him. Here’s the first of his selections…
The British: best known for being either boxers or straight-up brawlers to this day. It was the ‘way of the walk’ long before MMA was born. It was the most real and common form of defence through its soaring popularity in the twentieth century. You wanted to learn self-defence? You went to boxing. Growing up watching stars like Tyson, Ali and even a fictitious Balboa, why would one impressionable kid not want to follow in those footsteps?
Down the line more arts of combat were introduced to the masses. More complex and effective styles from the world over became available to the local youth. Ian ‘M-16’ Butlin (6-9), along with his brothers Dave and Andy, found himself fitting neatly into this category.
“Myself and Andy boxed for a fair few years prior,” Butlin informed. “We were in the national championships and went all over the place, but we initially started off with judo when we were eight-years-old. I went from judo to boxing to muay thai.
“In the national boxing championships I had to box in both the Yorkshire final and North East county final in 2001 on the same night. What happened was that I had a really tough fight with a lad from Hull in the Yorkshire final and I got quite marked up under my eyes.
“We went to the North West final and as soon as I stepped in the ring and took a punch, the swelling under my eye burst. To anybody who has been lumped before, when it opens up it feels more of a relief. As soon as they saw that, they waved it over. I wasn’t sent to a doctor or anything, it was just immediately brought to a close.
In the Yorkshire final the guy I beat was badly marked up. He had cuts under and above his eyes and nothing was done there. My style was always aggressive. I tried protesting it but nothing changed.”
As his chapter in boxing ended, Ian was consistently frustrated with how things were working out. Ian had dabbled in MMA during his boxing days. Not being one to sit around and mope about his frustrations, Butlin turned to a new page, beginning his highly-focused MMA training with Les Allen in Halifax.
“I had been training with Les during the last couple of years that I was boxing,” Ian confessed. “Training didn’t change much apart from the long runs. In boxing we had a lot of running including marathons. That all changed as we shifted the focus to more explosive training such as hill sprints and circuits.
“There was more emphasis on more explosive weight training, too. When I was boxing I won the British University gold at 65kg then moved up to 67kg, so I had to monitor everything.
“I wanted to start competing in MMA afterwards. Les was a tremendous coach and one of the best I’ve ever trained with, but he didn’t believe in the competition side of it as he tended to focus purely on the training itself.
“It was once I left his gym that I started being able to compete. It was around May or June that I entered the Submission League. I did really well in that. Following on from that I decided to jump onto a few shows. I debuted at semi-pro against Peter Irving. Back then, there was hardly a difference, if any, between amateur and semi-pro, so you were thrown in on the day after a quick telling of the ruleset.
“I used to chat to Aaron Chatfield. I was living in Didsbury and I was looking for a place to train. I gave Aaron a call, he picked me up and I went down to train at the Colosseum. We’ve been very, very close friends ever since. In fact he’s the only guy that’s been in my corner for each one of my fights all over the world.
“One fight that wasn’t recorded was when I fought Rob Hannis (1-4). The rules were standard with headshots on the floor, the only exception was that I had to wear shinpads. It was similar to the amateur b-class rulings in the sport today. I beat both Rob and Peter by triangle, so I had a pretty good start to my career.
“In the end, I was doing MMA because I liked fighting. It was never anything too serious. One day we’d box; one day we’d wrestle; one day we’d do grappling but we would be all over the place with guys like Carl Fisher at Aspull Wrestling Club. We were going anywhere we could to learn whatever we could. It wasn’t like today’s gyms where they’ve got everything in one place. You had to put in the miles all over the country.”
Ian was a familiar face around the SFUK scene. Upon hearing the word, he learned Cage Warriors were looking for someone to fight Chris Freeborn on CWFC 4: UK vs. France. Straight away, as soon as he saw that, he knew things were changing.
“I got onto Dougie Truman and said I’d like to fight on there,” ‘M-16’ revealed. “The fight with Freeborn was matched up before any others, but I didn’t want to wait for that fight itself. I wanted to fight before it as well to get experience. I got onto Shotai Kai before their first show and said that my brothers Andy and Dave along with myself would like to fight on the show.
“That was the only time we all fought together. I fought Peter Irving, Dave fought Gavin Bradley who sadly passed away recently and Andy fought Lee Jones. I remember Lee laughing at how skinny Andy was. It only spurred Andy on as he finished him.”
A look at many UK veterans’ record will tell you one thing – it wasn’t always about winning and losing. To a lot of them, it was purely about the fighting. Ian himself can vouch for that. With influential brothers, the good times outside of the cage started to take shape as the priority.
“I put as much effort into partying as I did into MMA and I think that has reflected on my record,” divulged the 35-year-old. “When I’m fit and when I’m on it, I think I can run through walls. I don’t think there’s anyone out there that would beat me when I’m in that state of mind. I never thought of this as a career. It was just fighting to me, so I’d go through stages where I’d party a lot.
“It’s well talked about amongst the old school guys that my brother Dave, who was my coach at the time, dragged me out of bed with two lap dancers when I’d been on a bender for three days. That’s not ideal preparation for a professional fighter.
“Despite that, I wouldn’t change the way my career went. That was the path that I was meant to go down. If I’d have been starting out in MMA now with the money and the contracts you can get, I think I’d have been a lot more serious. The way it was back then, it wasn’t the be-all-end-all sport.
“If I’d have fought every single fight that was matched up, my career would have been different. Andy Lillis looked after me all the way through my career, through the times where I was ringing him two weeks before a fight and telling I’d been shot and had to pull out. There was another where I got stabbed and had to pull out right before it.
“These things were happening and he was still offering me fights and giving me opportunities that a lot of people weren’t getting. Lillis still says I had the best excuses for pulling out of fights. I like to think I made his life entertaining!”
Team Quannum played a tremendous part in setting the stage for gyms in the North West as they were one of, if not the first gym to hold up a fully fitted sparring cage and mats amongst other top level equipment. It set the precedent for what a modern day martial arts gym should look like.
During the renovation, Ian was living in his Manchester flat with a former boxing partner. At that time, they were fortunate to have some money nestled away safely to put forward to the project. All they were lacking however was somebody to guide them in the right direction to do it in order to help us build it.
“We found somewhere between Huddersfield and Manchester and it sort of ran away with itself,” stated Butlin. “To start with, we just wanted somewhere to train and it turned into us getting a 7,000 square-foot gym with a cage and everything in it. It’s mad.
“What started off as a small idea went nuts. We only wanted it so we could train nearby instead of going all over the place. It was like Disney Land for fighters. We wanted to get all sorts of equipment in and we did so, but it cost us a fair bit.
“We fell on rather fortunate ground as we were being gifted equipment by places closing down and we were able to get other stuff through gyms we used to work at. Grant Waterman gave us a couple of running machines to help us get started.
“That’s one of the main differences to nowadays. The UK MMA community was so small that everybody was mates with each other and wanted to see everybody do well.”
Everybody in UK MMA has their fair share of wild experiences. Whether it involves Paul Jenkins or troublesome weigh-in days, there are plenty of stories to go around. From cageside bets to brotherly competition, the Butlins have seen it all. The fifteen-fight veteran explained.
“Aaron Chatfield was running a show in Stockport. It was Terry Etim’s debut, too. The fight card had a load of late pull-outs. I suggested to Aaron that I’d do an exhibition match with Dave. It’s happened loads of times now, but it was a load of fun if you find it on YouTube. It had a great vibe to it. I also fought my brother Andy at an interclub in our gym for the sake of it.
“I fought Dave again later on the Quannum show. Dave was meant to be fighting that day himself but I ended up getting in there with him again. We messed about, tried silly things like flying armbars and even took down Marc Goddard who was refereeing it.
“One of my favourite stories is from Cage Rage’s Night of Champions show,”” Ian continued. “There’s a popular photo of myself and Paul McVeigh hugging. Now, I’d trained with Paul quite a bit and I was meant to fight him for the Cage Warriors title. I’d trained with Phil Harris, too, so I knew their styles well. I was so sure Paul would beat Phil that I bet Andy Foreman £1,000. Andy was so sure that he’d win the grand that he hadn’t brought enough money to pay me.
“So we went down to Night of Champions, Paul won and I’m over the moon because I’ve just won a grand. We went backstage and Andy Foreman’s got his head down before telling Phil Harris that he’s going to have to take his wages to pay me my £1,000!
“I can imagine it was one awkward car journey home. Phil lost his fight and didn’t get paid either.
“Another one is my fight with Emmanuel Fernandez. By this point, I was really struggling to make the 65.8kg weight limit. Andy Sledge was doing the weigh-ins and Leigh Remedios came over and gave me a little lift up. It didn’t get noticed however, because I had stripped completely naked with no towel so nobody was directly looking at me. It worked, though. We all cut way too much weight back then. I’m surprised a load of us haven’t had kidney failure by now. It was hectic.”
One of Ian’s most infamous moments goes back to 2006. Following his victory over Phil Raeburn at Cage Warriors ‘Showdown’ event, Ian vented much frustration in direction of the then-top ranked Ollie Ellis. It was the fight he wanted more than anything.
“I was extremely frustrated,” Butlin digressed. “I was trying to get the fight with Ollie Ellis. Everybody was saying he was number one and I was number two in the rankings at the time. Every time I was trying to get the fight it kept falling through and it was really pissing me off.
“Most of that anger was directed at Ollie. I just wanted to fight him so badly and prove my worth that I was number one. Andy Lillis was telling me to just say whatever to get the fight and I tried my best. I felt that Ollie, who was being said to be number one, just wasn’t fighting the guys he should’ve been and it really boiled me up.”
It’s one of the most popular UK MMA films in history and is still on occasionally today: ‘Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men’. Like other episodes in the series, the management wanted to focus it on aspects away from the sport. That didn’t sit well the Butlins. What they saw was a great opportunity to promote MMA and how credible the sport could be.
“Dave, Andy and myself are well known up and down the country from when we used to do jobs for them like debt collecting for example,” Ian informed. “It just so happened that as they asked to do the programme we were prepping for M-1. With me being on the England team and Dave being my coach it made for a better story to look into rather than what they were hoping to do.
“That’s what I wanted it to be about anyway. They filmed forty to fifty hours of footage so we weren’t sure what was going to be shown. They could’ve made it a very different programme indeed. Off the back of it I got a lot more commentary gigs too.
“I got some great opportunities in my career and I can imagine people wonder how I got them – it’s about personality. In one of my fights in Nottingham I sold two hundred tickets and ten cageside tables. When I fought on the Quannum show I sold seven hundred and forty tickets on my own.
Ian’s last recorded bout was in June of 2009 on M-1 as he battled Makhtar Gueye (5-5) in Kansas City, USA on a card that also saw UK MMA standouts Matt Thorpe and Rob Broughton compete.
Although the bout didn’t go his way, Butlin didn’t expect it to be the last of his career. When the time came to end it, there wasn’t much that was up for discussion in favour of a return.
“I wasn’t doing myself justice in my fights,” confessed the former lightweight. “My lifestyle didn’t suit the strict discipline I had to have. My last fight in America rang alarms for me. I’d never been dropped in a fight – ever. I was 16-4 in boxing and was never dropped.
“In America versus Makhtar, the weight cut went horrendously. If you look at pictures I look like a baghead. In the fight he ended up cracking my tooth through my gumshield. I went to the dentist to get it removed and I was still in pain weeks later. The dentist was confused and sent me for a scan.
“It turned out that I had multiple facial fractures; one on each side of my jaw, one on my cheek that were all at various stages of healing, so they were all from different periods of time that never really had time to repair.
“In the end, the doctor told me it was best if I step away from the competitive side of MMA or else nothing would ever fix itself, so that was that essentially. I was happy with my career and the overall journey throughout it so I have no regrets from it.”
In 2014, Ian is still very much around the sport. This time round, he sits safely at cageside in the commentary booth at many shows such as Shinobi FC, UCC and M-1 Challenge. He continues to dabble in his boxing roots, training his brother Andy Butlin for his return to competitive boxing.
“I’ve been lucky enough to still be active in the sport through commentary,” Ian said with a smile. “It’s something I do well. Going to Japan and America was just a dream. It was like something you’d win on a quiz show. I’ve loved my run behind the desk and being the voice for shows. I’m glad I have this spot to still be around.
“It’s been amazing. Andy and I were in my apartment back in the day, we hadn’t been doing MMA for that long and we were watching the UFC’s ‘Brawl at the Albert Hall’ and we had a Ken Shamrock book that we were learning moves with whilst watching the show.
“Fast-forward over a decade, there’s guys from that card that like Leigh Remedios and Ian Freeman that are now lifelong friends of mine. I’ve trained alongside them and got to know them throughout the journey.
“Ian inspired me a lot way before I knew him. His dad died just before his UFC debut and it was clear to see he was not going to lose to Frank Mir, no matter how good Mir was. It was a massive inspiration to me throughout my competitive career and it’s amazing to now be great friends with him. It’s gone from being a fan to friends with these guys and it’s a big reality check when you put it in perspective.
“Maybe I should’ve took it more seriously, but screw it, I’ve enjoyed my run. I’ve played my part in building UK MMA and that’s something I can hold close to my heart.”
This article was originally posted on YourMMA and was accurate at the time of publishing.