One day in Stockport during 2009, Tony Butler introduced his ten-year-old son to Panicos Yusuf. As little Dan craned his neck to gaze up at this Muay Thai legend for the very first time – everything changed. From that moment on, Panicos was the fighter Dan aspired to be.
Dan was born with combat sports blood – his father Tony a revered Judo instructor in All Powers Gym. Yet, unlike a few of his Tanko teammates, Dan found fighting wasn’t something he was necessarily born to do. Try as he might, he could never take to the Japanese fighting art his dad loved so much. When Tony realised his son wasn’t suited to Judo, he asked Panicos to show his young son a thing or two about the art of eight limbs instead.
“I don’t think I was born to fight” Dan told Tanko. “I just adapted to it by putting in the effort and training well. When I first started out, I found it really tough. But Panicos is such a good coach – he knew what to say and how to keep me motivated. After I got my first fight, I really began to take Muay Thai more seriously. With the more fights I got, the more passionate I became and the more I improved.”
The rest is history. Since nestling underneath Panicos’ trusted wing, Dan has gone on to blitz his way through the youth rankings, amass a cluster of junior titles and share the ring with opponents several years his senior. However, Dan refuses to dwell on his victories and continues to focus on what lies ahead instead. A little bit like his mentor.
“You’re only as good as your last fight” Dan warned the Tanko team. “I just want to get better every day. I feel in the best shape I’ve ever been right now and I want to fight the best opponents out there. All of the people in my corner are always looking forward – myself included.”
Being the protégé of a world combat sports sounds great, but it’s not all glitz and glamour. Champions demand their students push themselves to the limit. After all, Panicos Yusuf was never going to stamp his seal of approval on a fighter who’d throw in the towel after a difficult training session. With Dan Butler, it appears Panicos has backed the right horse. The Tanko teen hasn’t just stuck with the role of protégé – he’s embraced it.
“It’s a big commitment” Dan admitted. “School work keeps me busy as it is, and on the days I’m not in school I train twice a day. But Panicos has put a lot of time into me and I want to pay him back. I want to thank him for that. I’m in a good, healthy routine now.”
“Together, we work on how to defeat whoever is in front of me. With the help of Pan and my corner, I’ve become good at adapting to the style of my opponent. I’ve learned how to switch things up quickly, although I do favour a few of the same techniques as Panicos – like the clinch and the knees.”
To follow in someone like Panicos’ footsteps, you must broaden your horizons, experiencing Muay Thai in all its natural glory. Dan jets off to Sitjaopho Muay Thai camp for a third time in August 2016, where he’ll train with the twin Lumpini champions-turned-trainers whom he affectionately refers to as “O” and “F”. Travelling to the birthplace of Muay Thai to learn from the finest athletes on the planet is something most fighters Dan’s age only dream of. But if he’s going to reach the dizzying heights of his mentor, Dan needs to keep punching above his weight; reaching for the stars at every opportunity.
Expect big things from Dan Butler: a Panicos’ protégé in the making.