Former boxer Raphael Butler made the transition over to mixed martial arts in 2010 and he will be looking for his fifth win in the Bellator cage next Friday night when he meets Tony Johnson in a key heavyweight bout at Bellator 148.
2015 was not a banner year for Butler (9-1-1) in the sport as he only competed one time, which was a submission win at Bellator 134 against Josh Diekmann. Bellator did schedule a second fight for him last year, but with less than an hour to go before the fight, Butler was informed that his fight was canceled due to his opponent pulling out of the fight with an injury.
Throughout his lengthy combat sports career, this had only happened during his amateur career and never during his pro career. He admitted on a recent episode of “The MMA Report Podcast” that it did take him some time to cool down after getting the bad news from one of his trainers and he will look to score his second straight victory when he meets Johnson, who he knows is a grinder.
“He is an excellent wrestler. He is very good at what he does,” Butler told The MMA Report. “He likes to take you down, hold you down and ground and pound you. With little light shots and lie you down on the canvas. That is one of the things that I can not allow myself to get down there and if I get there, know how to get up. He is always winning these fights by decision because he is a grinder. He grinds you out and gets you tired. He just wears you down and I am not going to let that happen in this fight.”
While Butler knows that he is facing someone that wants to get the fight to the ground, he has been working on the other aspects of the sport. Yes, a big emphasis in this training camp has been about the wrestling, but he has made sure that he continues to work on the striking aspect of the game.
Butler mainly trains at Alliance MMA in Southern California, but over the last year he has been brought in to be a sparring partner for WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. Butler got connected with the Wilder camp through a mutual friend and he has now been part of Wilder’s camp for his last two fights. With all of the time that Butler has spent with the boxing champion in the gym, what is the biggest takeaway from him?
“The thing I have learned from Deontay when I am out there that it’s possible to still be green and be a champion,” Butler explained. “That is what I am trying to do because obviously I am not the most skilled mixed martial artist quite yet. But I am still winning these fights because I have that will to win. That is the thinking that he has in his boxing career. He is not the most skilled boxer in the world right now, but he is still the champion because he has the will to win. He is knocking people out because he knows before he goes into that ring, I am going to knock this dude out. This is what I am getting from him every time I go to that camp.”
Becoming a MMA champion may be closer to Butler than many people may realize. We all know that current Bellator heavyweight champion Vitaly Minakov has not competed in the Bellator cage for nearly two years and maybe the winner of the fight between Butler and Johnson could be looking at a vacant title fight against Bobby Lashley if Bellator chooses to strip Minakov of the title.
Capturing a world title is the motivation for many fighters, but that is not the case for Butler. His motivation comes from his daughter and his fans. He nearly left the sport of fighting at one time, but his daughter is the person that convince him to continue this career and work towards his goal of becoming a MMA champion.
“Everything I do is for her. She is the reason I am still doing this. There was a point in my life that I wanted to stop fighting completely. She kind made me get back into it and start doing the things I love to do. Secondly, my fans. I actually have some of the most loyal fans in the world. I have fans that can tell me stuff about my amateur career that I forgot. I feel like my fans deserve to have a belt around my waist and that is what I am working towards.”