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Super Saiyan Heavyweight? An Exclusive with Bellator’s Raphael Butler

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The sports of boxing and mixed martial arts will seemingly always be intertwined. Some are fans of both while others argue for the superiority of one over the other. We’ve seen boxers make the transition to MMA in the past and it hasn’t always gone very well for them (ahem, James Toney). One boxer who has made the transition and has made it very well, however, is Raphael “The Silencer” Butler. At 9-1-1 in MMA, Butler has become a force to be reckoned with inside Bellator’s heavyweight division. With a fight against Tony Johnson on the horizon, I got to talk to Butler about the transition from boxing to MMA, training with Alliance and what makes him call himself a “huge nerd”.

When it comes to the transition from boxing to mixed martial arts, Butler told me that it came about after he’d planned on leaving the world of fighting behind completely.

“I got to a point in boxing that I lost the love for it. I didn’t feel like I was fighting for the right reasons anymore. I wanted to be done completely with fighting. I was still training at the gym but I was just doing it for me. We had an MMA gym start in the back of our boxing gym and the guys there had wanted me to start that for a while. So I started doing that just for something new to do because I always like to learn different ways to hurt people. A buddy of mine said if I fought an MMA match then he would fight again too so I said yeah I’ll do it and see how it goes? So I fought and ended up knocking the dude out in like 17 seconds. And I didn’t think that was a fair assessment of how MMA was so I fought again, ended up knocking that dude out in like a minute. And I kind of just kept going like that so I said maybe I can make a career out of this and then I got a call from Bellator. And so, here I am.”

A lot of professional boxers seem to have an attitude of superiority when it comes to MMA. Or at least, that’s how it’s often portrayed. Butler shed a little light on that attitude as well as why his attitude changed.

“Boxers are conditioned to believe that we are the best athletes in the world. So when MMA came around, yeah, at first, I wouldn’t say I looked down on MMA fighters but I didn’t really think it was right. I thought MMA guys were absolute savages in what they did because of how I grew up in boxing. But when I started training with them it really made me respect it, especially the grappling aspect of it. The wrestling and jiu-jitsu aspect of MMA has gained my respect more than anything else because of how tough it is both mentally and physically.”

While we were on the subject of grappling, I had to ask about how Butler has managed to catch on to that aspect of the sport so quickly. 3 of his 9 wins are by submission, including a brutal standing guillotine choke of Josh Diekmann at Bellator 134. That’s something you don’t often see so quickly from fighters with a boxing background.

“I’m a straight student. I try to take in as much as I can. Even days where I’m not training, I’m down there watching training, I’m watching fight videos. I try and suck in as much of this sport as I can. That and I have excellent teachers. We didn’t even work on that standing guillotine for that camp, it was actually the camp before that one and I just remembered it. At that moment I just remembered, ok just pull my arm under and try and pop his head off.”

And it certainly can’t hurt that Butler trains out of one of the best gyms in the world, Alliance MMA. When you’re training with fighters like Dominick Cruz, Brandon Vera, Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson and Jeremy Stephens, you almost have no choice but to get better. Butler certainly seems to think so.

“I’ve been training here ever since my 2nd camp in Bellator. I love the team, they keep me going, they keep me pushing. I’m at a gym where everyone who trains here has their sights set on the belt and that’s the kind of mentality I need. We want to bring every belt possible to that gym and that’s the kind of environment I need to be around. Training with these guys makes me push harder. I feel like I’m letting my team down if I don’t have that type of drive too. I see how hard we work, we grind, and I know you hear that a lot from different fighters but we break ourselves in this gym, we want that belt. Whatever organization we’re in, we want it.”

His upcoming opponent, Tony Johnson, is a former King of the Cage Heavyweight Champion and holds a 9-2 record. While he’s not taking Johnson lightly, Butler believes that he’s on another level.

“My gameplan is to just be me. Fight how I know how to fight. I’m definitely not looking at him as someone to step over but I know that if I fight the way I’m capable of fighting, there’s no one that can beat me. I’m a monster. I’m not trying to take anything away from Tony, I feel like he’s a good fighter but if Raphael Butler is on his game on January 29th, he’s getting steamrolled.”

All fight talk aside, I had to ask what a 6’3, 260 lb man does when he’s not looking to take opponents head off inside of the cage. The answer I got was a little surprising.

“I’m a big video game guy. I’m a nerd, honestly. People look at me and don’t expect that from me but I’m a nerd. I like my comic books and my video games, I’m not a big go out and party guy. My ideal night is sitting at home, in front of my tv either playing a video game or watching something that has to do with comic books on YouTube. Raphael Butler is a lot different from “The Silencer”. Raphael Butler is a geek and I’m ok with that. You need to have that separation and just be a normal person.”

He brought up comic books, so I had to ask, DC or Marvel?

“I kind of go in between but I guess I’m more towards Marvel cause I’m a huge Deadpool fan, I can’t wait for that movie to come out cause I’ll be the first one in line for it I guarantee it. I’m not really a big fan of Superman. His whole character is just lazy, he can do anything to anybody and that’s just lazy to me.”

Right after that comment, he made sure to say that there is one thing that takes precedence over everything else as far as his fandom goes.

“My biggest thing is Dragonball. Make sure you let everyone know that Raphael Butler is a huge Dragonball fan. Dragonball, Dragonball Z, even GT sometimes. I’m a huge fan and you can tell Akira Toriyama that if he wants to draw me up a character then I would be honored.”

So, Mr. Toriyama, if you happen to see this then please get in contact with Raphael Butler and help him realize a dream. And for everyone else, if you happen to be in the Chula Vista area for the Deadpool premiere and think you’ll be the first person in line, you might want to reconsider.

Until then, you can tune into Bellator 148 on January 29th to watch Raphael “The Silencer” Butler takes on Tony Johnson in a heavyweight matchup that you won’t want to miss.

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Bellator: Selecting the Four Alternates for the Heavyweight Grand Prix.

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With an 8-man tournament bracket full of legends and former champions, join us as we chose four alternates for the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

Main Tournament Participants:

  • Fedor Emelianenko
  • Frank Mir
  • Chael Sonnen
  • Quinton Jackson
  • Roy Nelson
  • Matt Mitrione
  • Ryan Bader
  • King Mo Lawal

The alternate tournament bracket will consist of: two opening round fights (semi-final), and then two victorious fighters competing against one another at the finale (final). This will determine a worthy contender to step into the main tournament bracket, in case any of the main bracket fighters are injured in their semi-final bouts.

If a pull-out or injury occurs before the opening bouts, I believe Bellator have to select the most decorated fighter, and a natural heavyweight fighter. So in case of a pull-out occurring before the opening round, I would select my #1 alternate, and so on for any more opening pull-outs.

This structure covers all bases, and keeps the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament intense and prestigious.

So with the structure laid out, here is our selected alternate fighters.

  • #1: Vitaly Minakov
  • #2: Linton Vassell
  • #3: Attilah Vegh
  • #4: Emanuel Newton

Alternate Opening Round [Semi-Final]:

  • Bout 1: #1 Vs. #3
  • Bout 2: #2 Vs. #4

Alternate Final:

  • Victor of Bout #1/#3 Vs. Victor of Bout #2 Vs. #4

Linton Vassell vs. Emanuel Newton would be a trilogy that needs to be completed. Linton dominated on the ground for the most part of their first bout, but felt he gave up positions he felt he could have held longer, and took needless transitions and risks; allowing for a very sneaky Emanuel Newton to escape the clutches of ‘The Swarm’, and when the gas tank begins to empty – a scrambling Emanuel Newton is not what you want!

Fighter bios:

Vitaly Minakov: A former Bellator tournament winner, and former Bellator heavyweight champion. A Judo black belt, and multi time Sambo world champion, there’s no denying this man’s resume as one of the best put forth out of these 4 fighters.

Linton Vassell: A man who really lives up to the moniker – ‘The Swarm’, Linton Vassell has dominated and dispatched various opponents Bellator have put across from him. Having fallen short in two title fights, and a close decision loss to King Mo, Linton has shown that he’s there with the best Bellator has to offer, maybe the Heavyweight Grand Prix might see the dark-horse finally come into the lime-light! Currently contracted to Bellator with a 7-3 record for the promotion.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

Emanuel Newton: Already holding two victories over King Mo, who’s allocated in this Heavyweight main tournament bracket – that alone is just cause to enter Emanuel. An exciting and unpredictable entry this would be. Bellator parted ways with Emanuel in 2016. Currently, Newton is not on the best of runs, but this tournament needs a ‘wild-card’, and Emanuel owns that title.

Attilah Vegh: A former Bellator LHW champion. Not currently signed to Bellator. Was strangely released in 2014 after having a record of 5-1 with the promotion, and some victories over some very reputable names. Currently on a 2 fight win-streak outside of Bellator MMA.

If you would like to follow the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament, you can check out the opening round bouts on the following Bellator MMA events:

 

Bellator 192 at The Forum – Jan. 20, 2018: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (37-12) vs. Chael Sonnen (30-15-1)
Bellator 194 at Mohegan Sun Arena – Feb. 16, 2018: Matt Mitrione (12-5) vs. Roy Nelson (23-14)
Bellator at Allstate Arena – April, 2018: Fedor Emelianenko (36-5, 1 NC) vs. Frank Mir (18-11)
Bellator at SAP Center – May, 2018: Ryan Bader (24-5) vs. “King Mo” Lawal (21-6, 1 NC)

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Exclusive: Hisaki Kato: “My priorities are in MMA”

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French-Japanese middleweight Hasaki Kato returns to the Bellator cage Friday as he takes on former welterweight Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani. Ahead of the high-level striking match-up, Kato took the time out of his busy schedule to speak with MMA Latest.

Rangy striker Njokuani makes his middleweight debut Friday as he looks to erase his loss to Andrey Koreshkov from recent memory. It isn’t lost on Kato just how tall and lanky the 6’3 striker truly is. “Well he’s very tall,” Kato tells MMA Latest. “He was a welterweight but even for a middleweight he’s really tall he’s like 6’2, 6’3 taller than me, longer reach than me. Obviously, I was watching his fights, he’s fighting with range and using his reach to fight so that’s his number one weapon.”

In Njokuani’s last fight, Koreshkov, the former welterweight champion, held Njokuani down and elbowed him until the ref stepped in. So what exactly went wrong in the fight? “Well, first I think Koreshkov is really, really strong,” Kato explains. “Chidi Njokuani normally escapes the ground part or at least he’s on top of his opponent. But Koreshkov has good pressure and good grappling and he could take the top position. Obviously, Njokuani is not comfortable when he is on the bottom. So yeah, I think he couldn’t play his game during the last fight because Koreshkov was putting too much pressure on him.”

Former UFC fighter, Gegard Mousasi, recently made his debut against Alexander Shlemenko back in October. The Dutchman had a tough debut that resulted in a controversial decision win, Kato weighed in on whether or not he’s eyeing a fight with him and what he thought of his Bellator debut. “If I have an offer I will fight him,” he says without any particular enthusiasm. “I will fight everybody in the division. Yeah, for the last fight, well, I think luckily for him it was a three-round fight. I think if it was a five round fight the victory would have gone to Shlemenko. I don’t know maybe he had a bad camp, I don’t know but he was doing terrible.”

Kato also believes a title shot isn’t far away. “I believe I’m really close to that (a title shot),” he says. “After the win, after the Gracie fight, even if it was a decision win, the Gracie is a big family name so I was expecting a title fight. I didn’t have it so I guess if I win this time I have a good chance to have it.”

Whatever you do, don’t expect to see Kato back in a kickboxing ring anytime soon. Does it interest him to return? “Not really,” Kato replies after giving the question some thought. “If the offer is good then why not, for now, I feel more comfortable in MMA so my focus, my priorities, are in MMA.”

Many fans were very disappointed with the way his last fight turned out. Paired up against jiu-jitsu fighter, Ralek Gracie, Kato ended up going to the judges for the first time in his career. “Yeah the fight itself was really frustrating,” Kato admits. “I couldn’t do what I wanted and after two rounds, I knew I had done enough to win, and I knew he would push more. So I decided ‘yeah ok then it’s going to a decision’ but at the very least I had to win that fight.  That’s why I didn’t take too many risks in the third round. During the first and the second, I really wanted to end that fight like I always try but I couldn’t do it.”

So why hasn’t Kato fought since January? “I had an offer in September,” he says. “But I got injured during the training and had to go into surgery, and after the surgery, the process is really long to recover so that’s why.”

So what does Kato predict for the fight? “Obviously his nickname is ‘Bang’ you know, he likes to fight and that’s all I like doing too,” Kato laughs. “I’m really thinking about having a big knockout with my hands.”

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Exclusive: Fernando Gonzalez talks Paul Daley and Michael Page fights

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Long-time Bellator welterweight contender, Fernando Gonzalez, has made a career out of fighting the best fighters his promotion had to offer. The always tough Californian has displayed this willingness to fight the best when he took on Paul Daley in a kickboxing match and when he took on Michael ‘Venom’ Page, in what was supposed to be Page’s coming out fight.

The kickboxing match with Daley happened back in 2015 at “Bellator MMA and Glory: Dynamite 1” in an event that featured both Glory kickboxing as well as its fair share of intriguing Bellator MMA fights. Gonzalez would go on to lose the fight in what many fans called a ‘lackluster’ contest. Speaking to MMA Latest, Gonzalez was asked if he had any interest in returning to the kickboxing ring and why he participated in Glory kickboxing.

“No. Honestly, that kickboxing match was more just to get Daley; because they kept trying to give him to me on short notice and one was on an injury,” Gonzalez told MMA Latest. “So I was like, ‘no I don’t want to give him an easy win’, but the only thing they came up with was that kickboxing match in that time. So ever since that fight, I was like ‘listen dude lets do this MMA’. I’m an MMA guy, I know how to kickbox and I’m good with it but I prefer MMA. I love doing MMA. I don’t like to have too many rules put on me. I like being able to go out there and flow freely. Honestly, I want Daley in an MMA fight so he gets the real fight.”

Gonzalez’ fight with Michael Page was booked as the veteran getting fed to the younger up and coming contender. The fight was Page’s opportunity to add another highlight reel knockout to his collection. Obviously, someone forgot to tell Gonzalez. Gonzalez went out and made sure he never gave Page any openings, unfortunately, he would go on to lose the fight by split decision. Fernando explains what went wrong in his only Bellator loss.

Honestly the only thing that went wrong in the fight is how people viewed the fight”, Gonzalez explains. “If you really look at the fight he really didn’t land anything. The whole first round they’re talking him up, how he’s dancing and how it’s putting me into a lullaby and this and that. I was never in danger. He was not throwing a single punch. This is MMA, you cant just take on the fight with one style, you have to fight different styles for different people. If it was just boxing, you would fight a boxer just one way realistically, but Michael Page has the karate style. So you have to come up with a different formula if you’re going to fight somebody like that.”

“So my style with him, I knew that he’s used to everybody rushing him and trying to take him down. I’m a striker so I don’t mind striking. If I’m not in danger then I’m going to keep it striking. So what I did was I circled, I kept him at arm’s length, so he constantly had to throw long arms where he’s having to reach out and grab you. He’s throwing those arms out, that makes him have to basically hold his arms out a lot longer than he’s used to. He’s used to guys rushing in on him. So with me playing that outside game, obviously my legs are a lot longer than my arms, so I had to throw a lot more kicks, there was a lot of head kicks to take away his power-punch where he leaps in. By doing that, that made him work a lot longer in the second and third round where he’s normally finishing guys. By that third round, he was completely exhausted and couldn’t throw. He said his timing was off and this and that, but he was just exhausted. I had already gassed him out and he had just enough to stay away from me.”

“Really it’s just how you see the fight. They automatically assumed I had to take him down to win and that’s not necessarily true. If I’m not in danger, and I’m landing kicks, and I’m landing good shots, and he’s hitting my arms. Realistically most of the shots he landed were on my arms and that really doesn’t count. So it’s really just how you see it and that’s why one judge had it 30-27. It’s just how you’re seeing the fight. If you’re a striker you would know what you’re looking at, but if you’re a ground guy, of course, you’re going to say ‘oh I got to get it to the ground’ which is what the commentators were; two ground guys talking about what I should’ve done.”

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