The Sterling Entertainment Group / Driller Promotions event on Saturday night will be a historic moment for the sport of mixed martial arts in Minnesota.
Undefeated heavyweights Raphael Butler and Brett Murphy will headline a card which will see them compete for the very first statewide heavyweight MMA title in Minnesota.
For Butler, the road to being one of the top heavyweight MMA fighters in Minnesota has been short. In fact, he’s only been competing as a mixed martial artist since late-2010. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
As a former amateur and professional boxer, Raphael Butler has competed in literally hundreds of fights throughout his career. Though he has only competed in four MMA fights, the advantage he has of having been mentally prepared to fight so many times in the past has helped him make a smooth transition into another sport.
“It was actually just something I wanted to because boxing had started to slow down for me and I just wanted to get in there and fight,” Butler told Bleacher Report MMA. “A fight is a fight. You’ve just gotta find a way to win. So the transition [from boxing to MMA], for me, wasn’t that hard.”
Fighters moving from boxing to MMA is not new, but most of those fighters have struggles with learning other aspects of the game such as jiu-jitsu and wrestling. Although those things didn’t come naturally for Raphael Butler, it wasn’t the physical aspects of MMA that were most difficult for him to learn.
“The hardest thing for me was just remembering what I could get away with. There are a lot more things that I can do in MMA that I couldn’t do in a boxing match,” he said. “In my first fight, I knocked a guy down and I kind of just stood there. I forgot that I could continue attacking him.”
Now, after having less than two years experience as a pro fighter, Butler will battle one of the state’s top heavyweight prospects for the right to call himself the champion of Minnesota. Though Murphy has a lot of hype coming into the fight as being a powerful striker in his own right, Butler believes that his boxing experience could be the difference in the fight.
“I’ve been in the ring with some of the top boxers in the world,” Butler said. “I’m not going to say that [Brett’s] hands aren’t dangerous because anybody over 200 pounds, if they catch you in the right spot, can knock you out. But I’m not as afraid of his hands as his previous opponents have been. His hands don’t bother me at all.”
Butler is confident enough in his hands that he’d be willing to stand with anyone in the sport, even including UFC champion Junior dos Santos who has been credited by many as having the best MMA-boxing in the heavyweight division.
“It doesn’t matter of it’s boxing or MMA, if I hit you right, you’re going down,” he said. “And with MMA gloves... I throw a mean body shot.”
Butler knows that his opponents have looked to take his punching power away early by taking him to the ground. It hasn’t worked out so well for them, though, and he expects the same from Murphy.
“I’m not trying to take anything away from Brett Murphy. He has just as much of a chance of winning this fight as I do,” he said. “But [Brett’s] going to try to capitalize on my inexperience in MMA and he’s going to quickly find out, like all the other MMA fighters I’ve fought, that trying to take my legs out isn’t going to work because I’m more agile than he thinks.”
Most boxers struggle when they end up on the ground in an MMA fight, but Raphael Butler might be the exception. In fact, he shocked everyone in June, when he won his most recent fight by submission with an armbar.
“Nobody was more surprised than me,” he laughed. “I was surprised that I remembered that I can do that. When you’re in the fight, your mind kind of goes. But I remembered, ‘Hey, I can try to break this dude’s arm!’ “
Though he wasn’t willing to make a direct prediction on the outcome, Butler did offer up some interesting pre-fight analysis.
“It’s not going to be the fight that everybody is expecting,” he said. “But, of course, whoever lands the first big punch can win.”
Butler and Murphy will meet as part of the Sept. 8 Sterling Entertainment Group / Driller Promotions “Throwdown at the Crowne” event at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul, MN.
Tickets are available for as little as $35/ea and can be purchased online or at the door. For those outside the Twin Cities area, the event will also be streamed live for free online at SterlingMN.com!
For more MMA news, fighter interviews and opinions, follow Nick Caron: @NicholasCaron.