It’s always important to have a good role model. If someone has the right person to look up to, it’s likely to inspire them to want to be a role model to others.
Newly signed Bellator bantamweight Raufeon Stots grew up in Texas with his mom and two of his brothers. Life wasn’t always easy for them, but, fortunately, she was a great woman to look up to.
“She had me at a young age,” Stots told Combat Press. “She was able to work her way out of Section 8 housing to owning a house in a more affluent neighborhood. She moved us there. When I was growing up, she was a success story in herself. She created a better life than she had with her parents. Then, she passed away when I was 16, so I had to finish school, and a lot of what I was doing was to make her proud.”
Stots had a lot of pent-up aggression with the passing of his mother, and he needed to find an outlet. That led him to the mats.
“I started wrestling when I was a junior in high school, so I started wrestling really late,” said the native Texan. “The reason I started wrestling was that my mom had just passed, and I wanted to hurt kids, kinda. I wanted to get into it because I wanted to release some anger. Throughout my life, in wrestling, it was the best sport for molding me into a good human and good man, and teaching me about life and things of that nature. So, wrestling has been great for me.”
Wrestling has always proven to be a great base for mixed martial arts as well. After his college career ended at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Stots was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center. However, he was still finishing his degree and doing some coaching. Things changed when a veteran MMA fighter came along.
“Jens Pulver was starting a gym in Kearney, Nebraska, and my friends were doing it too, so they asked me to help out with the wrestling aspect of it,” Stots said. “Jens eventually got me to do some boxing classes and some jiu-jitsu classes.”
The next step was a no-brainer.
“Well, you might as well fight,” Pulver told his protege.
“So, I took a fight, but the gym eventually shut down, and I moved out to Iowa with Jens,” explained Stots. “After that, I was at Pat Miletich’s gym for a year and some months. Then, Pat Miletich was off doing commentating, and Jens was in Australia. I felt like I was outgrowing the people I was training with at Pat Miletich’s gym, and Pat told me I should go to Roufusport. I’ve been here five years.”
Stots built a 5-1 career at the amateur level and then opened up his professional career with an eight-fight winning streak. He took out some experienced veterans along the way. He was definitely on the radar of some big promotions — his ninth pro fight against Merab Dvalishvili at Ring of Combat 59 even took place in front of UFC President Dana White as part of the Lookin’ for a Fight series. Unfortunately, a spinning backfist from Dvalishvili only 15 seconds into the fight sent Stots to the ground.
In the two years following his only pro loss, Stots has gotten back to his winning ways, picking up four in a row. This was capped off with a victory over Ralph Acosta in the Legacy Fighting Alliance cage in May.
“I ended up winning that fight by a unanimous decision,” Stots said. “He was a game opponent and was really good at hanging onto me. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about anti-clinching and anti-grappling if I needed to. I dominated everywhere in the fight. I just couldn’t get him out of it.”
Stots is one of the hottest prospects on the scene today. His father and other siblings follow his career closely., and he certainly would have made his mother proud. He now sits at 12-1 as a pro, and he attributes a lot of that to his team at Roufusport.
“It really allows me to grow, because we have a small team, and I feel like I have eyes on me at all times,” said the former collegiate wrestler. “I’m not allowed to make a lot of mistakes. I wasn’t allowed to build a lot of bad habits. I’ve had high-level training with eyes on me, and I was able to progress at a fast rate.”
While his bid for a UFC roster spot came to an abrupt end, another opportunity was lying in wait for Stots. Belllator gave him a call in early October. He finally makes his promotional debut on Saturday night at Bellator 236 in Hawaii.
“Man, I was freaking jumping up and down,” Stots exclaimed. “I was excited. I told my wife, and we’re excited. I feel like everything happened for a reason, as cliché as it sounds. I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m fighting on the main card in Bellator in Hawaii. I mean, the icing on the cake will be when I get the Bellator belt.”
Stots will stand across the cage from Cheyden Leialoha, a 7-1 up-and-comer. The Hawaiian prospect also had a failed bid to get into the UFC through Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, but found himself in a great position with Bellator.
“I know he’s at a good gym — Max Holloway’s gym,” said Stots. “I fought one of his teammates, Arnold Berdon, two years ago. I’m assuming he’s going to want to get that one back for his gym. Also, he started in wrestling. He’s well rounded. He fought on the Contender Series. He’s had a setback, and he’s working his way back. They had Hawaiian tryouts for Bellator, and he did good there.”
Regardless of the outcome of the fight, Stots will have a big cheering section. While he did not grow up with his father in Texas, they always maintained a relationship.
“My dad is Nigerian and moved to [Washington] D.C. when I was four or five,” Stots said. “I’m still in contact with him. He always helped us out, sent us money, and paid child support, but he was always in a different state.”
Stots has two siblings on his mom’s side and three on his father’s side. He is the oldest of the six kids, and they love watching him fight.
“Some of my family have come up to Iowa,” Stots said. “My brothers watch all the time, and on my dad’s side, my siblings are younger, and they treat me like a hero. My little sister is like five, and she asked me the other day, ‘Raufeon, are you still famous?’ I told her I’m not famous, but I’m still fighting.
“I feel like I’m responsible for putting out a good example for them. I also want to be a rock to them if they ever need anything. That drives me as well.”
Stots and his wife, Michaela, have a son of their own. The little man is a bit young — he turns two years old on Cinco de Mayo — to start following in dad’s footsteps. Stots will be a great role model for him, though.
Right now, the goal is to beat Leialoha, pick up a few more wins in 2020, and get in line for a title shot by 2021.
“I’m fighting in his backyard,” Stots said. “His backyard is where the barbecue’s at, so I’m going to come up there and try to steal a plate.”