As Raufeon Stots continued to rack up the victories in reputable regional promotions like Legacy Fighting Alliance and Victory Fighting Championship, he still found himself overlooked when it came to making it to the next level.
That was in large part, Stots admits, because he had a singular focus on reaching the Ultimate Fighting Championship. As a wrestling coach at Roufusport in Milwaukee, Stots crossed paths with the Las Vegas-based promotion’s matchmakers on numerous occasions at events, yet he never seemed to receive a satisfying response during their interactions.
“I went up to matchmakers to their face and was like, ‘Hey bro, what’s going on? Because I’m being told that I’m next. What’s the deal?’ I kept getting runaround answers,” Stots told Sherdog.com. “I’m not in this thing forever. I can’t just sit and wait on somebody to feel like I’m worthy. You’re gonna hop on or you’re gonna miss out. That’s where I was at.
“I was getting the runaround. [They’d say], ’You’re the next guy,” but when there’s an opportunity, somebody else would get it. I was pretty much like, ‘Screw it.’
Stots’ attention shifted when he traveled to Bellator 226 to corner teammate Emmanuel Sanchez against Tywan Claxton this past September. Not only was he impressed by how Sanchez was treated, but a conversation with referee-turned-commentator “Big” John McCarthy convinced Stots to give Bellator a shot.
With that, “the UFC or bust mentality” was a thing of the past.
“I don’t want to go nowhere that I’m not wanted,” Stots said. “Bellator wanted me, and I felt that. I don’t want to be somewhere that you don’t feel like you can market me, or you don’t feel like you want me. I’m not going to go chase after this girl I don’t really know in the first place.”
Stots will make his sophomore appearance with the organization on Friday, when he meets Cass Bell on the preliminary card of Bellator 242 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The prelims will air on Bellator’s YouTube channel beginning at 8:45 ET/5:45 PT.
A two-time Division II national champion wrestler at University of Nebraska-Kearney, Stots was 12-1 when he made his promotional debut, a three-round verdict over Cheyden Leiaoha at Bellator 236 on Dec. 21. Prior to that, though, Stots claims bigger-name bantamweights like James Gallagher and Patrick Mix turned down fights against him. He also says other fighters — whom he won’t name until later — also balked at facing him at Bellator 242.
“Having a fight with me isn’t worth the gain….As I keep gaining steam, they’re not gonna be able to run forever,” Stots said. “There’s a lot of names even in Bellator that denied to fight me. It just gives me confidence and reassures that I’m here for the belt and I’m here to take everybody out.”
That’s where Stots gives props to his upcoming opponent. Where some don’t want to face a skilled wrestler, Bell, unbeaten in five Bellator bouts, is stepping up.
“They see the wrestling and they don’t want to fight wrestlers. Then they see I’m getting better at striking, I’m better at jiu-jitsu. They just don’t want to be in that situation,” Stots said. “Anytime someone signs to fight me, I knew they’re up to fight. They know they’re gonna be in for a fight, and they’re ready to come out there swinging.
“Cass Bell is the same thing. I feel like he’s got a lot of momentum in Bellator,” he continued. “He’s looking for a tough fight. He’s found it with me. He’s biting off more than he can chew. But at the same time, a fight is a fight. I know he’s gonna be coming. I know he’s ready to fight. I’m excited to dominate and finish this fight.”
Stots will share Friday’s card with Roufusport stablemate — and UFC veteran — Sergio Pettis, who is headlining the bill against Ricky Bandejas in another 135-pound pairing. Stots says that he and Pettis won’t lock horns in the Bellator cage unless the stakes are ideal, namely a championship belt.
“It’s got to be for something, though. I’m not gonna put our friendship on the line for just another paycheck,” he said. “It’s gotta be for something. He’s like my brother. I wouldn’t want to fight him ever.”
However, if Pettis isn’t part of the equation, the 31-year-old Stots has mapped out an ideal path to the bantamweight crown.
“I want to fight for this belt as soon as I can. I want to defend it and if I have things my way, we’d have a grand prix tournament,” he said. “And I’d win the grand prix, and then also I’d win a Bellator belt. That’d be amazing. I think we’ve got a lot of firepower in the bantamweight division, so it’d be a fun grand prix to make.”