Rochester Magazine: So why the Eagles Club? Why’d you pick here to meet?
Raphael Butler: Well, for one, my girlfriend Courtney works here, so. ...
RM: That makes sense. Where do you normally go for bars?
RB: Nowhere, really, man. I’m more of a homebody. I like to stay at home. I don’t go out to the bars anymore. That’s a young man thing. I’m not a young man anymore.
RM: Well, you’re 37, right?
RB: That’s right.
RM: So did you actually KO heavyweight great Vitali Klitschko in a sparring match back in 2007? Lots of rumors about that.
RB: See, the thing is, when it comes to sparring, it’s a little disrespectful to speak about sparring outside of the sparring itself. And so, even though this was well over a decade ago, I still feel uncomfortable talking about it.
RM: Fair enough.
RB: It is a respect thing, mainly. Anything that happens in the gym, stays there. It’s not a real fight so you shouldn’t go bragging about it, you know what I mean?
RM: I appreciate that. You sure made your mark as a heavyweight: 35 wins (with 28 knockouts) and 12 losses. A record of 9-2 in MMA. Do you miss fighting?
RB: Well, yes. Once you’re a fighter, you’re always a fighter. I’m always watching fights still, whether it’s boxing matches or MMA matches, especially when I see guys that I know personally.
RM: Now you’re teaching boxing classes at 125 LIVE?
RB: Yes, I’m still doing boxing and fitness classes. Even when I was fighting, I was looking at it through a coach’s mind, through a teacher’s mind. Being a coach now is kind of a natural progression. And I really love doing that.
RM: You were born in Chicago. Tough neighborhood. Tough times. Tell me about the diamond earring story your mom told me years ago when I did a profile on you for Rochester Magazine.
RB: I was five years old at the time. I vaguely remember it. We lived in a project building—two high-rise buildings and there was a playground in the middle of them. I was playing in the playground. It was me and a few other people. Then these kids, they had to have been 12, 13 years old, came and just pushed me down, took my earring off, and left. My mom was watching out the window but she couldn’t get there in time. But then at that point she realized, it’s time to go. It’s time to get out of there.
RM: Then you moved to north Minneapolis.
RB: North Minneapolis back then was kind of like the prison rule. Find the biggest guy, knock him out, then you’re the big guy. And I just so happened to be one of the biggest guys in the neighborhood. At 13, I was 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. Not many adults are that big. So I was the guy that everybody wanted to fight because I was the big guy.
RM: Your mom says even when the neighbor kids were selling drugs or partying all night, you would be inside, playing with your action figures, watching your cartoons.
RB: Yeah. I mean not to say that I wasn’t out getting in trouble, but for the most part I’ve kind of lived my life trying to stay away from danger. I don’t want to die over something stupid. And a lot of the guys that I grew up with, they did a lot of stupid things, pissed off the wrong people. I’ve been shot at a couple of times, over some stuff that had nothing to do with me, so I didn’t want a part of that.
RM: So why the maturity at such a young age?
RB: Living in a single mother household, I had to be the man of the house. And I had to make decisions based on what’s best for me and my sister and my mom. Again, that’s not to say that I wasn’t a dumb kid sometimes, because we’ve all been there. But for the most part I had to think about what is best to prolong my future. And going out in the middle of the night, doing drug deals with my friends, is probably not the best thing for that.
RM: So your mom was looking to move someplace safer once again, and this time you guys come to Rochester. And you meet Dan O’Connor, who helped start the former Fourth Street Youth Boxing Gym.
RB: Dan probably saved me. He’s definitely who I look at as a father figure in my life. There is nobody that is as close to the father as Dan is to me. And I tell him all the time I love him for it.
RM: I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dan.
RB: If it weren’t for Dan and those guys at the gym, there’s no telling where my life would be right now.
RM: And your life right now revolves around your daughter.
RB: My daughter, Deja. That’s my whole life right there. She’ll be 12 in September. It’s funny, once you have kids, you realize how much of your personality rubs off on somebody else. She’s a lot like me. She likes anime, she’s a little kind of a weirdo like I am. I don’t know, man, I can literally sit here all day and talk about my daughter. I love her with every part of me.
RM: I should end this right there on that moving note. But instead I’ll ruin it by asking one more question. Let me think of some terrible transition.
RM: I’ve got one: Tell me about when you worked taking the pictures of people at Mall of America’s Camp Snoopy Log Ride.
RB: Yeah. That was interesting. I was maybe 15 at the time. It was an interesting job, but it was just a weird job for me, because, as a kid, I wasn’t as talkative, and so I wasn’t good at the small talk that people expected. And I’m a terrible salesman. I can’t talk people into buying stuff they don’t want. I was horrible at it.
RM: There. That’s a much worse ending.
RB: Yes. Thanks.