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Draper, Willis - Relentless

By Brett Auten | Knuckle Junkies

Opposites collide when Travis Draper and Chuka Willis meet in Friday's main event bout for Rumble Time Promotions: Relentless at the Ameristar Casino.

Willis is flamboyant, confident, a little unorthodox. Draper, cold, calculated, American Psycho-esque.

The two featherweights are undefeated in the dawn of their pro careers; Draper 2-0 and Willis 3-0. It could be easily argued that each will be the others toughest opponent to date.

Draper enters the fight as one of St. Louis' top up-and-coming pro prospects. The latest in the St. Charles MMA assembly line of tough, well-rounded fighters, he finished both of his pro opponents in less than 90 seconds. On top of that, Draper defeated some of St. Louis' finest amateurs before turning pro in November of last year.

But Willis doesn't necessarily see it that way.

"What's the hype for?" he said. "Who has he beat? You take a look at my amateur record and there are Division II national champions, jiu-jitsu blue belts, I didn't want to pad my record. Even the loses, they're part of the story."

Whether its Draper's Vaghi blue belt, his much-publicized gym, or his training partners, Willis is certain Draper's previous opponents are psyched out and have checked out before they even touch gloves.

"I feel like his other opponents are already beat mentally," he said. "No guy can beat me mentally. (Draper) can't take me down. How can you submit someone you can't take down? My speed is going to be a great advantage and my cardio is impeccable."

Chuka Willis made his pro debut in old-school fashion, winning two fights in one night in a bantamweight tournament held in Grandview.

He locked in a rear naked choke in 45 seconds in his last outing in September. He considers the five months away from competition as a needed break.

"I feel rejuvenated," Willis said. "Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes."

The 21-year-olds background is as colorful as his bravado.

Born in Atlanta, where he stayed until his parents divorced at the age of five, Willis then lived in Nigeria for the next 10 years. There he recognized the importance of having a bite to follow up your bark and to sharpen his teeth Willis turned to karate.

"I've always had a mouth on me and I was getting bullied a little bit," he said.

As a teenager he came to St. Louis before eventually graduating from Eureka where he wrestled. Though never the star performer, district champ or poster board holder, Willis developed his work ethic and resolve in the talent-rich Wildcat wrestling room.

Post high school he ended up in Hannibal. The meshing of karate and wrestling sounded like a plan and in 2012 he had his first amateur MMA fight. It didn't take long to realize that Hannibal is not best place for a cage fighter to learn the ropes. So a move to Emporia, Kansas has done nothing but wonders.

"I just got up and moved one day," Willis said. "Training out of a boxing gym isn't going to cut it."

Willis racked up a solid 19-6 amateur career in the Kansas City scene. The bulk of that, 16-3, has come while in Emporia at E:24-7 gym where owner Dusty Spaulding and coach Steve Brown do work.

A self-professed natural, Willis isn't what you would call a gym rat.

"Give me a two weeks and I'm good," Willis said. "That's all I need. It just comes naturally to me. This time I did a month because the stakes are higher."

Willis believes he can punch through Draper's vaunted ground game and push him where he's never been before.

"Keep punching until he's a white belt," Willis said. "I'm all about being physical. I think I'm more athletic, more powerful."

Willis talks as if he will engage from the onset. Too many times Draper is the one doing the stalking. The plan is to come forward and finish, hand raised for the bad guy.

"I go into the other guys' hometown, take out the trash then leave," Willis said. "I've built my career doing it."

***

On the way home from a Monday night practice, the spirits are high and endorphins are flowing for Travis Draper.

Days away from Friday's main event and Draper is blissed out. The rededication to constant training has his mechanics filed down to a fine point. Feeling hole-proof eases the chaos between the ears. Fight night can't get here soon enough.

"I've learned so much these past couple of months," Draper said. "I have had about five fights without a breather. This is what I'm doing (full-time). My lifestyle is a little different than other fighters. I'm doing everything I can to make this happen."

On paper, Draper has the higher pedigree than his opponent Chuka Willis but that's not how he looks at it

"I don't think about that nor do I care," Draper said. "I train at a high intensity and I'm fairly confident."

For what it is worth, a social media spat between the two started weeks before the fight adding either real or manufactured intensity to the bout.

"I'm glad he's hyping it up and is excited to fight," Draper said.

Draper's ever-growing boxing skills is making a nice dance partner in the cage to his ground game and just general overall orneriness.

"His other opponents, they are not me," Draper said. "This is my biggest fight to date. He's good and he's athletic but I'm much better everywhere. I can beat him standing. It's going to show."

Tickets available from Metrotix or calling 314-662-2000.

The full card:

Travis Draper vs Chuka Willis
Dan O'connor vs Demario Cade
Nick Lobosco vs TBA
Zach Freeman vs Zachary Kelley
Kyle Kurtz vs Anthony Livingston
Josh Epps vs Peo Panyathong

Steve Barbee vs Demitrious Wilson
Oscar Auzhui vs Jerome Young

Ty Flores vs Mike Offor - K1
Lucas Clay vs Montrel James - K1

Rumble Time: Relentless
Friday, March 6th
Ameristar Casino, St. Charles, MO

Guns 'n Hoses 2018 | Thu, November 22nd
Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO

Shamrock FC 312 | Sat, December 8th
Ameristar KC, Kansas City, MO

Fight Hard MMA | Sat, December 8th
Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, MO

NFA Fight Before X-mas | Sat, December 15th
Casa Loma Ballroom, St. Louis, MO