Rudy Schaffroth had always planned to continue fighting after his amateur wrestling career was over. It just took some time (and a near-death experience or two) to get the ball rolling.
Long before becoming an unbeaten heavyweight prospect, the 32-year-old Schaffroth was a standout wrestler growing up in the area of Oregon now known as Damascus, formerly of Clackamas County. After high school, he bounced around at a few colleges, where he continued to compete when he was academically eligible.
First, it was Portland State, a situation that Schaffroth blames himself for spoiling due to having a bad attitude; then Schaffroth ended up at Clackamas Community College, where he rebuilt his reputation on the mats enough to receive a scholarship offer from Montana State University-Northern.
Schaffroth became an NAIA All-American at MSU-Northern, but he was once again unable to reconcile his studies with his athletic success and the scholarship would later be rescinded. Soon enough, real life came calling and Schaffroth found himself with bills to pay, so it was off to the oil fields for him.
That part of Schaffroth’s life lasted two years, more than enough time for him to experience a couple of “close calls” as he puts it, the kind of experiences that make one rapidly reassess their priorities and goals.
“There was a pipe one time was being lifted up in the air and the chain, I guess it turned, the chain slid a little bit, the hook came off and that pipe came falling down. And it just brushed my arm. Felt the vibration go by my shoulder and that was kind of one of them,” Schaffroth recently told MMA Fighting, when asked to elaborate on the occasional life-threatening episode from the oil fields.
“Then they let me operate the crane and something had broke while I was lifting it. And the boss guy was like, ‘Oh no, crane’s got it. You got it, pick it up.’ And I kept picking it up and the blocks and the pulleys went flying after a cable broke. So that was some stuff where I was like, ‘I don’t need to do this anymore.’”
Five or six months after leaving the oil fields, Schaffroth still had plans to try his hand at MMA, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth transition. He says he burned through all of the cash that he earned from the oil fields rather than immediately investing in what would turn out to be his future career.
Fortunately, a former UFC middleweight championship contender, Olympic silver medalist, and proud Oregonian was there to help Schaffroth pick up the pieces.
“I was on the phone trying to scramble, to get Matt Lindland to hook me up and get going, and they did,” Schaffroth said. “Matt Lindland and the promotion that fights in downtown Portland, they had me a fight booked before I’d ever stepped in a gym to train. They had trust in my abilities, they had faith in my abilities.
“I won that first fight, but it wasn’t anything to write home about.”
Schaffroth stuck with Lindland and Team Quest Portland, eventually following coaches Fabiano Scherner and Chael Sonnen to Gracie Barra Portland (now American Top Team Portland) when Lindland left to work at the Olympic Training Center. Their investment in Schaffroth has been well worth it as he’s stormed to a 6-0 professional start.
All of Schaffroth’s wins have come by way of first-round knockout, including a spectacular finish of Vernon Lewis at Bellator 210 that pushed Schaffroth closer to the spotlight from which he has long shied away.
Schaffroth has only been competing professionally since 2016, so he’s not all that surprised that he hasn’t been receiving the kind of attention that a knockout-happy heavyweight prospect usually would. By his own admission, he isn’t adept at self-promotion and in the past he’s found it “weird and uncomfortable” to put himself out there for the public.
Ahead of his fight with former Clackamas Community College teammate Tyrell Fortune (who also brings a 6-0 record into the bout) on Saturday at Bellator 225 in Bridgeport, Conn., Schaffroth has been asked to handle his first rush of media requests. A major concern for him is coming off as cocky or arrogant, but (with some prodding) he opened up about his growing confidence and what he expects to happen should he get past his old wrestling acquaintance.
“If I put Tyrell Fortune down, then that’s gonna be a game changer,” Schaffroth said. “I’m the man here now and this is my time and my division and all that’s gonna happen if I put him down. So up until then, I’ve just kind of been laying low. He’s been talking some shit, saying stuff here and there, I’m just waiting until the fight and talk with my hands.”
A 3-0 start to his Bellator career could push Schaffroth up the ranks fast and he names Roy Nelson, Fedor Emelianenko (“give one back to Fedor for Chael,” Schaffroth said), and Matt Mitrione as opponents he’d like to face in the future. When the name Jake Hager (formerly known as WWE star “Jack Swagger”) is brought up to him, Schaffroth dismissed him as being a pro wrestler, “not a fighter.”
Any one of those matchups will turn the shine way up on Schaffroth’s fighting career, which seemed like a remote possibility when he was dodging falling pipes and flying pulleys in the oil fields. Now it’s all about competing and winning... and maybe adding a few followers to his Instagram as well.
“After that fight [with Lewis] I saw a change and that’s definitely been part of some of the change in me,” Schaffroth said. “I have been feeling more confident since the last fight. I’ve also wanted to wait until I was in better shape to put myself on camera and to put myself on social media, I’ve been fat my whole life so I’ve never been super happy or comfortable with that my entire life. Now I’m in better shape and I feel better about the way I look and I have more confidence that way too. I’m ready to start putting myself out there on social media more now and start being that guy. I’m gonna beat this guy up.
“I totally respect Tyrell. This is the toughest fight I’ve had so far and I’m going to give him everything I have. I’m not underestimating him whatsoever. That being said, I think I’m gonna come out on top.”