A night amongst friends and warriors!
It had been nearly four years since I had stepped through the doors at Tokyo Joe’s Studios in Hooksett, NH; the home of Team Link. Some of the material things have changed since the last time; the paint on the walls had changed color, the mats in main room had been changed and they have since added a room downstairs with a Boxing Ring and more room for the fighters to improve their strength and conditioning. But I was not really interested in what had changed since my last visit; I was more interested in what stayed the same. With all the visual changes the gym had seen since I had last visited I noticed quickly that Team Link’s philosophy was still much the same; a family type atmosphere and some badass Mixed Martial Artists. When I contacted Coach Ed Carr about coming in to write a feature about the gym he assured me that he would pack the mats for my visit, making sure that I would have the chance to witness some of his highest level martial artists at work. I had not been at the gym ten minutes when I realized Coach Carr was definitely going to make good on his promise; New Gladius Women’s Flyweight Amateur Champion Kerri Kenneson, Taylor Calomb who was also victorious at Gladius 24 in a kickboxing bout, Nick “JC” Alley who is taking a 2-0 Professional record to the cage with him at Primere FC on March 11th to face Addison O’Neil (2-4), Ryan DiBartolomeo who will look to notch his first professional win April 8th at Cage Titians and Walter Smith Cotito (4-5) who will face undefeated Young’s MMA product Aaron Lacey (4-0) at NEF 28, were all in house for fighter training. Other current and former fighters in the building included; former amateur Flyweight Champ Kenny Murphy, Tim Field, John Santos, Dan Pasquarella and Kenny Rodrigues.
Coach Ed Carr (middle) offers instruction to Kerri Kenneson (right)
Coach Ed Carr leads the warm ups.
Aside from the energy in the gym that night, it was evident that I was amongst a group of close friends and family. With guys who haven’t been to the gym in a while catching up with their friends, who just so happen to be some of the most dangerous fighters in the area. The feeling in the room would almost remind you of a bunch of buddies around a bon fire not a bunch of fighters getting ready to train for an hour and a half, but these are not just any fighters they are family and around here it’s family first. As the round bell sounds however, there is some business to attend to and as the fighters start to warm up Coach Carr rattles off a list of upcoming fights and recent fights from the previous weekend which saw the team go (2-0) in New York at Gladius 24. After a solid warm up, the group broke off into pairs and pulled out the Thai pads to drill hard on some crafty striking combinations. Coach Ed paid close attention to his fighters but was checking his phone often, fielding inquiries from some of New England’s top promotions; NEF was on the line looking for the services of Walter Smith Cotito and while I was there Cage Titans made their pitch to Ryan DiBartolomeo to put him on their upcoming card April 8th. After some Thai work Coach Carr called all of the fighters to the center of the room and gave me a chance to introduce myself to the few that did not know me, I took time to explain to the fighters what some of my goals were in the sport, I expressed to them my willingness to represent the fighters, gyms and promotions of the Northeast, in hopes that everyone receives the recognition that they deserve for their hard work. I offered all of the fighters a somewhat “Open Door” policy and outlined my wishes to work hand and hand with them. All of the fighters were extremely thankful of the work put in by not only myself but the entire staff of Westernmassmma.com and some of our closest friends in the New England media family.
Nick Alley and Walter Smith Cotito working the Thai pads.
Shortly after my introduction the fighters went on with some sparring rounds and I caught up with Featherweight Ryan DiBartolomeo to discuss his plans for his upcoming fight and even more important, his plans for his upcoming wedding this summer. I caught the entire interview on video but had trouble with the audio given the fact that I bought the cheapest camera on god’s green earth and there were hard sparring rounds going on in the background. Ryan and I talked first and foremost about his upcoming wedding with his fiancé Heather and how excited he was for this summer. Ryan hopes that his fight for Cage Titans in April will help with what is often an expensive life event. Ryan says his is looking to improve his all around fight game after starting his professional career off with back to back losses. Although, no opponent has been announced yet, Ryan hopes to show that he learned from his first two losses and that he is a better fighter because of them and hopefully that will result with him finally getting his hand raised. Ryan also expressed his love for his team and his teammates and says that it didn’t take long for him to feel right at home with the Coaches and Fighters at Team Link and that he owes a lot to Coach Ed and the entire crew for the fighter he has become.
Kenneson and Calomb/DiBratolomeo and Murphy on the Thai pads.
There was no doubt that the major news of the evening was Kerri Kenneson who had won the Gladius Women’s Flyweight Amateur Title just four days prior and after taking a couple days off from training following her win was back in the gym, with her new belt of course. Kerri took a couple minutes to talk to me about her Title win and about what she sees next for herself. Unfortunately the video of Kerri and I’s interview also fell victim to poor sound quality, but I spoke at length with Kerri about her perfectly executed game plan in her fight with Elisabeth Van Der Horst, who’s six foot lengthy frame would require Kenneson to close the distance in the fight and apply overwhelming pressure to Van Der Horst once that distance was closed. Kerri did just that; applying pressure and ending up in top position most of the fight in her dominant victory. The judges gave Kenneson all three rounds earning her a unanimous decision victory, Kerri and her corner were under the impression that the fight was scheduled for five rounds and that’s what she had been training for her entire camp. However, while Kerri and Coach Ed were preparing for the championship rounds on the stool after round three, the announcer stepped in with the decision much to their surprise. Kerri said that she was happy to have won but was a little upset she did not get to go the distance she had trained for or perhaps get a chance to finish the fight in the final two rounds.
Kerri Kenneson and Kenny Rodrigues Sparring.
Regardless of the confusion at the end of the fight, Kerri was excited to check off: winning a title, from her list of goals as a fighter. When I asked Kerri what the next goal on the list would be she said it had always been her goal to turn Pro within two years and that April, is the two year mark for her and she is looking to do just that. When I asked Coach Ed about what he thought was next for her he spoke very highly of her development as a fighter and how fast she was picking up the technical aspects of the sport. Coach said he would not be the least bit surprised to hear promotions wanting to give her a fight as a pro and said he could see her making her debut on the national level, with possible sights on Bellator which returns to Mohegan Sun on April 20th. Although no fight has yet been announced or confirmed you could say the Kenneson camp has earned some much deserved high hopes for her career and are looking to make sure the next fight is best fit for her.
Kerri Kenneson and Taylor Calomb work together.
Speaking of fighters who are on the cusp of National attention, I sat down next with Undefeated Welterweight Nick Alley (2-0) and this time got my camera to work, finally, and was able to capture Nick’s excitement going in to his Fight Saturday night against Addison O’Neil (2-4) at Premier FC 22. Nick has a great personality and I was happy our interview came out. Nick is a humble kid with a winning attitude and some extremely lethal MMA skills that makes him someone to watch in the future if you haven’t already started to follow him. Nick also talked a little about the one regret he will carry with him to the cage and how that inspires him to be the best person he can be inside and outside of the cage! Nick’s huge heart also comes through when he talks about his team here at Link and Coaches Ed Carr and Brent Kinberger. I’m excited to work with Nick in the future and have been following his career myself, since his amateur days.
At the end of the night there were just three of us left in the building, myself, Ed Carr and Walter Smith Cotito and we started to talk about what was on the table for Walter, who has suffered three losses in his last four fights but against top tier Featherweight Blair Tugman and two highly regarded Bantamweights in Kin Moy and Jeff Emil Haddad. Walter has shown in the past that he can hang with these top level fighters and feels as though he needs to continue to fight the best opponent possible to prove himself every time out. The three of us discussed two undefeated Young’s MMA fighters; Josh “Hook On” Harvey (3-0) and “Relentless” Aaron Lacey (4-0) as possibly opponents. I would find out in the coming days that Walter had signed to fight Aaron Lacey at NEF 28 on April 29th in Lewiston, Maine.
Walter Smith Cotito
Coach Ed and I stood in the parking lot for ten minutes and continued to talk even after the lights were out at Tokyo Joe’s. The passion and pride for his team, and this sport, is constantly at the forefront when talking to Ed about the MMA scene and it is evident that he trains some of his very best friends and shares an unparalleled level of commitment to his fighters. Team Link is without a doubt a family, each one looking out for the next, untied in victory and forever supportive to one another win or lose. I would also be remised if I did not get to mention again the Team Link BJJ instructor Brent Kinberger who I have known almost as long as I have known Ed Carr, although he was not in the building for my takeover of their gym; I know his commitment to Team Link is unwavering, and the time and effort he puts into the team and the sport cannot go unmentioned. I want to give thanks to everyone at Team Link for opening their doors to an old friend and helping me feel like I’m right at home. I continue to give my highest endorsement to their program and offer any support necessary to all of their fighters!
For more information about the Team Link program and to get in contact with Coach Ed Carr please visit their website at Teamlinkhooksettnh.com.