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August 13, 2013


[NEF Press Release]

Lewiston, Maine (August 13, 2013) – New England Fights MMA ‘s (NEF MMA) signed athlete John “First Class” Raio (0-4) never envisioned any scenario in which he would drop four losses in a row after signing on to become a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter late last year. That’s because “First Class”, a postman, husband, and father of two, was perfect as an amateur amassing a flawless 4-0 record in an amazing seven month run in 2012.

“I never could have imagined starting out 0-4 as a professional,” stated Raio. “Looking back, I should have stayed amateur longer and worked more on my BJJ and standup before going pro. I had some tough competition, but never was in deep waters as an amateur.”

Raio is scheduled to return to NEF MMA at “NEF X” on September 21st at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee back at the venue where it all began for him. Going back to his roots, the fighter that never tasted defeat as an amateur is ready to return to form.

John Raio made his MMA debut at “NEF I” in February 2012. At the time, the then 34-year old former high school state champion from Gardner, Maine and college wrestler was looking for a way to exercise the competitive demon that still haunted him after an unrealized post high school athletic career. In his first fight, Raio beat gritty amateur veteran Ken “The Wreckage” Kersch (2-7) in front of a record crowd of 3000+ at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine.

“I felt nervous going into that first bout, but confident that my wrestling could win the fight as long as I set up my shots,” stated Raio. “It was a dream of mine for 10 years.  I always felt I could do well if I ever had the chance to compete.  Having my son at a young age and my wife and I finishing college, made it difficult to train in my 20's.  I started training two months before my 34th birthday.  We were always playing combat sports and fighting in my neighborhood in Gardiner growing up as kids, so it was natural for me to compete in the cage.”

After Raio’s first fight, the hook was set and he ran off three more wins over the course of NEF MMA’s next three events. During his amateur run, Raio earned the respect of fellow fighters and fans alike as a hardworking, determined competitor. Ticket buyers turned out in droves to witness the performances of the punching postman as he plowed his way toward a Top 10 amateur ranking amongst Northeast featherweights. His business acumen outside of the cage also earned him a position with NEF MMA in the front office when the promotion announced him as the company’s “Manager of Athlete Development.” Everything was clicking for John Raio.

And then everything changed.

In the fall of 2012, it was announced that Raio had made the decision to call it a day on his amateur career and make the move to the professional ranks. NEF MMA then announced that Raio would make his professional debut against another pro debut fighter with a high profile, number-one ranked amateur featherweight Ray “All Business” Wood (4-0) from Young’s MMA in Bangor, Maine. It was a dream matchup for Maine fans who had followed both mixed martial artists closely throughout their impressive amateur careers.

“Fighting Ray Wood was a great opportunity for me at the time, but a big step up in competition,” stated Raio. “We were both amateurs, and I knew it was a matter of time before we were asked to fight. At 35 years of age, I felt like I would be out of the sport soon and wanted to challenge myself. At the time, my manager kept telling me I could beat him, so I took the fight.”

“The crowd during Raio-Wood was thunderous,” stated NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson. “I’ve never heard applause, cheers, screams and chants as loud as they were that night in the Colisee for those men. It was momentous.”

Despite a gutsy performance against the much younger Wood, Raio lost his pro debut via TKO in the second round. Undeterred, Raio returned to the cage just a few months later at “NEF VI” when he bumped up in weight to face Tony Woodman (3-6). Wood’s size and strength proved to be too much for the much smaller Raio and Woodman finished “First Class” with strikes in the second round.

Even though he ended the night 0-2 in his pro career, Raio’s performance and loyal fan following caught the eye of Bellator executives when they were scouting the “NEF VI” event as part of their promotional partnership with NEF MMA. When NEF MMA brought Bellator to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in March, Raio got the call to fight in the second largest promotion in the world against up-and-coming prospect Vince Murdock (2-1).

Raio met Murdock at “Bellator MMA 93” on March 21st. The two men battled it out for over fourteen minutes of dogged fighting before the ref stopped the bout in Murdock’s favor. Raio handed Murdock a broken jaw in the process and won the distinction of putting on the best performance of any Maine fighter that was competing that night.

“When I was asked to fight Vince Murdock for Bellator, it was a dream come true,” stated Raio. “I always wanted to compete on the big stage. I knew he had much more experience than me and was faster and more athletic. I felt like I could beat him with my boxing and tried to keep the fight standing. Vince was everything I thought he would be. He was relentless from start to finish and an incredible athlete. I felt like I did well with my game plan, but feel I should have engaged more rather than being a counter puncher.”

In Raio’s most recent outing, disaster struck when Damon “The Omen” Owens (1-0) brutally knocked out “First Class” with a devastating head kick only 35 seconds into the first round of their highly anticipated rematch. The two first faced each other as amateurs when Raio won a unanimous decision on the judge’s scorecards. The loss marked the first time Raio had ever been knocked out and had him seriously questioning his next moves in the sport.

“I was shocked by the KO,” stated Raio. “I still can't believe I dropped my hands. I have never been KO'd in my life and never thought it could happen to me. Damon is a great person and I view him as a friend. He landed a well-timed kick. He was respectful after the loss and we have talked since the KO. Anything can happen in the cage and I never underestimate an opponent. I trained hard for every fight like it was Ray Wood or Vince Murdock.”

Thankfully for fans, Raio made the decision to continue fighting. His return to the cage is scheduled for September 21st when he will face Asa Zorn (0-3) from Hard Knocks MMA back at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in the promotion that he helped to build.

“I am ready for this fight,” stated Raio. “I can't wait to get back out there after all the preparation for the last fight led to less than a minute of fighting. I am training hard like I do for every other fight. I will make sure to keep my hands high for this one. I will not take Asa lightly.”

Regardless of the outcome on September 21st, John Raio knows that his days as a professional fighter are numbered and that means that fans of “First Class” should capitalize on every opportunity to see him compete before he closes the door on his competitive mixed martial arts career. Raio recently opened up “First Class Fitness and MMA” in Topsham and is planning his next moves in the combat sports world.

“I have said that I would retire after my next loss,” Raio reflected in closing. “Now that I have my own gym with fighters to help train and my family has supported me for almost three years as a fighter, I think my next loss will be the end. I train with Kris Kramer at Choi's in Portland who is 38 years old, and that makes me think I could go for a few more years. I should never announce a retirement, just in case I have the urge to return. That being said, I am hoping to compete in November as well and then take some time off to help train fighters and spend time with my family.”

“NEF X” is scheduled to take place on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine.  Tickets start at just $25 and are on sale now at   The card will feature Maine State Featherweight Champion Ray "All Business" Wood (4-0) defending his title against Rhode Island's Joe Pingitore (4-0-1). Also scheduled is a 155-pound bout between Jon Lemke (3-1) and John Ortolani (7-7) to fill the recently vacated Maine State Lightweight Championship. You can watch NEF videos at, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”