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September 4, 2015


[NEF Press Release]

 Lewiston, Maine (September 3, 2015) – New England Fights (NEF), America's number-one regional fight promotion, will hold its nineteenth mixed-martial-arts (MMA) event, "NEF XIX," on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisée in Lewiston, Maine.  The fight card will feature three members of First Class MMA in action that night.  Hannah Sparrell (0-0), Rafael Velado (0-0) and Nick Shea (1-0) from the Brunswick, Maine-based gym.  Recently, First Class MMA founder and head coach John "First Class" Raio joined NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson as the guest on the NEF Podcast.

This past June, 38-year-old Raio retired after competing in the NEF cage for some three-and-a-half years.  Raio now concentrates on training the members of his First Class MMA gym, including preparing Sparrell, Velado and Shea for their upcoming bouts.

"I definitely can put a lot more time into my fighters as well as my family," said Raio.  "The fighters, I can put a lot more time into them because it's not all about me.  When you're fighting, when you're training for a fight, no matter how much you try to focus on Nick Shea or Nick Gully or Hannah Sparrell or Rafael or any of our fighters, you can't really put 100% effort into a fighter when you really focus on your own fight.  It's tough splitting between their fight and your fight and your job, your family and your kids."

Since the birth of NEF in early 2012, and the subsequent explosion of the sport’s popularity in the state, many new gyms have sprung up in recent years, including First Class MMA.  Raio enjoys, more than anything else, the tight-knit, family-like atmosphere that has developed at the facility since he opened the gym.

"The biggest thing I like about our gym, I enjoy going and being a part of, is there's a very humble group of students and instructors," noted Raio.  "Everyone who teaches in there is about the fighters.  It's about the students.  They're not about themselves.  They're more about trying to help people get better.  Whether they're a fighter or a teacher, we have a few teachers who go there and we have several women students and several children and adults.  It's a real good mix and very much a family atmosphere.  We rarely lose a student."

 The "First Class" moniker is not merely a nickname given to Raio because of his past job with the postal service.  Early on in his MMA career, Raio earned the reputation of a respectful, classy, professional, likeable individual, hence the pun in his nickname.  Those same qualities have carried over to the students of First Class MMA.

"I try to treat everybody equally," said Raio.  "I try to treat everyone respectfully.  I think a lot of those guys (at the gym), in turn, treat each other respectfully.  If I ever have an issue with a student, if they're not acting respectful to the instructors or the other students, I'll pull them aside and if they have to leave then they have to leave.  That's part of life... Our gym attracts, for some reason, people who are just nice people."

With more and more new students coming through his gym's door, Raio has definitely kept busy since his retirement from active competition.  Like a proud father, Raio has a real passion for the success of his students.  The ultimate reward for him is seeing his protégées do well in the cage.

"After the last show (NEF XVIII), when I saw Nick (Gulliver, 1-0) have his arm raised and Rob (Robinson, 1-0), I was so happy for those guys," recalled Raio.  "I'm so happy to see these two guys win.  As much as I didn't come away with a win against Bruce (Boyington, 10-8), I said 'if we go 2-1, I'd rather be the one that didn't pull off the victory.'  I've never been as happy for my own win than I was for Nick and Rob that night."

To learn more about First Class MMA, you can visit the team's Facebook page "First Class Fitness & MMA."

You can listen to the NEF Podcast in its entirety at

New England Fights' next event, "NEF XIX," takes place on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisée in Lewiston, Maine.  Tickets for "NEF XIX" start at just $25 and are on sale now at or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009 x 525.  For more information on the event and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at  In addition, you can watch NEF videos at, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”