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October 8, 2015


[NEF Press Release]

Lewiston, Maine (October 7, 2015) – New England Fights (NEF), America's number-one regional fight promotion, will hold its next event, "NEF XX: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE" on Saturday, November 21, 2015 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisée in Lewiston, Maine.  The event will feature a first for Maine - mixed-martial-arts (MMA) bouts and professional boxing bouts on the same event with an MMA cage and a boxing ring set up side-by-side.  On the amateur portion of the fight card, John Raio's First Class MMA team of Brunswick, Maine will send no less than four competitors to the NEF cage that evening.

Still relatively in its infancy, Raio's gym has grown, both figuratively and literally, since its inception in 2013.  Most recently, the team moved into a newer, larger space at Fort Andross in Brunswick.  With his own base in wrestling, Raio has also recently added trainers and classes in different martial arts disciplines to expand the learning of his students.

"I had a vision when I opened the gym to be sort of a University of mixed martial arts learning," said Raio.  "A school that included all of the different components of MMA and fitness so that students could pick and chose classes they were interested in.  We are adding another fitness class this month and a yoga class soon.  Having the same instructor teach everything can be boring to some and instructors that teach every night can burn out. Some schools have one instructor that feels they know wrestling, BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), kickboxing, karate, judo, etc. well enough to teach them all at a high level. If you limit your training to what one individual knows, you can only learn as much as that one individual is able to relay to you.  We have a black belt that teaches BJJ-Tim Fawber, a Kempo black belt that teaches striking -Shawn Tardif, a pro Boxer that teaches boxing- James Carville, and I was a state champion wrestler, I wrestled in college for four years, and I competed in MMA several times.  Chris McBean and Katie Baker also teach BJJ. I attend all of our classes.  As an instructor and coach, I always continue to learn more about the sport."

Raio retired from MMA competition this past June to spend more time with his family and to focus his efforts on developing his students at First Class.  He notes the differences between coaching and fighting and the personal sense of satisfaction each provides him.

"They are two totally different animals,” Raio stated. “I love them both for different reasons. I love competing because I can put all of my focus and training into my fight. I love coaching because I can put all of that focus onto another person. I feel so good each time one of my students win, it's as if I was out there fighting. I feel like I can game plan well and know the game well enough to find good matchups as my fighters progress."

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, when it comes to finding the right matchups for his students.  At "NEF XIX" last month, Raio's team went undefeated with three big wins.  Nick Shea (2-0) won his second MMA bout that night while Hannah Sparrell (1-0) and BJJ black belt Rafael Velado (1-0) were victorious in their respective cage debuts.  Raio credits cross-training with other gyms and the quality of instruction from First Class coaches for the team's recent success.

"It starts with our family friendly atmosphere," said Raio.  "We allow kids and men and women of all ages to attend all of our classes except sparring. My wife Jody has been a huge help. Our instructors are excellent. We have been blessed to have talented athletes, wrestlers, strikers and grapplers walk through our doors. They all work hard and put in the time.  They all work together and want each other to win. They have positive attitudes and treat each other with respect.  We are trying to match seven fighters for NEF next February and have 15-20 students actively seeking fights in the next year. Many of our students are here to learn and not compete.  All of our students are helpful on giving advice and tips. We also cross train as much as we can. We have several students that train through the Foundry BJJ system for BJJ and travel to train at our gym for striking, wrestling and MMA.  Our BJJ coaches are all Foundry BJJ members. We try to spar with Team Irish in Brewer monthly and I still train at Choi's (the Choi Institute of Portland, Maine) once a week. Hannah Sparrell goes to Choi's once a week too.

"When I first opened the gym I was very focused on my own training and let the other students prepare for their fights as they wished. Now I am on top of fighters with mandatory sparring, minimum classes each week and mandatory weigh-ins. If you can't meet the minimum requirements, you can't fight for our gym. You may fight as an independent or you can find a school that approves of you training when you feel like it. We have been very successful since I changed the rules."

On November 21, First Class MMA team member Nick Gulliver (1-0) will be in heavyweight action against Gravin Guillen (2-2).  Gulliver won his amateur debut last June in the NEF cage over Sonny Spratt (0-2).

"I'm so excited to fight again for a great organization like NEF," exclaimed Gulliver. "It felt so amazing to win my first fight in front of my family and friends at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in June. I worked really hard for my first fight, but I feel like I have a lot to prove to myself. Since my hand was raised back in June, I have been training hard with First Class MMA and The Foundry. My instructors and coaches are the best anyone can ask for. I train in Farmington, Maine with the Foundry under Brianne Genschel and Seth Harris. They have put so much time into my training over the years and I cannot thank them enough. Someone else I would like to thank for pushing me would be my great friend and instructor Shawn Smith. Shawn is someone who is always training hard and I try and train like he does. He pushes everyone at the gym to train hard. I also train at First Class MMA with John Raio. John is the reason I have this opportunity to fight. John has been such an amazing role model and friend to myself and all his fighters. Everyone at both schools I train at are amazing and are great instructors. I'm so happy I get to fight for the Foundry and First Class MMA. I'm looking forward to getting back into the cage and showing my family and friends how hard I have been working. I want to be the best person I can be and I will do that. I want to have my hand raised not just for me, but for the people who put so much time into what you see in the cage. I'm looking forward to getting the opportunity to fight again for NEF and show the fans what I have. I promise I will train hard and give it everything I have to make the crowd happy. I can't wait to see everyone on November 21st. Thank you to my family and friends and instructors for everything.

Gulliver extols the virtues of Raio's coaching style at First Class, echoing the sentiments of others regarding instructors putting the needs of students first.

"Everyone at First Class MMA has the same goal and that is to win," Gulliver continued.  "But what separates First Class from any other gym is that everyone will sacrifice their needs and goals to help you win.  What is so unique about First Class MMA is that any gym can teach you to fight, but with First Class, John teaches you heart. Just look at the last First Class performance at NEF. That was heart. We're looking to do the same this time around.  John Raio is a class act. He's not only a fighter or a coach, I also consider him a great friend. John doesn't just tell you to do something, he does it with you. If you're sweating, he's sweating—and that goes back to my statement that our school has heart. It all stems from our coach, John."

Rafael Velado, who was victorious last month at "NEF XIX" over Cory Trial (1-2), will once again represent First Class MMA on November 21 when he steps in the cage opposite Ken Dunn (0-2).  Like Gulliver, Velado credits the success of the team to Coach Raio.

"Two words, John Raio," said Velado when asked to differentiate First Class from other gyms he has trained at.  "I’ve trained at several schools over my martial arts career, but never have I come in contact with a coach who walked the walk the way he does. I don’t have to tell you what a workhorse he is, and that work ethic is something that has translated well as a coach.  It’s no surprise to most that John has been so successful as an MMA coach. He wears many hats such as leader, friend, mentor, training partner and devil’s advocate when necessary. He has been in pretty much every situation you can think of in the cage, and that gives him credibility. I trust his advice implicitly and you will see his MMA mind at work when I step in the cage to execute his game plan.  Some gyms will destroy every new student that walks through the door, but First Class MMA is the antithesis of that approach. We welcome anyone and everyone to come train regardless of their background or ambition to fight MMA."

Velado promises fans that they will see much more out of him in his upcoming bout with Dunn at "NEF XX."

"Part of me wants every fight to go as scripted like my debut against Cory Trial, but I’m here for experience as well. I showed about 1% of what I can do in my last fight, so keep your eyes peeled for something you’ve never seen in NEF."

Pierce Wiegman (0-0) will make his amateur MMA debut under the First Class banner on November 21 in Lewiston against David Thompson (0-1) of the Shatterproof Combat Club.  Unlike Velado, Wiegman, who will turn 30 prior to the event, has not trained at any other gym prior to joining First Class.  Like Velado, however, Wiegman can attest to the role Raio plays in the success of his students.

"I'm not going to speculate on the difference between our training regime versus any other gym's, but what I can say is that every fight our fighters won came because of hard work, dedication and excellent coaching from all of our instructors," stated Wiegman.  "John Raio is truly a first class man. His dedication to his family, his gym, and his fighters comes very unselfishly. John is very supportive of everyone who trains at his gym—kids, men and women and his instructors.”

"I'm just lucky to even be able to say I'm going to do this,” Wiegman continued. “And it's all thanks to John and Jody Raio and all of our instructors at First Class that I have this opportunity. Win or lose, I am grateful to NEF for having these fights and all the gyms around the state that are providing the platform for people to succeed at pursuing their dream of becoming a successful fighter."

Bryce Bamford (0-0) came to First Class MMA through the Foundry BJJ team, which cross-trains with Raio's students.  Bamford is scheduled to make his amateur MMA debut in the heavyweight division at "NEF XX.”  Bamford sees many similarities between the two teams.

"Truth is, First Class MMA, is really similar to the Foundry, in the respect that everybody's there to help everybody get better. It's like training with friends, not just training partners. That's what attracted me down there.  Steel sharpens steel. The better your training partners are, the better you are. John gives 100% to his whole team, and it makes it hard not give 100% back because he is so involved."

When asked for a prediction on his fight on November 21, Bamford responded with a single word - "Brutality."

"You can expect all of our fighters to be confident, well prepared, to treat their opponents with respect and to leave it all in the cage," said Raio in closing.  "These guys all put their time in."

New England Fights' next event, "NEF XX: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE," takes place on November 21, 2015 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisée in Lewiston, Maine.  The event will mark the first time in Maine history a mixed-martial-arts (MMA) event and a professional boxing event have taken place together on the same show.  Tickets for "NEF XX" start at just $25 and are on sale now at or by calling the Colisée 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.”