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June 15, 2016


[NEF Press Release]

Lewiston, Maine (June 14, 2016) - Like so many headline-grabbing heavy hitters with New England Fights, Maine native Brandon Bushaw (1-2) had nothing left to prove in his combat sports career.

Bushaw parlayed his undefeated state championship season as a Westbrook High School senior in 1999 into a college wrestling career at Michigan State University, where he was a teammate of UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans (19-5-1).

“I was with my high school girlfriend (Cynthia), now my wife, so I knew we would always have ties to Maine,” Bushaw said. “Other than being on wrestling scholarship, I thought I was done fighting.”

The couple settled in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and opened Island Bar and Grill, which they have owned and operated for a dozen years.

It is a good, comfortable life. Extended family visited and found the area so alluring that they stayed permanently.

Those competitive juices never completely evaporated, however.

“I had teammates who turned to mixed martial arts,” Bushaw said. “I watched them, and as I approached 30, it became a bucket list thing. Now here I am, 17 fights later.”

Bushaw, 35, explained the journey in a phone interview as he prepared for his fourth professional bout, a featherweight clash with Auburn’s Matt “Ken Doll” Denning (3-2) at “NEF 24: Promised Land” on Saturday, June 18 at Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

The fight is Bushaw’s first on his original home turf since a 2014 loss to Elias Leland at the 135-pound limit. He ascends to 145 pounds, where he admitted he is more comfortable (“at my advanced age,” Bushaw quipped) for the confrontation with Denning.

“It’s weird, because I thought I was done competing up that way when I graduated from high school, but when I go home after all these years, all the old friends that I haven’t seen for years turn out to watch me fight,” Bushaw said. “I’ve fought all over, but any time I fight in Myrtle Beach or in Maine, it’s more special.”

Some athletes return to their competitive arena because they miss the allure of the cheering crowd.

That’s true of Bushaw, to a degree, although even the spectator interest he drew with the Blue Blazes and Spartans pales by comparison to what greets him surrounding the NEF hexagon.

“It’s nothing like high school or even college wrestling,” Bushaw said. “You show up and there’s two, three, four thousand people watching. It’s so different. You don’t get multiple chances to fight in a week or even a single weekend. It lasts a few minutes and then it’s the highest of the highs or the lowest of the lows.”

The physical toll and the necessary complement of skills also exceed what Bushaw knew in his youth.

He made that discovery about a minute into his initial amateur bout.

“MMA is more dynamic than wrestling. I remember my first fight, the guy picked me up and threw me down and I landed on my head,” Bushaw said. “I remember thinking, ‘This was probably not such a good idea,’ but I found a way to get the win.”

“You can be better than a guy in four different categories, but if he’s better in just one, he’s capable of beating you,” he continued. “You think things are going your way and then it’s the biggest letdown in the world.”

There’s a camaraderie in that unpredictable realm that only veterans of the cage can fully understand. Bushaw, who has trained with the likes of childhood friend Jamie Harrison and Amos Collins, noted that he has become cordial with almost all his prior opponents.

Denning (3-2) is one of the few with whom Bushaw (1-2) became “friends” on social media before their fight.

“It’s kind of strange, but all those things go out the window,” Bushaw said. “He’s fought my buddy Dom Cofone. He’s a local boy. I know it’s going to be a tough challenge for me.”

In many respects it is a crossroads bout for Bushaw, who admitted that he has considered retirement from the sport.

“Probably my last five fights I’ve gone in saying, ‘One more fight and I’m done,’ and then I keep going. I don’t shy away from anybody,” he said. “My last fight was against a kid who was 23 and he’d been in Thailand for two years or some (stuff). That was one time when I might have said, ‘What am I doing?’
“For me it’s family, then business, then fighting. For a lot of these younger guys, fighting is first, and that makes it a challenge.”

The opening bell on June 18 is set for 7 p.m. Tickets for “NEF 24: Promised Land” start at $25 and are available at or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009, extension 525.

For more information on the events 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.”