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May 4, 2017

CES MMA reigns as pioneer for female combat sports

[CES Press Release]

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (May 4th, 2017) -- Over the past 25 years, longtime boxing promoter Jimmy Burchfield Sr. has been an advocate for women's combat sports, opening the door for many female fighters to achieve their lifelong dream at a time when other promoters refused to take such risks.

Add cage doors to that list.

In recent months, CES MMA, which Burchfield proudly launched in 2010, has surfaced as a leader in the development of female fighters, a tradition that continues next Friday at Twin River Casino on May 12th with two exciting female bouts on the preliminary card of "CES MMA 44," the first time in its eight-year history the promotion has hosted more than one female bout on the same card.

CES, which helped launch the career of former three-time world champion boxer Jamie Clampitt, former world lightweight title-holder Elizabeth Mueller, two-time world champion Missy Fiorentino, former World Boxing Council middleweight world champion Kali Reis, world-title challenger Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes and two-time world champion Shelly Vincent, among others, is now fostering opportunities for females in mixed martial arts.

After featuring regional standouts Kaline Medeiros, Sarah Payant and The Ultimate Fighter and Invicta alum Peggy Morgan (including Morgan's nationally televised win over Jessy Miele on AXS TV at "CES MMA 30"), CES MMA has successfully guided Framingham, Mass., flyweight Maria Rivera to a 2-0 record in 2017 and will feature Rivera in one of two preliminary bouts next Friday.

Rivera battles debut flyweight Marisa Messer-Belenchia of New Haven, Conn., while bantamweight Jennifer Norris (3-0, 1 KO) of Baltimore puts her unbeaten record on the line against debut Kerri Kenneson of Hookset, N.H.

The popularity and allure of female MMA is indisputable; Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) president Dana White, who in 2011 infamously declared women will never fight in the UFC, is now featuring female championship bouts as Pay Per View headliners, utilizing the worldwide appeal of stars such as Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes.

Given CES MMA's well-deserved reputation as a gateway to the UFC (regional stars Rob Font, Andre Soukhamthath, John Howard and Tateki Matsudi are among several standouts who carved their path to the UFC through CES MMA), this year's talented crop of female fighters is confident in the ability of the region's No. 1 MMA promotion to do the same for their blossoming careers.

"I am so excited to be on this card and be a part of this promotion," Kenneson said. "It's been a platform for people to make the jump and it's definitely something that's been on my mind."

"I'm doing this to make it to the next level. I don't want to be a regional fighter. I'm doing this to fight on the national level. I'm sure CES can get me there."

Added Belenchia: "I like to be a part of history. Promoters are definitely doing more to help female fighters. The sport is growing daily for females."

CES' persistence in female combat sports dates back to the turn of the century when Burchfield developed the career of Mueller, the Waterford, Conn., lightweight who starred during CES' early days at the Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet in Rhode Island and Foxwoods Resort Casino. Mueller went on to face Clampitt in 2001 as Burchfield continued to promote mega-bouts in the female division while other promoters distanced themselves from women's boxing.

"At the time, promoters weren't putting women on. It was still a sideshow," recalled Clampitt, who ended a spectacular, 29-fight career in 2013. "Once Jimmy signed me, he continued to get me fights. He never hesitated to put me on a card.

"With Jimmy, he treated me like a boxer, not just a female fighter. I was always one of his athletes. He treated me as an equal to the other fighters. I remember sitting in his office telling him I wanted to fight Mia St. John and he said, 'Let's make it happen.' Whenever I wanted a fight, he believed in me. I was putting in the work, so why shouldn't I have the same opportunities as male fighters?

"I tell everyone, 'If you do your thing, he'll do his thing.' He doesn't care who you are as long as you work hard. Jimmy definitely helped the sport grow."

Under Burchfield's guidance, Clampitt went on to face women's boxing pioneer Jane Couch -- Britian's first licensed female boxer -- twice, including their 2004 bout named Ring Magazine's Women's Fight of the Year, and earned her dream match against St. John in 2007 in Providence, defeating the 65-fight vet and former two-time world champion to capture the then vacant International Women's Boxing Federation (IWBF) World Lightweight Championship.

"At a time when few people took women's boxing seriously, Jimmy was there," said Jill Diamond, former co-chair of the WBC and North American Boxing Federation (NABF) women's division and current WBC International Secretary.

"Champions like Jamie Clampitt and Missy Fiorentino won the hearts of many boxing fans thanks to Jimmy and CES' support, so, it's only natural, now that opportunities have expanded for female athletes, that Jimmy and his team would be in the forefront, fighting the good fight and bringing new women stars into the mix.

"Jimmy stood with us early on. Gender was never an issue. Talent ruled. And no matter what Jimmy does, he will always do the women proud."

Though the sport has advanced tremendously in recent years, as evident by Rousey's quick rise to fame both in the cage and in popular culture, female MMA fighters faced -- and, in some cases, still face -- many of the same challenges female boxers endured decades ago.

"When I first walked into [Team Link in Hooksett.], it was obviously very intimidating as a female in a gym filled with guys," Kenneson said. "When I started, I was the only girl doing MMA here. We used to have problems in the past finding opponents. I've gone extended periods of time without fighting. We're definitely getting more opportunities now."

"Even when I wanted to wrestle 10, 15 years ago, it was a far-fetched crazy thing. No one wanted to practice with women," recalled Messer-Belenchia, who is also a certified personal trainer and a former two-time Western New England Golden Gloves champion as an amateur boxer.

"Years ago, Dana White said women would never fight. In some cases, women have had to work harder than men to prove themselves and earn respect. All I want is respect. I'm going to show up to fight and work as hard as you will. Today, when I watch female fights on TV, a lot of them are using better technique. To me, it's exciting to see how far we've come."

The tradition continues May 12th as CES MMA ushers in the next era of female stars with two exciting women's bouts on its preliminary card beginning at 7 p.m. ET. The promoter who helped cultivate an environment of acceptance in female boxing more than two decades ago is once again bridging the gap in one of the world's fastest-growing sports.

"It's been a pleasure fighting with CES on and off during the last eight years," Lopes said. "My first five fights took place on CES shows and, looking back at it, I really appreciate that Mr. Burchfield gave me the opportunity to earn several wins and build up my fan base right out of the gate.

"CES team is very well organized, from matchmaking to marketing and managing logistics. During the last event one of the aspect I appreciated the most is excellent communication between my team and the promotional group regarding ticket sales, organizational details, etc.  CES also does a great job providing exposure to fighters through press releases, social media and arranging interviews."

Tickets for "CES MMA 44" are priced at $40.00, $55.00, $100.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at,, or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.

Reigning CES MMA World Featherweight Champion Matt Bessette (21-7, 6 KOs) of Stafford, Conn., makes his second title defense in the five-round main event against Texas' Rey Trujillo (22-18, 15 KOs). The AXS TV broadcast begins at 9.

Also on the main card, Woonsocket, R.I., native and three-time Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) vet Sean Soriano (9-5, 4 KOs) makes his long-awaited homecoming in a featherweight bout against New Yorker Jacob Bohn (5-2, 1 KO), Soriano's first fight in Rhode Island since his CES MMA debut in 2012 when he knocked out Lee Metcalf at "CES MMA 9."

As an added bonus, fellow Woonsocket native and Blackzillians teammate, UFC bantamweight Andre Soukhamthath, will also return to his home state to work Soriano's corner against Bohn. The two have combined for 15 CES MMA appearances, including Soriano's last bout inside the CES cage at "CES MMA 38" on AXS TV against UFC vet Levan Makashvili.

"CES MMA 44" also features the return of Providence heavyweight Greg Rebello (21-7, 13 KOs), looking to continue his climb back to the top of the division in a scheduled three-round bout against Colorado's Kevin Ray Sears (6-3, 3 KOs).

Welterweights Jon Manley (9-3) of Adams, Mass., and Manny Walo (11-2, 2 KOs) of Jersey City, N.J., clash in a CES MMA title eliminator with the winner facing reigning world champion Chris Curtis.

Manley, a standout on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, makes his third CES MMA appearance and first since 2015 while Walo returns hoping to earn a second shot at the CES MMA World Welterweight Title following a stunning, 11-second knockout loss to then champion Chuck O'Neil in his first opportunity at "CES MMA 27." Manley has won his last four, including two appearances with World Series of Fighting (WSOF), and eight of nine overall.

The reigning champion Curtis, now 15-5 overall, recently defended his title at "CES MMA 42," stopping challenger Wilfredo Santiago via second-round knockout on AXS TV.

Light heavyweight Mike Rodriguez (6-2, 4 KOs) of Quincy, Mass., who has made quick work of his last two opponents in a combined 46 seconds, jumps right back in on the main card "CES MMA 44" against New Jersey's Alec Hooben (5-2, 1 KO) and undefeated flyweight Carlos Candelario (5-0, 1 KO) of New Britain, Conn., faces Grand Rapid, Mich., native Shawn Mack (6-2, 1 KO).

Rodriguez set a new CES MMA record with his 7-second knockout win over Hector Sanchez in January and pummeled James Dysard in just 39 seconds at "CES MMA 43," earning him his third appearance on AXS TV Fights on May 12th. Candelario, a rising star in the flyweight division, makes his fifth appearance with CES MMA after submitting Miguel Restrepo in January.

The preliminary card features the return of three-time CES MMA vet Toby Oden (2-1, 1 KO) of Milford, Mass., making his first appearance since 2015 plus two exciting female bouts. Oden faces Paul Sims of Philadelphia, who makes his professional debut. Oden last fought at "CES MMA 29," scoring a first-round knockout win over Wayne Alhquist.

Milford, Conn., middleweight Justin Sumter (3-1, 2 KOs), who earned an impressive first-round knockout win in his CES MMA debut at "CES MMA 43" in Massachusetts, returns to face unbeaten Sandwich, Mass., native Brian Sparrow (2-0), who makes his second appearance with CES MMA in his first fight since 2013. Middleweight Adam Quitt (1-4) of Framingham, Mass., ends his three-year layoff against Brazilian Reginaldo Felix (0-2).

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-- CES --