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November 8, 2017

NEF 31: The Old Port Fallout!

NEF 31: The Fallout
Travis Lizotte

On Friday, November 3rd, 2017 New England Fights rolled out the 31st show in the promotion’s history, and it’s first event, of what looks like many to come; from Aura Nightclub in Portland, Maine’s Old Port. Along with the excitement of a new venue, the NEF brass put together a stacked fifteen fight card to kick off their partnership with Aura Nightclub with a bang! featuring a main card that billed three Amateur Championship fights (Heavyweight, Flyweight and Women’s Strawweight) as well as the long awaited return of John Raio (2-8) (vs. Zenon Herrera 0-5) and Main Event that lived up to the billing when Portland, Maine’s own; Paul Gorman (10-9) squared off with American Top Team combatant and surging Floridian Flyweight; James Blair (5-1). The Sold-Out modern multi-floored nightclub, in the heart of Portland’s Old Port was absolutely packed to capacity with fight fans, family and friends, as well a few of the sport’s biggest names; including current UFC fighters; Former NEF Lightweight Champion and current UFC Lightweight Devin Powell (8-3), New England’s own UFC Featherweight Charles “Boston Strong” Rosa (11-3) as well as current #4 ranked UFC Middleweight Contender, and Legend of the sport; Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (24-5) were all in house to watch this epic night of fights unfold. Myself, along with Between Rounds Radio host; Ryan Jarrell  ended up with one of the best seats at the show, standing in the upper tier the venue which offered a bird’s eye-view of all the action going on in the cage.

The Amateur undercard kicked off with a pair of Women’s Bantamweight clashes; including the highly anticipated debut of 18 year-old Jayda Bailey, from Young’ MMA. Jayda, just a week off her 18th birthday kicked off her MMA fighting career with and absolutely dominating first round TKO Ground and Pounding of Kenney’s MMA’s Danae Dostie and needed just 93 seconds to do so. Jayda Bailey looks every bit of the fighter that we have been anticipating watching her grow at Young’s MMA and on the Maine High School Wrestling mats at Bucksport High School, Jayda has without a doubt been building a solid list of achievements on her way to becoming one of the more well rounded, highly trained prospects to make their MMA debuts here in Maine, regardless of gender. In the second Women’s Bantamweight match The Outlet’s Sarah Matulis earned not only a victory in her debut against First Class MMA’s Chelsea Elizabeth, but also earned her Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu following her first round TKO of Chelsea.
The third fight of the night pitted two athletic 175 pound brawlers together, when The Academy’s Mark Gardner withstood some serious adversity throughout the first round to outlast Carlton Charles and earn a second round TKO in what was likely the fight of the night on the undercard, a fight where it looked like both fighters could have been finished before Gardner earned the stoppage late in the second round. Next, Garry Carr, the 56 year-old Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player from Central Maine BJJ wasted no time pulling guard on Kenney’s MMA’s David Hart in their bout, Hart slammed Carr against the mat to try and release his tight hold, but Carr used that opening to transition to Hart’s back and flatten him out, subsequently forcing him to tap due to a tight Rear Naked-Choke. At just 56 years-young, Hart became the oldest combatant to have his hand raised; the winner in the NEF Cage!

The next two fights took ended with quick finishes as well; as Fusion Fighting Academy’s Bill Cole Rear Naked-Choked Boyington’s Nathan Pete in just :59 seconds of the second round in their bout at 160 pounds. And The Academy’s Emmett Huber needed just 1:06 of the first round to end the night of Evolution Athletix’ Will McCall; with a first round Guillotine Choke. In the next bout; Newly-Wed Carol-Linn Powell (Nostos MMA), the wife of the aforementioned UFC Lightweight Devin Powell, went to war in her Amateur debut with friend and fellow newcomer to the cage; Francesca Morabito (The Choi Institute). Both girls battled back and forth on the feet in what was a a great display of Muay Thai from both women. The loss of a contact lense early in the second round by Powell made it hard to find her distance throughout the remaining five minutes of the fight and allowed Morabito to close that distance and land some heavy significant strikes to the much rangeier Carol-Linn Powell. After the final bell the judges scored the contest the same way I saw the fight 29-28 all in favor of Francesca Morabito who kicks her career off 1-0 with a very impressive win against the skilled Powell.
Then came two more first round finishes as Berserkers MMA’s Isaac Therrian put together an incredible debut fight at just 18 years old, with a first round TKO stoppage of Boyington’s Chad Weymouth via dominating Ground and Pound. Isaac’s coach Mike Hanson says we have just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his young, talented protege; Isaac Therrian. Mohammed al Kinani from Evolution Athletix, took home a first round Knockout of his own when he dropped First Class MMA’s Phil Pearson with punches at 1:20 into the first round of their showdown. The Undercard culminated with the return of Young’s MMA’s Carl Langston to the NEF cage for his 8th fight under the NEF Banner. Carl drew a tough matchup against Henry Clark from The Choi Institute, who may have stolen the third round from Carl with a takedown and late submission attempt, but when the final bell rang, the judges saw the fight for the much more active Carl Langston, 29-28 on all scorecards.
Finally after a great Undercard there was a ten minute break in the action allowing me to head downstairs and through a tightly packed crowd of people to be able to meet the arriving Jacare Souza, as a fan of this sport (not only a writer) I take every opportunity I get to meet and shake the hand of a true legend, so when one is in the building I make it a point to stop by introduce myself and get a picture. It has also been a goal of mine over the last year or so to collect signed Credential Tags from the shows I attend; so it was definitely a great moment for me to be able to add Jacare to the list of warriors I have met over the last year; a list that includes; James “Buster” Douglas, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Pat Miletich, Glover Teixeira and local legends like John Howard, Joe Lauzon and Charles Rosa. Just another reason why covering these regional fight cards is the best hobby in the world and keeps me coming back for more!

As returned to my perch, high above the cage, NEF Amateur Heavyweight Champion Nick Gulliver’s mother and wife joined Ryan and I at our position to watch Nick get ready to defend his Heavyweight Belt against the rugged Wrestler and Team Link Hooksett product; Terrance Jean-Jacques. The “Gully” fans were in full throat, throughout the Aura Nightclub, as the pair of Heavyweights took the spotlight and kicked off the Main Card at NEF 31. Gulliver knew that in order to be successful against the powerful Jean-Jacques, he was going to have to fight him at distance and use well timed strikes to avoid the takedowns; Gulliver came out in round one looking to strike but Terrance wasted little time shooting in for the takedown and putting Nick on his back. Terrance used heavy top control to bring this fight into his world, Terrance gained takedowns in the first minute of each round, forcing Nick to mount his only offense from his back. Terrance displayed veteran wrestling awareness to keep Nick on his back nearly the entire fight. Nick did a great job not letting Terrance posture up and land any sort of ground and pound, but Gulliver could not land enough offense of his own from the bottom to get the job done. At the end of three hard fought rounds; the judges saw the fight they way the rest of the crowd saw it; 30-27 on all scorecards for the New NEF Amateur Heavyweight Champion; Terrance Jean-Jacques. Nick’s wife Heather and his mother Beth, let out a huge sigh, of what seemed to be relief as the final bell sounded, although Nick was unable to solve the former Division 1 Wrestler, the Champion put on a valiant performance none the less and took little damage, against what looks to be a dominant Heavyweight, and perhaps the future of that division for NEF, in Terrance Jean-Jacques.

Up next was pair of Flyweight Amateurs Nate Boucher (Central Maine BJJ) and Justin Witham (Shatterproof MMA) locked horns for the vacant NEF Amateur Flyweight title. From my vantage point it looked like Boucher got the better of most of the exchanges and the grappling in this three round fight, but when the decision is left in the judge’s hands nearly nothing in a certainty. I watched in awe as Peter Czymbor the voice of NEF, read off a split-decision, with two out of three judges scoring the fight in Witham’s favor. Both Boucher, and newly crowned NEF Amateur Flyweight Champion Justin Witham, echoed their desire to run this fight back at the next NEF event February 3rd, 2018 from the Colisee in Lewiston; all signs point to that fight happening, on the NEF 32 fight card that announced a Main Card matchup also this evening as NEF Veterans Mike “The Moustache” Hansen and Jesse “The Viking” Erickson will face off in the Welterweight Division. Making NEF 32 an early contender to be one of the can’t miss fight cards in early 2018.
In the night’s third title fight, former Cage Titans standout Hilarie Rose (4-3) came in with a notion that she would put an end to the smack talking Alex Walker’s (4-1) hype train, that has seen Alex reel off four straight wins in her climb to title contention. Only one women could leave Portland’s Old Port  with the NEF Amateur Women’s Strawweight Title Saturday night. Once the fight got underway it was evident that Hilarie had bad intentions from the word “GO” as she took Alex down and mashed her face into the mat with one hand and used the other to hammerfist the face of the top-contender Walker. After attempting to shrimp out of Hilarie’s grasp, Alex once again found herself with her head buried in the mat receiving devastating blows from the heavy handed Hilarie as the referee in charge stepped in and stopped the contest at 1:32 of the very first round via TKO. USMMA’s Hilarie Rose became the promotion's inaugural Amateur Women’s Strawweight Champion at the expense of Team Kaze; Alex Walker, ending Walker’s four fight win streak and bringing the belt back to Massachusetts.
The Professional portion of the card kicked off with the return of First Class John Raio, whose legacy in the sport of MMA in Maine far superseeds his professional record of 2-8 coming into the bout. Raio had taken a two and a half year break from MMA competition to concentrate on family, health, his job and his gym (First Class MMA & Fitness in Brunswick, Maine). Raio seemed to be more determined than ever before, as the 46 year old father of two put his pride on the line against NEF veteran Zenon Herrera (0-5). Although Herrera does not have a win in his professional career, he has made a name for himself by stepping in against some of the fiercest competition NEF matchmakers can find and it would prove that this matchup with Raio was no different. Although Raio explained to me after the fight that his gameplan was to stand with Zenon for a while but John went right back to his roots once the opening bell rang, and out wrestled and pressured Zenon for the better part of three rounds. To his credit Herrera never gave up fighting from his back nearly all fight, and at one point in round two he had Raio in a Guillotine but he could not finish the choke. In the third round Raio’s wrestling and pressure from the top wore too heavy on Zenon as Raio grabbed a Guillotine of his own and finished the fight at 2:45 of the third and final round. The victorious Raio climbed the cage wall in celebration, with outstretched hands reaching toward his family watching in the audience. When I spoke with John after the fight he remained as humble and unselfish as always saying that “The win felt great, but it doesn’t make up for Gully, Phil and Chelsea (Three of Raio’s students at First Class MMA) losing their fights.” As always even in celebration, John Raio maintains his team first, and family first mentality that makes him such a great impact on the sport of MMA.

As the NEF 31 card continued to impress, we had finally made it to the Main Event of the evening that pitted NEF Veteran and Portland. Maine native Paul Gorman (10-9) the overwhelming fan favorite, against the upstart American Top Team fighter from Coconut Creek, Florida, Island Fights Flyweight Champion;James Blair (5-1). Blair opened up with first round with some stylish striking and well timed combos that looked to get the better of Gorman in the first five minutes of their tilt. Blair’s striking likely instilled  a sense of urgency in the corner of Gorman, who came out in the second round looking to be the aggressor and landed some striking of his own to answer the call from the NEF crowd that clearly came to support the Maine native. Round three was the closest round of the bout going back and forth until the final bell sounded. I scored the final round for the incumbent Blair but there was no doubt what the crowd thought, and they got their way, as all three judges had Gorman getting the better of the blows between the two men, who provided a Fight of the Night type fight as the Main Event to an already exciting night of action. NEF 31 left a huge impact on the Old Port, providing an incredible night of fights and a great overall production in their Portland, Maine debut. When I talked to Matt Peterson following the fight he said that the Aura Nightclub served as a great venue for their promotion and they hoped to return to the venue sometime in 2018. But for now NEF 32 is next on the schedule and that event will kick off the 2018 docket from the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine, the promotion’s current home, on February 3rd 2018. Tickets will be available at or by visiting the Androscoggin Bank Colisee box office, “you won’t wanna miss it!”