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March 26, 2019



Portland, Maine (March 21, 2019)

Every time Ras Hylton steps into the New England Fights cage, the popular showman based out of South Portland, Maine, is somehow growing the sport of mixed-martial-arts (MMA).

Between the dreadlocks atop his 6-foot-6-plus frame and his all-out, all-the-time style, Hylton, known affectionately to the fans as “Rasquatch” and “The Jamaican Shamrock,” has a knack for drawing and pleasing the crowd.

And even when he's behind the scenes, both due to his own professional interests and an affection for combat sports, Hylton hopes to build a different type of congregation. He has been a driving force in trying to introduce and build the relatively new cruiserweight division in the northeast.

Hylton, 31, will flaunt the merits of the 225-pound pack when he confronts Charles Penn Jr. at “NEF 38: Stormborn.” The organization's spring showcase is set for a 7 p.m. bell time on Saturday, April 27 at Aura in Portland, Maine.

Just as the netherworld between the light heavyweight (205) and heavyweight (265) is uncharted territory, Hylton acknowledges that his upcoming assignment is shrouded in mystery.

“There's not much to tell,” Hylton said when pressed for information about Penn. “He's a year older than I am. His last fight was more than five years ago. He's just deciding to turn pro now. I would say there are a lot of question marks about my opponent.”

Penn, who fought out of Nebraska from 2011 to 2013, lost two of his three amateur verdicts. Hylton breezed through that portion of his NEF career after debuting in 2016, winning three times by knockout in five minutes or less.

Upon turning pro Hylton continued to dominate, dispatching Mike Hansen and Eric Ramsey, each in the first round. That meteoric ascent didn't leave many local opponents at his in-between weight clamoring for a fight, so Hylton hit the road for a pair of dates in the spring and summer of 2018.

He split those bouts before returning to his roots, and a TKO loss to Yorgan De Castro, at NEF 36. Hylton has approached the recent speed bumps with humility, viewing them as learning experiences in his quest to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

“I think you always take more out of the losses as far as information that can help you grow,” Hylton said. “Even walking to the dressing room I'm thinking, 'This thing I did was stupid,' or 'That other thing I needed to do more.'

“Any fight where you don't learn anything is really a waste of time. Every time I fight I'm trying to gain more valuable information that will benefit me the next time. I'm always looking for opportunities to put myself into the deep waters.”

Trying to find a home while hovering between the upper weight divisions of the sport has left many prospects treading water.

With that in mind, the Association of Boxing Commissions added cruiserweight, super lightweight, super welterweight and super middleweight thresholds in 2017 after approving a strawweight class two years earlier.

International MMA sanctioning bodies, perhaps aware of the manner in which adding titles stretched boxing's landscape thin over the past half-century, have been slow to adopt the new divisions. As a regional leader in the developmental system, NEF has supported the cruiserweight distinction.

Hylton hasn't shied away from putting himself front-and-center in the debate. He recently posted a video to social media, hashtagged “cruiserweight dreams,” that showed him weighing in at 226 pounds flat and fully clothed after a brisk workout at First Class MMA.

“Part of the reason I put those videos out there is that I think there's room for the sport to grow,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who struggle to get down to 205 and also have a hard time getting to 265. And I feel like getting to 205 is kind of unsustainable at this point for my body type. With the new unified rules starting to take hold, I think we will see it continue to grow.”

Hylton checked in at a ready 222.8 pounds for the showdown with De Castro.

For anyone tipping the scales above 200, training is as tough as stepping into the white-hot spotlight if you're affiliated with the Topsham-based First Class stable.

On any given night, Hylton finds himself slugging it out or down on the mat with the likes of Bryce Bamford and Nick Gulliver. Those two heavy hitters, both out of Jay, are a combined 7-1 as amateurs and also find themselves teetering between the traditional light heavyweight and heavyweight limits.

“I guess it's easy to see why there aren't many available fights in the cruiserweight division right now,” Hylton quipped, “because most of those guys are in our gym. Not just those two, but we have some others who are about ready to make their debut.”

Despite the shortage of options, Hylton is determined to do whatever necessary to ensure quarterly fights and expand his horizons in the coming year.

“I'm looking to stay busy more than anything else,” Hylton said. “I'd like to have at least four more fights, and hopefully experience more tough competition like the guys I fought in my two losses.”

NEF's next mixed-martial-arts event, "NEF 38: STORMBORN," will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at Aura in Portland, Maine with a bell time of 7 pm.  Tickets are on sale now at