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September 4, 2019



Orono, Maine (August 29, 2019)

College has never been merely a necessary evil for New England Fights amateur featherweight champion Tom Pagliarulo of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Pagliarulo, 22, who won the belt in May over Zac Richard, is a senior at Plymouth State University, about 100 miles away from home in neighboring New Hampshire.

The veteran of four amateur bouts will graduate at the end of this school year with a communications degree, and Pagliarulo rightfully is proud of the work it took to get there.

“I take care of business there, too,” said Pagliarulo, who was a varsity wrestler his first two years at PSU. “I have a 3.5 GPA that I've carried with me all the way through.”

That being said, perhaps the biggest step toward Pagliarulo's future that he'll take in a scholastic environment this year is set for Saturday, Sept. 7.

Pagliarulo (3-1) will defend the strap against a hometown favorite, Jimmy Jackson (4-3), at “NEF 40: School of Hard Knocks” at Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine's flagship campus in Orono.

It is a unique setting for a fight, and one that isn't lost on Pagliarulo as he strives to add more padding to his real-world resume for an impending move to the professional ranks.

“I've tried to take the approach of fighting whoever they throw at me, to build my experience,” Pagliarulo said. “I want the tougher opponents to help me get where I want to go as far as eventually turning pro.”

Pagliarulo looks forward to the challenge from Jackson, a mainstay of Young's MMA in Bangor, who is fighting on back-to-back NEF cards after a layoff of almost three years.

After having four prospective opponents pull the plug on bouts since his originally scheduled cage debut in June 2017, Pagliarulo is eager to encounter a second straight foe who is equally serious about the sport.

“Guys say they want to fight and then back out at the last minute,” Pagliarulo said. “I think some take it more seriously than others. For some guys it might be a hobby, but for some of us it's a lot more serious than that. This is a career path for me.”

Pagliarulo, who racked up 144 wins as a wrestler at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, trains out of two New Hampshire gyms, Spero's MMA in Plaistow and Burgess Academy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA in Manchester.

That's a challenge during the school year, but it underscores how serious Pagliarulo has become about his future profession.

“Wrestling my first two years of college was great for me in terms of helping me find the right balance. It's really helped me learn how to deal with a tight schedule,” Pagliarulo said. “Like (this past Tuesday), I drove 90 minutes to Haverhill for training, and then I'll drive back, have class in the morning and do it all over again. Wrestling my whole life is really what gave me that discipline. I learned how to deal with the weight cuts, the dieting, the balance of sports and school. It's all part of wrestling, and now it's all part of mixed martial arts for me.”

Pagliarulo has found a notable mentor, Rob Font, also based out of the Bay State, and ranked No. 11 in the world as a bantamweight with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

“Even as an amateur, I try to go about it like a professional with my preparation,” Pagliarulo said. “I think like a pro fighter and I train with pro fighters, especially this camp with Rob and all the guys out of Lauzon’s (MMA). They've gotten me ready to compete at a higher level.”

In a recent interview with “Between Rounds Radio,” Pagliarulo said he believes his fighting acumen will outclass Jackson in every category.

When asked by a different reporter to expand upon those comments, he cited his background as a wrestler, which others have counseled him is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Pagliarulo also studied other combat sports and martial arts as a child.

“I know I can always resort back to my wrestling when I need it,” Pagliarulo said. “A lot of people say wrestling is the hardest part of the sport to play catch-up, if it's not in your background, and it's what I've been doing my whole life.”

Pagliarulo's confidence is sky-high after the victory over another fast-rising amateur, Richard, in his NEF debut.

The unanimous decision marked the first time Pagliarulo has ever seen a fight go past four minutes.

He split a pair of first-round stoppages against Eddie Linscott (TKO win) and Matt Brady (loss by guillotine choke) after a second-round choke-out of Harry Gigliotti in his initial fight.

“I don't really focus on what my opponent is going to do. I try to stay well-rounded, and the rest will take care of itself. That's the attitude I take into every fight,” Pagliarulo said. “My wrestling is at a high level, but I feel like everything else is catching up quickly, if not already there. It's all about putting in the training and getting those repetitions.”

Pagliarulo hopes a series of successful NEF title defenses will unlock the doors to cages around the world.

“That's definitely my goal and the end game. Rob Font has really taken the lead in trying to prepare me. We want to be ready and make sure to do it at the right time, but it will be in the next year or two,” Pagliarulo said. “Once I graduate from college after this year, I'll take a little part-time job and otherwise dedicate myself to training.”

Another step toward that elite level is learning how to deal with the challenging environment – homesickness, if you will – of stepping on a college campus four hours from home.

 “I think it's going to be pretty loud and pretty exciting. It's a haul for me, but that's part of the game, the travel, and really the beauty of the sport that you get to see a lot of different places,” Pagliarulo said of his encroachment into the Black Bears' den. “Someday getting paid to travel around and fight is a big part of why you want to do it as a career, and I've known since I was about 10 years old that this was what I wanted to do.”

 New England Fights' next mixed-martial-arts event, "NEF 40: SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS," will take place Saturday, September 7, 2019 at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine as the promotion debuts in Orono, Maine.  Tickets are on sale now at