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November 1, 2022



Portland, Maine (October 29, 2022)

 Jonathan “War Hawk” Piersma didn’t have to wait long after his New England Fights (NEF) professional welterweight title bout against “The” Ryan Sanders was announced to become the target of locker room bulletin board material.

 Sanders, the loquacious Maine veteran, unleashed a verbal barrage in interviews for publicity pieces and on the The Room podcast hosted by Steve Domenico announcing the main event, casting aspersions about (among other things) Piersma’s striking ability and his lack of experience.

 The 26-year-old from Rochester, New York initially sat back like Ivan Drago at his “Rocky IV” press conference with Apollo Creed, absorbing most of the shots as if there were a language barrier. Even when he spoke, Piersma mostly took a “we’ll see” approach with his replies, lightly volleying back a few times before ultimately predicting his own success.

 Piersma, quietly a veteran of a combined baker’s dozen worth of battles in the pro and amateur cages, plus a fistful of forays into the grappling arena, admittedly prefers to do his talking with punches, kicks and chokes.

 “I’d have to say he was trying to get under my skin. I think he was trying to do that to give himself confidence and make himself believe he’s the better fighter,” Piersma said. “All in all, it didn’t really bother me, I found it more funny than anything. I thought it was a little bit goofy. It wasn’t very good trash talk. Yeah, it adds a little fuel to the fire. It gives even more incentive to go up there and smash him in front of his home crowd that night.”

 Sanders (20-9) and Piersma (4-1) are set to square off for the 170-pound belt to cap off NEF 50 on Saturday, November 12 at Aura in Portland, Maine.

 It adds to a travel itinerary that has taken Piersma to Pennsylvania, Florida and Mississippi in the quest for combat sports glory.

 “I’m excited. This is gonna be my first trip up to Maine, so that will be cool. As far as the fight, he’s been around for a long time,” Piersma said. “He has a lot of fights. He’s the most experienced guy I’ve fought by far I believe so far to this point. Tough guy, but watching film and stuff, I think I’m just better all around, and we’re gonna come up there and take care of business.”

 Like another up-and-coming fighter on the milestone card, Maine amateur Jared Turcotte, Piersma carved out his childhood and young adult reputation in high school and college football. He played at St. John Fisher University in his hometown.

 With that career winding down, he followed a crowd into a local mixed martial arts training center and found an ideal elixir to quench his athletic thirst. Piersma currently trains out of Synthesis Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Webster, New York.

 “One day, I think my junior year in the offseason, I went and checked out a gym with a couple of buddies,” Piersma recalled.  I really enjoyed it, just stuck with it, and then when I was done playing football, I just started training full-time, fighting. Then after some amateur fights, I decided I wanted to fight pro, and that was how it went. I kind of started training everything at once, but I never had a specific background.”

 Unlike some competitors who start out in one of the diverse disciplines of MMA, Piersma had to learn it all and wasn’t in the position of having to unlearn any habits or preconceived notions.

 “I just played football, basketball, sports like that. I never did any kind of wrestling or any striking growing up. I didn’t start training until I was like 20 years old, and I just went all-in with everything,” he said. “I remember showing up that one day, checking it out. I thought it was really cool.

 “That was toward the end of my junior year of college, so I knew I had one more season of football left, and I just knew I was always the type of person that always needed to have something to be competitive in and have goals, so I knew that when I was done playing football that I needed something. After that football season was over, I just kind of dove into it full-go in the gym every day. I really enjoyed it, and the coach asked me if I was interested in fighting. I said, ‘Sure, let’s give it a try.’ From there I just kept going with it.”

 Piersma won his first five amateur bouts in succession, including the first three out of the gate in the opening round. He went 6-1-1 overall, all in 2018 and 2019, before turning pro after the sport’s COVID shutdown.

 He proved a natural at the next level, as well, with three consecutive stoppages and a four-fight winning streak in all prior to a decision loss earlier this year.

 “Anyone who’s watched tape of me fight, obviously grappling’s always been my biggest strength I’ve used,” Piersma said. “All my pro wins have been by submission to this point. I see myself as an all-around fighter. I feel like I can do everything. I just haven’t had a chance to really show it yet. Hopefully this fight we get a chance to show a little bit of everything and show everyone what I can really do.”

 The proven athlete inside Piersma had an easy time getting hooked on life inside the cage.

 “I think I just love the competition. I love having goals. I love striving for something. I love being in the gym every day working hard for something. It’s something I believe I’m very good at and I can go somewhere with,” Piersma said. “Even from early on when I started training, it was natural to me. I really saw myself being a professional fighter one day, and I am there now, but obviously I have higher goals to make it higher up than I am now. It’s just the competition, striving for goals and working hard for ‘em.”

 While his restrained push-back at Sanders insinuated that he thinks the 35-year-old is in the twilight of his career, Piersma conceded that a win over the Bellator veteran would carry weight as he strives to ascend the ranks in his own right.

 He also acknowledged that it’s a tall task taking a fight less than two hours from Sanders’ home gym in Newport.

“Beating a guy like this with so many fights, been around for so long, yeah, obviously looks good on paper. So, it’s a good next step to win my first professional title,” Piersma said. “As far as going into his home crowd, at this point in my career it seems like every fight I’ve had I’ve gone into the person’s home crowd. That is what it is. It doesn’t bother me too much. To beat a guy like this with all his experience, show what I’m made of, what I’m about, I think it’s a good next step for where I’m going.”

 Taking that show on the road is the nature of the beast for Piersma, a native of the final state to fully embrace and license MMA not many years ago.

 “I’m kinda used to it at this point. I think it would be cool to fight in front of my home crowd, but they don’t really do much for professional fights out in my area, so that’s not really been an option,” Piersma said. “But I don’t mind going on the road, fighting in front of the other guy’s home crowd. I do enjoy that. Getting a win in front of their home crowd, it’s always nice. Especially in this case with him having so much to say, it might be a little sweeter when I put it on him in front of his home crowd. I’ll enjoy it.”

 See? Maybe this encounter with Sanders will bring out the smack-talker in Piersma after all.

 “I don’t mind a little back and forth, but at the end of the day I’m just more so focused on the fight, taking care of business in the cage,” he said. “I don’t care for the trash talk much, but I don’t mind it. A little back and forth is always fun. We’re focused on taking care of business in the cage. Everyone can see, and that’ll show.”

 Without explicitly saying so, Piersma indicated that he expects to start a new streak of stoppages by locking up Sanders in this crossroads collision.

 “I’d like to show a little bit of everything, a little more of my game,” Piersma said. “But at the end of the day, I’m going in there to win this fight. At some point this fight’s gonna go to the ground, and I think once we get down there, he’s gonna be in trouble and the submission’s gonna open up.”

 Opening bell time for NEF 50 at Aura is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 12. Tickets are available now at