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April 26, 2023




Portland, Maine (April 20, 2023)

It isn’t hard to follow the pattern of Zach Faulkner’s progression through the amateur lightweight ranks with New England Fights (NEF).

The Bangor, Maine-born Faulkner, now fighting out of the state’s largest city in Portland, has entered the cage every four to six months since the pandemic pause.

You can set your watch to his itinerary. One card on, next card off.

Never keen to play it safe, Faulkner (5-3) consistently has asked NEF Matchmaker Matt Peterson to pair him with opponents who will stretch his skill set and are more certain to bolster his resume than his record.

Like clockwork and without a moment’s hesitation, Faulkner signed on the dotted line for a doozy on Saturday, May 13. He will battle Artur Minev of Ukraine for the vacant NEF 155-pound title at “NEF 52: Zero Hour,” to be held at Aura in Portland. Opening bell time is 7 p.m.

“I think it was time for a little step up in competition with the guys I’ve been fighting,” Faulkner said. “I needed a guy that’s more like pro ready, especially where I’m looking to make that next jump to go pro. Watching him fight, he looked like the kind of guy that I needed to fight to take that next step.”

Compared to the fan base and well-documented body of work behind Faulkner, there is no such volume surrounding Minev (3-0), at least in the United States. His ledger on the Tapology website doesn’t account for any of the fighting experience in his embattled homeland.

 Minev has wasted no time establishing his credentials elsewhere, including a December TKO of Tuncay Akin in Germany and a unanimous decision over then-unbeaten Justin Graves at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino in March.

“He looks like he’s pretty well-rounded. I was looking at the stuff Matt had sent me about him,” Faulkner said. “He was the Ukrainian amateur champ in 2021 or something like that, so he’s obviously pretty skilled. I saw a couple clips of his first fight in the U.S., and he just looks good and well-rounded. I’m excited to fight somebody like that.”

Faulkner rebounded from back-to-back defeats with a majority decision triumph over Chase O’Brien in November at NEF’s milestone 50th card.

A split decision loss to Mike Murray and a submission to Kimura against Bobby Kelley provided the steep learning curve that Faulkner covets. His win over O’Brien brought it full circle.

The lessons began with one that is easier said than done: Don’t become distracted by the pre-fight gamesmanship and chatter.

“Starting with that Murray fight, just learning to kind of stick to blocking out the noise,” Faulkner said. “Leading up to the fight, he was saying things like he wasn’t really worried about my grappling and stuff like that. And going in I was like, well, I have to prove to everybody that I can grapple too. I pushed the grappling hard in the fight, and it kind of bit me in the ass.”

After being involved in consecutive fights that went to the judges’ scorecards, Faulkner employed a less measured approach that lured him into trouble next time out.

“Moving on to the Bobby Kelley fight, I’m like, all right, I’ve gotta throw my hands more,” Faulkner said. “I got busier in that fight and then got overconfident in my striking and got taken down.”

The third time, indeed, was the charm.

“Those two losses right in a row kind of gave me what I needed to work on moving forward,” he said. “And in the Chase O’Brien fight, I kind of found the happy medium of where I need to be.”

Soon to be nine fights into his amateur career, a pace many fighters would consider a necessary evil at best, Faulkner now has the chance to validate what he has learned and parlay it into a reward that would sit on his mantle for a spell and on his record in perpetuity.

He has already dared to dream how being called a champion would embellish his combat sports aspirations.

“To me it would mean a lot of the hard work and working hard the last 10 years training and moving around and getting beaten up by all these guys is finally paying off and that I’m moving closer to the goal of going pro,” Faulkner said.

That leads to the question that is probably on every Faulkner fan’s mind. How much longer will he toil in the middle of the card before venturing into the section where a check changes hands at the end of the night?

Faulkner ducked that one as easily as he might dismiss a telegraphed, roundhouse right hand from one of his opponents.

“If it would have been up to me, I would have just gone pro right away,” Faulkner admitted. “That’s a better question for my coaches than it is for me, because I would just say let me go pro right now. Realistically, I think maybe this fight and one more. It’ll be up to my coaches at the end of the day.”

Jon Deupree, Henry Clark and Darren Elder lead the team that shepherds Faulkner’s career out of the Recon Fitness stable.

Respect for his coaches is something Faulkner learned the easy way as a teenager and then early in his career. His trainer at the time was none other than Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran Marcus Davis.

“He was my first ever coach,” Faulkner said. “I started out doing tae kwon do, and one of the guys from the dojo took me over to Marcus’ gym in Brewer. I watched all the fighters spar, and I said, ‘Man, this is where I need to be if I ever want to do anything with this.’ And then from there on I only trained at MMA gyms and started with Marcus.”

Faulkner ultimately followed Davis to North Carolina, where he fought three times after making his debut with NEF in August 2017.

Given the amount of time he learned the craft under Davis, a five-year amateur career is almost the blink of an eye.

“I had to wait about six years before I could even fight when I started training. If they would have let me fight a 40-year-old at 12, I would have, but there’s laws,” Faulkner quipped. “I grew up watching boxing with my grandpa, and then kind of saw clips of MMA. Then once I actually tried it, I was hooked. It was too fun to not want to do it all the time.”

With all that time invested in the sport, Faulkner believes he would be cheating himself by settling for anything less than an opponent who can take him into deep waters.

The cerebral chess match aspect of MMA appeals to Faulkner every bit as much as the physical prowess that is required. Therefore, three consecutive wins out of the gate, requiring a total of three minutes and 11 seconds in the cage, prompted him to reevaluate which fight offers he will accept.

“As far as competing, that’s my favorite part. Earlier in my career, not that I’ve ever taken an easy fight, because every guy I’ve fought has presented some kind of problem to me,” Faulkner said. “But you know the first couple guys it was like quick submissions with them. That’s cool and all, and it looks great for social media, but I mean that’s not really what I want. I want the guys that are gonna be in there for five rounds and are fighting me the whole time and not gonna break early or get submitted with something dumb early.”

Nobody expects Minev, now based out of Wakefield, Massachusetts, to fall into such a trap.

Still, he’s somewhat the international man of mystery. So, what should the partisan Portland crowd bank on when the bell tolls?

“I think they can expect to see the fight of the night,” Faulkner forecasted. “This guy’s gonna be tough and well-rounded. He’s gonna present a lot of problems. I think I’m gonna be there in his face for five rounds, and at the end of the night I’m gonna get my hand raised and have the belt wrapped around my waist.”

“NEF 52: Zero Hour” will take place Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Aura in Portland, Maine. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with the first fight at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at