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May 10, 2023



Portland, Maine (May 6, 2023)

Caleb Austin has been a student of the game from the cradle as it applies to mixed martial arts and wrestling.

Over the past two years, those exploits have taken a brief back seat while Austin, 24, concentrated on hitting the books elsewhere.

Since a loss by technical knockout to Tyler Smythe with one second remaining in the fourth round of a New England Fights (NEF) amateur championship bout, Austin has spent 18 months training but also recommitted to earning his college degree.

“I went back to school. I’m actually in my dorm right now. It wasn’t planned,” Austin said of his break from the cage during a recent interview on the Between Rounds Radio podcast with Ryan Jarrell.

Austin, known in the sport for being almost religious about what he puts into his body while preparing for a fight, is applying that expertise to a health science major with a minor in education at the University of Southern Maine.

With school winding down for the spring and summer break, what better time for Austin to put that ever-increasing knowledge back to work in front of a roaring crowd?

A native of Rumford, Maine, known to his fans as “Dr. Feelgood,” Austin (5-1) will get another crack at that amateur strap when he takes on Nate Russell (8-3) for the vacant flyweight title at “NEF 52: Zero Hour.”

The card is set for Saturday, May 13 at Aura in Portland, Maine, with an opening bell time of 7 p.m.

Smythe, now fighting in the professional ranks, is a common opponent for the two combatants. He also defeated Russell by unanimous decision in January. Austin acknowledged that he has scouted the bout.

“Not when it happened, but when Nate and I got scheduled to fight, I went and watched it,” Austin said. “I thought it was a pretty good fight. It was a good matchup.”

Russell is a rare journeyman in amateur circles with titlefight experience in multiple regional promotions. The showdown against Austin is his NEF debut.

Despite his opponent’s diverse background and regular recent activity, Austin expressed supreme confidence.

“I feel like I can capitalize in every position, and I’m pretty confident that I’m gonna walk out with my hand raised,” Austin said.

It’s a clash of styles. There’s little doubt that Austin, a two-time high Maine state champion who graduated with more wins than any wrestler in Mountain Valley High School history, will try to get Russell on the ground.

If the fight doesn’t go there early or often, however, Austin isn’t worried.

“Whatever the fight comes to,” Austin said. “If there’s an opening to take him down, then I will. If he wants to stay on the feet, then I’ll stay on the feet. I feel like his best attribute is probably his stand-up game. I feel like that’s his game plan. I’m fine with it standing up.”

Austin admittedly sees his loss as a missed opportunity, one in which Smythe snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to get his arm raised.

“In my opinion, I was winning the whole fight,” Austin said. “I feel like he just caught me in a wrong position at the wrong time, and that’s how he beat me. I feel as though I was in control that whole time.”

Every loss is a learning experience, and Austin banked a valuable lesson that night.

“I didn’t feel in one moment that I was in trouble besides the last time where he finished me in those last seconds,” Austin said. “My takeaway, I don’t know. Just don’t fall off the top, I guess. I expected it. I expected a hard fight. He was definitely real explosive on the bottom.”

Some of Austin’s self-assurance entering the Russell fight stems from his belief that he has already been in the hexagon with a superior fighter.

“I feel like as if right now Tyler is my toughest opponent, and I feel like he’s still gonna be my toughest opponent,” Austin said.

The son of fellow NEF veteran and longtime River Valley wrestling coach Eric Austin, Caleb was surely destined to test himself in the combat sports realm beyond the high school and college wrestling mat.

He was not even five months past turning 18 when he debuted in electrifying fashion, finishing James Ploss with a flurry of first-round punches at “NEF 28: Invincible.”

Austin immersed himself in his studies after that bout, as well, stepping away for almost 2½ years before a similarly striking finish of Cory Richards at the aptly named “NEF 40: School of Hard Knocks.”

That started a run of Austin fighting on five of six NEF cards. He defeated Ryan Fogg and Dillon Henry before being taken the distance for the first time in a unanimous decision victory over a revenge minded Ploss.

While not expressly active since the loss to Smythe, Austin has stayed in fight trim at his walking-around weight of between 145 and 150 pounds while training at Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (CMBJJ).

“Camp’s been good. I’ve got Tyler Parent as a partner. Incredible, incredible fighter coming up. He’s fighting on this card. He’s really good,” Austin said. “Jesse (Erickson) of course is my coach, incredible coach. Just tough partners all around, pushing the pace, hitting lifts and cardio in the morning and then practice at night.”

Thanks to his day-to-day discipline even when away from the cage, Austin forecasted no problems making the rigid flyweight limit.

“I feel like I’m fine at 125,” Austin said. “The weight cut isn’t too bad. I can do it pretty easily.”

A regular day for Austin includes a morning visit to the gym and/or classes, depending on the time of year, followed by practice in the afternoon and evening.

Despite his unique identity outside of school, Austin doesn’t see himself as a big man on campus when he’s wearing street clothes in either Gorham or Portland.

“I don’t think anyone really notices me or anything like that,” Austin said. “There are a few people from the wrestling team that know me. We were friends before. But no one that has just come up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re Caleb.’”

Winning a title may or may not increase his visibility at USM, but it absolutely would put him on a fast track on the regional MMA scene once again.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It would show that I’m capable of being a champion and prove everyone right that believes in me.”

Even with seven fights under his belt, title or otherwise, Austin intends to take a measured approach to the timetable of turning pro.

“I want to fight at least two more times this year,” he said. “I would stay ammy for a little bit. I won’t turn pro this year at all. Maybe 2024.”

All career paths are made clearer with a win over Russell and a championship on his resume.

Whether such a landmark victory is the result of an early submission or stoppage or a slugfest indeep waters remains to be seen.

“Any means necessary,” Austin said. “I feel like it’ll end early, but I’m fully capable of going all the five rounds right now.”

“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  The event will also stream live on a pay-per-view basis at