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May 9, 2023




Portland, Maine (May 4, 2023)

Bombs, blood and braggadocio are the overriding themes in advance of a 190-pound amateur catchweight bout that will entertain New England Fights fans if it lives up to even a small fraction of its preliminary bluster.

Robert Gray (1-0) and Jack Burke (1-2) both insist that they don’t have anything specific against the other man. They’re just two self-assured dudes, each with a combative streak a mile wide, separated by almost a full generation, who happen to be in one another’s way.

The war of words will be punctuated by the sound of the cage door closing Saturday, May 13 at “NEF 52: Zero Hour.” Opening bell time at Aura in Portland, Maine, is set for 7 p.m.

“I’m 38 years old and I’ve got to work a lot harder than these kids do, I think,” said Gray, who trains out with Team Krane out of MXA Fitness in Ellsworth, Maine, “I’m putting some serious time in the gym, sometimes four to five hours a session, because I don’t plan on losing. This guy’s got some hands, but so do I.”

A late bloomer in a regional fighting organization that’s seen its share of them, Gray made an immediate impact with a one-punch, 30-second knockout of Cody Dular at “NEF 50.”

“He came up, tied up with me, pushed me against the fence, but he kept too much space there, so it was pretty easy for me to get out,” Gray recalled. “He put his hips in to try to hold me against the cage, so I was able to get out of that. I kind of hooked his leg and he went down. Then he tried to grapple with me again, and I pushed him against the cage, stepped back, posted up and one right hand and there it was.”

Having seen Burke lose to his past two opponents in similar first-round fashion, Gray is licking his chops at the chance to extend his unbeaten streak in front of what promises to be a large group of family and friends.

“He’s got a little tape on him. He’s got three fights. I know he’s been finished twice in the first round by submission,” Gray said. “I do think he’s significantly better than my last opponent. I’m kind of excited. I might actually get hit. I just like to fight. That’s why I’m doing it. I like to fight. I like to get hit. I want that war. I want that bloody war.”

Burke, by contrast, is a 23-year-old out of Karasu Tengu Academy in Nashua, New Hampshire, who believes his best is ahead of him after a series of speed bumps early in his NEF career.

His TKO win over Nick Legrande back in February 2022 at “NEF 46; Decade of Dominance” demonstrated that Burke has the good to stand and deliver with authority.

“I’m not generally that kind of guy, but there’s something about being in a fistfight and getting locked in a cage that just brings it out of me. I can’t help but want to get under this guy’s skin just a little bit,” Burke said. “There’s absolutely respect for any man who walked the Earth and any man who gets in a cage. But ultimately the concern isn’t about my experience. It’s trying not to get charged with elder abuse.”

A submission to armbar against undefeated Nate White last time out at “NEF 51: Banger in Bangor” was still a form of redemption for Burke, who left the promoters and the Queen City crowd hanging when he pulled out of a skirmish on fight night in a previous visit.

Burke said he was humbled by the experience and profusely thanked NEF co-owners Matt Peterson and Nick DiSalvo for extending him a second and now third chance to rebrand himself.

“That was embarrassing. That’s not how I want to show myself. I had to pull out of that fight because I didn’t have the proper coaching staff available. There were so many things that fell apart at the last minute,” Burke explained. “That puts a bad image on you, and that’s just not how I want to look. If I have a bad look on me, I want it to be because I flipped off the guy across the cage. I had a good conversation with my opponent, and I’ve spoken with him since. David McCarty, he knows I owe him 100 beers for that one.”

Gray’s MMA career has followed a start, stop and restart sequence.

“Years ago I used to train at Team Irish. I enjoyed it a lot, but then I had kids and life, so that took priority over anything else. I’m older in the game,” Gray acknowledged. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and why not test my skills and all the training I’ve done in the cage against people that are training as well? It’s exciting.”

In addition to his coach, training partners and girlfriend, Gray gains strength and community from his membership in the Maine Exiles motorcycle club.

He anticipates upwards of 30 or 40 fellow riders will be part of the intimate throng at Aura.

“I have a ton of brothers that are supporting me. Most of the club’s going to the fight,” Gray said. “That’s my support system. It’s gonna be loud. That’s my family. That’s why I joined it. That’s my immediate family. Those are people that’s always had my back, and I have theirs. We support each other in everything that we do. The amount of support that I get from them is amazing. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Burke’s training took an upward swing when he began working out under the watchful eyes of Walter Cotito and Joey Gomez at KTA and moved in with fellow NEF veterans Tristan Wood and Joe Peters to focus on that regimen.

“The blood in me, I’ll stand and bang it out with anybody who wants to stand across from me,” Burke said. “The great thing about training under guys like Walter and Joey is they’ve made me a well-rounded fighter. I’m confident anywhere the fight goes. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be there and excited that it’s gone there.”

After receiving a black belt in tae kwon do as a youth, Burke said his weight ballooned to over 300 pounds. MMA training initially was a strategy to get back in shape.

Now he hopes to parlay a win over Gray into future opportunities, perhaps a chance at an amateur title and beyond.

“I never look past any opponent,” Burke said. “I’d like to get a win, get a finish. I’d like to get the five-round (title fight) experience. And then I’d like to start getting paid for this shit.”

“It’s always me versus me,” he added. “This whole martial arts journey was just to prove to myself that I could be a better person than who I was when I started. Every day when I go into the gym, the purpose is to get one percent better. Even being on a two-fight skid, if you watch my fights, I’ve gotten progressively better every time, so I don’t doubt anything about my process. As long as I stick to a mindset of I’m just trying to beat me out there, I don’t think anybody stands a chance.”

Of course Gray begs to differ.

“He throws a lot of punches in a flurry, but at the same time it’s not really that accurate. It’s a lot of looping stuff. He’s a southpaw. I’m orthodox,” Gray said. “I see myself knocking him out. I’m not gonna lie. He backs himself against the cage when he gets pressure. If you want to stay against the cage, I’ll keep you there. He likes to back up when people are putting pressure on him. And he likes to set the tone, but you just can’t let him.”

Burke anticipates landing one of those haymakers and turning out the lights.

“It’s gonna be bloody. It’s gonna be a good one,” Burke said. “Somebody’s gonna go down. One of us is going to sleep, and I’d be really surprised if it was me.”

By contrast to Burke with his young, eager and in-depth vision for his career, Gray admittedly is more day-to-day.

“I haven’t really thought past this fight,” he said. “I’m not ever planning on doing UFC stuff. I just like to fight.”

While emphasizing that it’s nothing personal, Burke promised that Gray will get one.

“There’s nothing about him that really ticks me off. I respect him a lot, even if it doesn’t seem so,” Burke said. “It’s just you’ve got to get in a guy’s head, and living rent-free in somebody’s head is a good feeling. Standing across the cage from somebody and knowing that he’s spent his time, those hours late at night thinking about me when I was sleeping fine, that’s how I know I’m well-rested and I’m good for the fight.”

“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