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June 28, 2023

📰 NEWS--📰Al Kinani on Upcoming Fight with Erickson: “Expect Nothing But Fireworks”



Portland, Maine (June 22, 2023)

Few stars have taken New England Fights by storm as quickly and with the fanfare that has accompanied Mohammad Al Kinani in his first two years as a professional.

On the heels of a patient and productive amateur career, Al Kinani dispatched his first two pro foes in round one and put himself on the perceived fast track to regional and perhaps national notoriety.

Not even two recent losses – one to a fellow NEF shooting star, and another against an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) veteran – have given the hype meter hiccups.

Everybody who’s anybody on the local lightweight scene in mixed martial arts is acutely aware of one stark reality, however. To get where you’re going, you’ll eventually have to pass muster against Jesse Erickson.

Al Kinani (5-2) and Erickson (11-9) will square off Saturday, July 8, in the main event of “NEF 53: American Valor” at majestic Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, little more than a sturdy golf shot away from Al Kinani’s home base.

“Jesse’s a game opponent, and that’s all that I’m about,” Al Kinani said. “I look for the toughest of the tough, and Jesse’s one of the toughest in the state. I think I have all the answers for him.”

Erickson is both the measuring stick and the hourglass of the regional cage fighting promotion. Al Kinani, 27, was in high school and new to America’s shores when his next opponent launched his MMA career.

By the time the guy they call ‘Mo’ burst onto the NEF amateur scene with twin 80-second stoppages of Phil Pearson and Isaac Therrien in late 2017 and early ’18, Erickson was already a sweet 16 fights deep into his pro ledger.

“I’ve seen him fight for a long time,” Al Kinani said. “I pictured myself fighting him since I started fighting. I’m excited, man. I’m excited to fight in front of my home crowd in Portland.”

Despite Erickson’s time-honored toughness and long trail of main events past, he’s no sudden step up in competition for Al Kinani.

Not even three months ago, Al Kinani locked up with another 36-year-old, 20-fight veteran, Peter Barrett, whose resume includes a pair of UFC appearances in 2020. Barrett scored his fourth consecutive KO/TKO at Al Kinani’s expense, with the end coming at 2:53 of the third round.

“I learned a lot, man. My biggest battle was myself,” Al Kinani said. “After watching the fight, I had to fix a few little boxing habits that I have in my fighting style, fix a few little holes and that’s about it. I’ve moved on from it, but I learned a valuable lesson that night. Either you win or you learn.”

His battle with Barrett took a steep physical toll and forced Al Kinani to postpone his hopes for an April return until this Independence week card.

“The night of I thought I might have been concussed because I took some shots to the head, but it didn’t turn out to be the case,” Al Kinani said. “I got cleared out three days after, the neuro clearance. I got sent home the same night. The only injury that I had to take time off was a shin injury. I shattered the top of my foot and my shin.

“I have been back in camp for a week now. Before that I’ve been training. I’ve been in the gym, I never really left. After about a week and a half I gave it time to rest and started training again.”

Even with the loss and the associated recovery time, Al Kinani sounds as if he would gladly sign on the dotted line for the experience all over again.

“Going in there with somebody like Peter Barrett, there’s a lot of pressure on you, especially in his hometown,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. I wanted to deal with pressure. I feel like pressure got to me that night, but that’s what you get going against a UFC veteran in his own hometown. That’s what wakes me up in the morning.”

Al Kinani surveys his career path while armed with the confidence that his coach, Nate Libby, and team at Evolution Athletix in Saco have him ready for anything and anybody.

“That comes from preparation,” Al Kinani said. “We’re ready to go at any time. We’re in fight shape, fight weight. We work hard, and that builds confidence when you work hard.”

A stone mason by trade, Al Kinani maintains a rigorous training schedule that often sandwiches dual workouts on both ends of that eight-hour workday outdoors in Maine’s extreme and unpredictable weather.

On Saturdays, he’s up at the crack of dawn and on his way to the gym ready to roll for the entire morning.

“I do have one day off. That is forced by my coach now for me and Tyler (Smythe) and most of the guys. We do team training on Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday. A lot of grappling, a lot of striking. I’ve been doing my grappling rounds with Coach Kris Kramer, who’s a black belt at our gym, and CJ Kelly. Yeah, we’ve been working hard. A lot of time on the mat. Chasing the dream, man. Chasing the dream.”

To realize that dream means taking on the likes of an opponent who has proven himself a nightmare in the past.

The only other time NEF soaked the storied stage with perspiration and tested the acoustics at Merrill, Erickson dismissed previously undefeated sizzling prospect Josh Harvey in the opening round.

“All respect to Jesse. I’ve been watching him fight for a long time,” Al Kinani said. “I’ve always been a fan of his grappling, his grit. I think Jesse has not lost one bit of that grit that I’m talking about, and he’s gonna bring it July 8th. I’ll be ready for it all. Jesse has the IQ, has the experience, has the skills. Every time he steps out there it’s 50/50, It’s about who grinds more in there.”

Naturally, Al Kinani envisions a flipped script for Erickson in his return engagement at the century-old concert hall, and he believes his relative strength in a few key areas will set the tone.

“My striking, obviously. I don’t think he has faced a striker of my caliber in a long time,” Al Kinani said. “I believe my striking, distance management and strong wrestling will be the difference in this fight.”

Asked if Erickson could say the same about his vaunted jiu-jitsu, Al Kinani’s response was immediate and unequivocal.

“That’s the thing about MMA. That shit does not matter,” he said. “Jiu-jitsu is very manageable in MMA. I feel like I have the answers for him.”

Merrill holds its own historic appeal for Al Kinani, who emigrated from Iraq as a teenager.

“That’s where I graduated high school,” Al Kinani said. “I had a fight scheduled with NEF the last time they hosted an event at Merrill Auditorium, and it fell through. I think my opponent dropped off a week before the fight. I always wanted to fight there ever since, so I’m glad it’s happening again, and I get to headline it too.”

The two bustling gyms represented in July’s main event, Evolution Athletix and Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, rank along with Nostos MMA in Somersworth, New Hampshire, as the three that produce the highest volume of pro and amateur fighters as NEF speeds into second decade of chokes and hammer fists.

Some might assume a brewing rivalry or suspect that bragging rights will run deeper than the two men standing in the center of the cage. Al Kinani shrugged off such chatter.

“That’s just business. We’re two gyms that have big stables of fighters,” Al Kinani said. “They produce top-notch fighters. We produce top-notch fighters. That’s what it’s all about. We’re trying to fight top-notch competition, and CMBJJ provides that most of the time.”

Al Kinani’s only loss prior to the Barrett bout was a third-round TKO at the hands of Ross Dannar in May 2022.

Only one of his five wins, Robert Wusstig, went all the way to the scorecards. That follows the pattern of a 9-1 amateur career that featured six knockouts, with the lone loss via triangle choke.

In other words, don’t stray far from the cage prior to the main event, as the proverbial woman of substance may not waste much time warming up her vocal cords before this party ends.

“Like I said when I was in the cage (at the fight announcement), expect nothing but fireworks,” Al Kinani said. “Fourth of July weekend that’s what they’re gonna see in Merrill. I’ll either knock him out or get knocked out. I don’t see it going the distance at all.”

“NEF 53: American Valor” is scheduled for Saturday, July 8 with an opening bell time of 7 p.m. as the blood, sweat and adrenaline of mixed martial arts take center stage where classical music, opera, contemporary dance and Broadway theater have long reigned supreme. Tickets are available at