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November 1, 2023



 Bangor, Maine (October 20, 2023)

After 36 years of life and 31 professional fights, THE Ryan Sanders has developed the wisdom to revel in the roar every time he gets the chance to walk through the door of the New England Fights (NEF) mixed martial arts cage in his neighborhood of Bangor, Maine.

Sanders (21-10) will headline a list of what is expected to be no fewer than five combatants out of VisionQuest Muay Thai in nearby Newport when he scraps with Sage Philippe (4-5) in a professional welterweight bout at “NEF 55: Glory Days” on Saturday, November 11.

“Extremely excited. It’s always a blessing to be able to fight in my hometown,” Sanders told host Ryan Jarrell in a recent episode of Between Rounds Radio. “And not only that, but we’re rolling in deep. We’ve got a crap ton of guys on there, so it’s just gonna be quite the night for us.It’s palpable. You can feel the energy even before the fights start. It’s amazing. It’s so cool to fight in my hometown.”

The card is scheduled to take place at the Cross Insurance Center with a bell time of 7 p.m.

A mainstay since the original NEF card almost a dozen years ago, whether the site is Bangor, Lewiston, Portland or farther down the seacoast, Sanders is past the point where fighting in front of his closest friends and neighbors gives him pause.

“Nah, fuck no. There’s no pressure anymore,” Sanders said. “It’s just good vibes, more energy, more vibes.”

Nor does Sanders see any scenario in which his current hot streak of 11 wins in 13 fights goes off the rails. Sanders’ latest triumph was a split decision over Ali Zebian in July.

All those victories have come underneath the NEF banner, starting with a decision over Derrick Kennington during the “Dana White Looking for a Fight” card back in August 2016. He didn’t receive the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) nod that night, but Sanders hopes one more triumph will hasten that elusive call from a national promotion.

“It’s not if, it’s when. I’ll beat the piss out of Sage,” Sanders said. “There’s no question about that. I outwork him. I’m a more talented fighter. It’s just getting harder for Matt (Peterson, NEF co-owner and matchmaker) to find people to fight me. I’m waiting and waiting, and hopefully after this performance they’ll be like, ‘You know what? Let’s give this idiot up in Maine a chance.’”

Sanders absorbed a 10-second knockout loss at Bellator’s appearance in the Pine Tree State back in 2013. Now under the tutelage of esteemed Primo Bellarosa, he yearns for one more shot to represent his native soil on the world’s stage.

“I just want to bring some respect back to the 207. I feel like we haven’t gotten our fair share of respect,” Sanders said. “That’s one of my mantras right now. That’s what I’m focused on is just beating the piss out of Sage, hopefully getting the next fight and a chance to show my skill set. I’m a bad dude. I just feel like I haven’t gotten my opportunity yet.”

Time is of the essence for Sanders, who debuted as an amateur in 2008 and has fought professionally since 2011.

“This is my last run. I am getting older. I’m 36, which is like 57 in MMA years,” Sanders said. “But the thing is I’m trying to enjoy every moment and every aspect, going to the gym every morning and training. I’m still enjoying it. I still love it. It’s not like I’m waking up dreading it. I still can’t wait to get in the gym and train. But I also understand that I am getting older, and Father Time never loses, so every fight is important. We’ve just gotta make it happen.”

A streak of five consecutive stoppages ended with a decision loss to ground-and-pound guru Jonathan Piersma in a November 2022 title bout.

Sanders took on a similarly slippery foe in another snug affair for his comeback bout in July. While he earned the victory over Zebian, it wasn’t the unequivocal verdict he coveted.

“I thought it was clear. I must have pissed off one of the judges, and I just don’t know it. It is what it is. Like the old saying goes, don’t leave it in the hands of the judges,” Sanders said. “But I thought I was landing more, being the aggressor and stopping most of his takedowns. He got a couple in the third round, but he didn’t do shit with them. He just tried to hold me down like most people do when they fight me. I thought I controlled that fight from beginning to end.”

Philippe won his first three fights of a busy 2023 docket before an October 7 split decision loss to Melvin Harris. Now based out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, Philippe is a former training partner of Zebian in Massachusetts.

As to whether he thinks the two will compare notes ahead of Philippe’s turn, Sanders was happy to eliminate the middleman.

“I can tell him what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna punch him in his teeth. There’s no secrets. It’s a fight,” Sanders said. “He can do his best to put the fight wherever he thinks he’s gonna win. I’ve just got a bigger skill set. (Zebian) can tell him whatever he wants to hear. It doesn’t matter I’m a different animal. When he goes in there saying, ‘Ryan does this. Ryan does that,’ that’s great knowing what I’m gonna do. Good luck stopping it.”

Although he is one of NEF’s most notoriously skilled trash talkers ahead of a fight, Sanders had some complimentary words for Philippe’s repertoire.

“I’m excited because from what I’ve seen in his fights, he prefers to strike, which I love,” Sanders said. “He’s tough as nails too. All his losses are by decision, so it’s not like he just folds when pressure comes his way. He’s a tough kid. The reason I think his record is the way it is, he pretty much reminds me of myself back in the day. He’ll just be willing to fight anybody, even if they’re above the competition level he should be facing.”

Philippe has never fought in the NEF cage. The most familiar name to local fans on his ledger is a first-round knockout win over ever-ready and much-traveled Matt Denning.

Overall, Sanders sees having more than triple the pro experience against a deeper talent pool too much for Philippe to overcome.

“He seems like a tough kid,” Sanders said. “Basic but technical. Good takedown defense. He’s well-rounded. He’s not me. He’s not faced the competition that I’ve faced. I just want it more.”

Sanders isn’t obsessed with the idea of stopping Philippe, although he expects an accumulation of damage to lead in that direction.

“I think I have the skill set to finish him. I think he’ll hold on. The first round will be a banger. I think he’ll start fading in the second,” Sanders predicted. “Whether he stays all the way to the third is up to him. It’s in his mindset. I’m gonna drag him into deep waters. I’ve got 15 fucking minutes to finish this guy and beat the brakes off him. The way I fight, eventually I’ll give him a reason to quit.”

While continuing to chase his dreams in an often volatile and violent environment, Sanders is in a period of pursuing peace and harmony in his personal life.

Asked if he will continue his recent tradition of downing a celebratory beer in the cage, Sanders hesitated and acknowledged that he has been sober for eight weeks.

“I was making bad decisions. Alcohol tends to get me off my path to greatness. I’m like Frank the Tank from the movie Old School. ‘I’m gonna have one,’ and then I’m blacking out,” Sanders said. “I’ve been doing a shit ton of yoga, trying to be more mindful. Still training most every day. I have a girlfriend, so life’s good. No complaints here.”

Sanders indicated that some of his self-discipline is a credit to Bellarosa’s watchful eye over all his students.

“We’re close not only in the gym but out of the gym. He really is like a father figure to me,” Sanders said. “He checks in on us all. He has a personal connection with everybody. But at the same time, he’ll break us down. As soon as we’re in the gym it’s a different story. He does a great job separating coach and mentor, and he does it out of love.”

Tough love has a rough crew at the top of its game.

“From 125 to heavyweight, we just have got a bunch of killers. He just does an amazing job coaching us. Breaking shit down because he’s been in the game, but he has that experience of being a fighter as well. He just brings it together,” Sanders said. “He busts our balls, but he’ll build us up at the same time. He’s good at pushing us physically, too, going harder at conditioning stuff while we’re training. The last few months have been really good.”

Five fighters on a card are the norm for many of the camps that frequent NEF shows, but it isn’t usually VisionQuest’s preference.

Having the chance to showcase their work close to home is too good an opportunity to ignore.

“Primo doesn’t like to have that many, just because he likes to give people his full attention. But when it’s coming to Bangor and we have an opportunity to get a bunch of guys on the card, it’s like fuck yeah, let’s go,” Sanders said. “We set the bar here, and then every friggin’ week we’re pushing to get better. We’re gonna go 5-0 in Bangor.”

Will it be Sanders’ farewell bash in his backyard? He would love to think so.

“My ultimate goal is some way, come hell or high water, to get into PFL (Professional Fighters League) by next spring,” he said. “That’s what I’m putting my energy in, manifesting that shit.”

“NEF 55: Glory Days” is set for a bell time of 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 11 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine. Tickets are on sale now at, or at the Maine Credit Unions Box Office inside Cross Insurance Center.