NEF 50 Preview: "War Hawk" Piersma vs. "The" Ryan Sanders Welterweight Championship


Travis Lizotte "Full Contact Writer"


New England Fights celebrates a half century this Saturday night when it's hexagon touches down inside the Aura Nightclub in the heart of Portland, Maine's "Old Port" as Matt Peterson and Nick DiSalvo present NEF 50: Piersma vs. Sanders for the promotion's vacant Professional Welterweight crown. Seventeen bouts line the bill at NEF 50 with an Undercard consisting of eleven Amateur MMA matchups and a Main Card featuring six Professional bouts, New England Fights prepares to Celebrate 50, in style, Saturday night from the bustling cobblestone streets of the Old Port Exchange. The evening will culminate with the featured attraction; a Welterweight title fight between two of the best 170 pound professionals in the Northeast, as new school meets old school, when upstart Jon "War Hawk" Piersma (4-1, Synthesis BJJ) meets former NEF Lightweight Champion "The" Ryan Sanders (20-9).


Opening bell at NEF 50 will sound at 7 pm local time (doors to the event open at 6 pm) and will be answered by a pair of unblemished Amateur Lightweights as Titan Athletics, Ed Davis (1-0) and Team Ellison's Patrick Mitchell (1-0) kick off NEF's milestone 50th event with a BANG! Following the Lightweight opening bout we are treated to three consecutive bouts with debuting fighters in both corners. First; Central Maine BJJ's Armon Bryant welcomes KTA's Tristan Wood to the great state of Maine at a Catchweight of 165 pounds. Then; Vision Quest Muay Thai's Eddy Pena meets Nostos MMA's Avery Poole at Featherweight. Followed finally by another pair of 145 pounders as Titan Athletics's Soren Mercer matches wits with Brown University's Rosen Iliev.


We return to the Featherweight division in the evenings fifth bout as First Class MMA's Chris Strout (0-2) enters the NEF cage for the second time, in search of his elusive first Amateur victory when he invites South Shore Sportfighting's Nicholas Mulrey (1-0) to The Pine Tree State and the NEF roster for the first time. Our first and only pair of female competitors share the NEF hexagon next when Central Maine BJJ's Cassidy Bedard (1-0) plays host to the Amateur debut of Evolution Athletix's Lindsey Kelley. Bedard's debut victory at NEF 47 did not come without controversy, as her opponent Michelle MacDavid was disqualified in the third round of their bout due to excessive eye pokes. Bedard looks to leave no controversy in her Sophomore appearance here at NEF 50 when she squares off with late notice replacement, Lindsey Kelley who tipped her cap to her team at Evolution Athletix in Saco, Maine for having her ready to make her debut walk Saturday night.

We take yet another swim in the Amateur Featherweight division when Massachusetts residents Danny Wahlberg (1-0, USMMA) and Johnny Milligan (0-0, Wai Kru) make the pilgrimage to Maine for their first taste of New England Fights action. Wahlburg looks to improve to 2-0 on the New England scene following an absolute war with Phil LoCigno in February, that saw Danny leave Cape Cod with a Split-Decision victory. Team Benson's Cody Dular (1-0) also looks to improve to 2-0 Saturday night as he attempts to parlay a second round Knockout of Nick McInnis at NEF 48 into his second NEF victory of the year when he welcomes the debut of Garth Krane disciple; Robert Gray, at a fight weight of 225 pounds.


We head down the home stretch in the Amateur ranks as Evolution Athletix Bantamweight Teddy Politis (2-1) looks to bounce back off the first loss of his career at NEF 45:Uprising, falling victim to a third round Submission from Felipe Gunter and coming up just short in his attempt to capture NEF Amateur Bantamweight gold. Politis returns to the NEF cage for the first time in 2022 when he welcomes Connecticut's Aaron Rodriguez (Ascension Athletics) to the MMA realm, in search of his third Amateur victory and a return to NEF Bantamweight title contention.

Former University of Maine and Maine High School Football (Lewiston High School) standout Jared Turcotte (1-0) makes his second walk to the NEF cage Saturday night and attempts to improve upon a 35 second drubbing of Seth Godfrey at NEF 48, as he locks horns with KTA's (Nashua, NH) Regian Da Silva Jr. (0-0) at Light-Heavyweight. Known for his accolades on the gridiron, which lead to his induction into the Auburn-Lewiston Hall of Fame in 2019, Central Maine BJJ's Turcotte's athleticism shined brightly in his debut this summer. Turcotte looks to show that his athletic prowess not only translates to the football field but to the NEF Hexagon once again at NEF 50 when he sets his sights on Da Silva Jr. and his second consecutive stoppage win to open his MMA career.

Finally we come to the featured Amateur bout of the evening as Recon's Zach Faulkner (4-3) looks to shake the thralls of back-to-back losses for the first time in his Amateur career Saturday night when he plays host to the Amateur debut of Wai Kru's Chase O'Brien (0-0). After beginning the 2022 campaign with a Split-Decision loss to "Magic" Mike Murray (4-2) for the NEF Welterweight title at NEF 46, Faulkner returned to the Lightweight division this summer at NEF 48, where he would suffer a first round loss to Ohio's Bobby Kelley (3-3) via Kimura. Zach hopes to finally hang a win on his 2022 slate at NEF 50 as he closes out the NEF calendar in a Lightweight tilt against Massachusetts newcomer Chase O'Brien.


Amateurs give way to the Professionals as NEF 50 turns the page to the main card where Justin "The Principal" Kangas (0-0) will make one final walk to the NEF cage, this time in his professional debut as he draws Sityodtong/Brazilian Top Team veteran Brian Cosco (0-1). In an Amateur career that saw Kangas go just 1-3 albiet to some stiff competition (including Nate "The Mule" White and Nate Grimard), Kangas kicked off 2022 with the first win of his career; a Split-Decision over Jon Assam (2-4) at NEF 46 Decade of Dominance. First Class MMA's Kangas has decided to make one last go around, before hanging up the gloves to concentrate on his career in Education and his family, this time he will do so for a paycheck as he punches his pro ticket against Massachusetts' Brian Cosco. Cosco is a seasoned MMA veteran who made his pro debut earlier this year at NEF 48, following a 17 fight Amateur career, succumbing to a first round Rear Naked Choke at the hands of Matt Denning (7-16). Cosco will look to send Kangas out on his shield Saturday night as these two meet at a Catchweight of 165 pounds.


Speaking of NEF 48: Heatwave; Nostos MMA prospect Nate Grimard (2-1) would suffer his first taste of defeat at Thompson's Point this summer, as New York's Jake "The Hitman" Hixenbaugh sunk in a first round Guillotine to snatch the "0" from Grimards pro record. Grimard takes a step towards a return to Featherweight at NEF 50 when he catches 12 fight Michiganian; Darren Gibbs (2-10) at a fight weight of 150 pounds as Grimard looks of hang himself a "W" to close out his 2022 campaign. Don't let the record of Gibbs fool you, he is an extremely physical and athletic Lightweight that will undoubtedly challenge every aspect of Grimard's fight game and I.Q. Grimard will have to remain in control of the grappling exchanges as Gibbs is known for some sneaky submission skills during his tenure throughout the upper Midwest. Grimard hopes to prove once again that New England is a breed all it's own, and not one to be taken lightly.


Speaking of top New England talents, there are few prospects in the region that I am higher on that Evolution Athletix Lightweight Mo Al Kinani (3-1). Kinani has split his pro career evenly between Indiana's Art of Scrap and Maine's finest; New England Fights, during that time Kinani's lone loss came at the hands of Nostos MMA's Ross Dannar at NEF 47 in May. Mo returned to Art of Scrap last month at Art of Scrap 5, dispatching Ray Evans (0-2) with strikes in the first round. Having suffered no damage in the fight with Evans, Mo returns home to NEF for the quick turnaround against New York's Tymar "The Marksman" Miles out of Train to Go MMA who makes his Pro Debut as a virtual unknown when he signed the dotted line to stand across from the promising Al Kinani this Saturday night. This will be violent!

If you were to poll the New England Fights fan base, asking who the most polarizing fighter on the NEF roster is, there is a strong possibility Carl Langston (2-6) and Matt "Ken Doll" Denning (7-16) would show up somewhere near the top of that list. And that is "a-okay" with them, because quite frankly they downright despise one another. Unlike some of the people who just like to run their mouths however, these guys have agreed to hash it out over 15 minutes inside the NEF Hexagon at an agreed upon Featherweight limit of 146 pounds. An interesting clash of styles; Carl's Tae Kwon Do striking first approach, against Denning's slick submission grappling, meets an interesting clash of characters, known throughout the New England MMA scene for not holding their tongues. In my estimation the only way this one could be more fitting is in a boiler room with bare knuckles!

We find ourselves at the Co-Main event of NEF 50 when two monsters enter the cage, as Heavyweights do battle in the co-feature when 6'6", 245 pound "Rasquatch" Ras "The Jamacian Shamrock" Hylton (8-6) welcomes 6', 265 pound Jordan Mitchell (10-16) to the NEF cage for the very first time. South Portland's Ras Hylton has enjoyed a flawless 2022 so far, earning Knockout stoppages of both Jan Jorgansen (8-2) and Cody Lightfoot (6-6) heading into this bout with the 31 year old Columbus, Ohio native; Jordan Mitchell. Mitchell has seen somewhat of a career resurrection over the last 18 months, due in large part to his 2-1 record for Dada 5000's BYB extreme, followed by a 12 second knockout of Chris Beal (3-10) at Colosseum Combat in July. Hylton is no stranger to sub 15 second knockouts either, needing just 13 seconds to dispatch Cody Lightfoot in his last bout at NEF 48:Heatwave. Cage side judges can take this one off, as I see this fight being a slugfest, with one of these men ending up with their "toes to Jesus" and the other with their hand raised to the Aura crowd. Do. Not. Blink!

Finally we find ourselves at the NEF 50 Main Event, and what a Main Event it is going to be as Matt Peterson and Nick Disalvo have lined up one of the best regional Welterweight bouts anyone could have asked for as NEF staple and former NEF Lightweight Champion "The" Ryan Sanders (20-9) will attempt, for the third time, to capture the illusive NEF Welterweight strap against Rochester, New York super-prospect; Jonathan "War Hawk" Piersma (4-1). Let me begin by saying that Piersma's 4-1 record does not nearly represent this kid's talents in a fist fight. Anyone who has followed the young career of "War Hawk" knows this kid should be 6-0; having lost a split-decision to Charlie Radtke (6-3) at CFFC 106 in a fight where Jon had the back of Radtke for 10 of the 15 minutes the Welterweights shared the cage, but somehow was not granted the decision. Also Piersma had a win stripped from him following a 31 second Guillotine finish of Kris Vereen (7-0) at CFFC 101, that got overturned to a no contest due to a mistake by the in cage referee. Add those two wins to Piersma's official four professional victories and you have a 6-0 animal, knocking on the door to the UFC. Well, what's one way to garner recognition when the referees and scoring systems fail you? Emphatically stop one of the best 170 pounders in New England, on his home court, that's just what Piersma intends to do when the cage door locks on his Welterweight title fight with "The" Ryan Sanders Saturday night in Portland's Old Port.


Not so fast my friend...Ryan Sanders has been the example for how success can be measured over the last five years on the New England scene. Winner of ten of his last eleven contests, Sanders has staked his claim on both the Lightweight and Welterweight divisions here in New England. Sanders looks to put a cherry on top of his Welterweight run Saturday night in the NEF 50 main event, when he looks to finally collect the NEF Welterweight title and send Piersma back to Western New York with his second pro loss and a bad taste in his mouth. Ladies and Gentlemen we have ourselves one of the highest profile main events in the recent history of the NEF promotion at NEF 50 as the young, hungry prospect, Jon Piersma, finds himself in the toughest test of his career against NEF posterboy and mainstay Ryan Sanders, with regional gold on the line. It's hard for me to contain my excitement over this matchup, as this headliner promises to be worth the price of admission alone, NEF 50 will likely decide the best Welterweight in the entire Northeast, if not on this side of the Mississippi River. New England MMA fans will not want to miss this fight, as I have been giddy for this matchup since it was announced on a late September episode of "The Room Podcast" with our Steve Domenico.


Tickets for NEF 50 at Aura Nightclub in Portland, Maine can be purchased by clicking the link here. And for those who are not able to be in attendance for NEF 50: Piersma v. Sanders, you can purchase the live stream on a pay-per-view basis by clicking the link here. Follow below for a quick look at the entire monumental NEF 50 fightcard as it has been released by the promotion, fight order is subject to change.


Main Card (Professionals)

Ryan Sanders (20-9, Vision Quest) vs. Jonathan Piersma (4-1, Synthesis BJJ)

NEF Welterweight Title (Vacant) Ras Hylton (8-6, ATT Tampa/Dragon Fire/Choi) vs. Jordan Mitchell (10-16, Pitbull)

Heavyweight Carl Langston (2-6, Clifford’s TKD) vs. Matt Denning (7-16, Denning’s MMA)

Featherweight Tymar Miles (Debut, Train to Go) vs. Mohammad Al Kinani (3-1, Evolution Athletix)

Lightweight Darren Gibbs (2-10, Allegiance Jiu-Jitsu) vs. Nate Grimard (2-1, Nostos)

Catchweight (150lbs.) Justin Kangas (Pro Debut, First Class) vs. Brian Cosco (0-1, Brazilian Top Team/Sityodtong)

Catchweight (165lbs.)


Undercard (Amateurs)

Zach Faulkner (4-3, Recon) vs. Chase O’Brien (0-0, Wai Kru)

Lightweight Jared Turcotte (1-0, CMBJJ) vs. Regian Da Silva, Jr. (0-0, Karasu Tengu)

Light-Heavyweight Aaron Rodriguez (0-0, Ascension Athletics) vs. Teddy Politis (2-1, Evolution Athletix)

Bantamweight Cody Dular (1-0, Team Benson) vs. Robert Gray (0-0, Team Krane)

Cruiserweight Danny Wahlberg (1-0, USMMA) vs. Johnny Milligan (0-0, Wai Kru)

Featherweight Cassidy Bedard (1-0, CMBJJ) vs. Lindsey Kelley (0-0, Evolution Athletix)

Catchweight (150lbs.) Chris Strout (0-2, First Class) vs. Nicholas Mulrey (1-0, South Shore Sportfighting)

Featherweight Soren Mercer (0-0, Titan Athletics) vs. Rosen Iliev (0-0, Brown University MMA Club)

Featherweight Eddy Peña (0-0, Vision Quest) vs. Avery Poole (0-0, Nostos)

Featherweight Armon Bryant (0-0, CMBJJ) vs. Tristan Wood (0-0, Karasu Tengu)