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NEF 54: Fight at the Opera, The Preview

Travis Lizotte "Full Contact Writer"

For the second time in as many billings, Matt Peterson and Nick DiSalvo's NEF Hexagon finds itself center stage inside the historic Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine Saturday night as New England Fights presents NEF 54: Fight at the Opera. This time NEF Fight fans are in for another plot twist, as NEF teams up with Boston Boxing Promotions to kick off NEF 54 with seven professional boxing matches before giving way to a full 15 fight Pro/Am MMA card. Perched aside the NEF Hexagon on the stage at Merrill Auditorium will be Pete Czymbor's BBP boxing ring, serving as the battlegrounds some of the region's best Boxing Prospects to showcase their skills. An exciting showcase of "Heavy Glovers" serve as a formidable undercard to the MMA portion of Saturday night's action.

Featured on the Boxing bill; headlined by Undefeated Welterweight pugilist Nicky Tejada (5-0, Haverhill, Massachusetts) who welcomes the professional Boxing debut of Tymar Miles (0-0). Tejada's gym mate at Haverhill Downtown Boxing, Austin Keller (0-0) makes his professional Boxing debut when he meets combat sports veteran Paul Walters (0-1). Rising Ukrainian Heavyweight prospect Andrii Novytskyi (4-0, 3 KOs) draws tough competition when he meets Guadalajara Mexico's Dominguez Gutierrez (13-4, 6 KOs) in the co-feature bout. Massachusetts' Nate Balakin (5-3, 3KOs), Rico DePoalis (3-2, 3 KOs) and Undefeated Professional Boxer/Mixed Martial Artist (3-0, 2-0, respectively) Michael Bulger are all showcased. Bulger gunning for his fourth first round Knockout in as many contests when he meets Philadelphian Demetris Williams at 160 pounds.

The spotlight shifts to the NEF Hexagon with Amateur combatants taking us through the next portion of our evening as First Class MMA's Alecia Palmer and Evolution Athletix' Alyssa Taylor tangle in a 115 pound grappling contest inside the cage, Wwth 11 Amateur MMA bouts to follow. Capped off by three NEF Amateur Title fights, this card continues to build momentum as the night unfolds. Let's take a quick look at some of our Amateur card highlights.

The energy is always high when Flyweights take the cage and that's where this MMA card begins as Nostos MMA's Alex "The Ally Cat" Morris (2-1) becomes the first of 4 Nostos fighters 'out the chute' when he meets Central Maine BJJ's Tyler Parent (2-2) with both men looking to secure back to back wins for the first time in their respective careers. Less than two months removed from a drubbing of David Dorr at NEF 53, our next Nostos specimen; Nick Eldridge (1-0) returns to the scene of the crime Saturday night when he meets 18 year old Jarad Whitney (1-0) who comes fresh off a first round finish of his own, this May in Vermont. These two will meet at Bantamweight, as Eldridge makes the move down from Featherweight to meet Whitney at 135 pounds.

Unfortunately for KTA's Connor Morrill (1-4) and CMBJJ's Hannon Sanford (1-4) their skill and dedication to the sport is not always reflected in the win column. Saturday night, barring some sort of anomaly, one of these men will leave Merrill Auditorium with the second win of their careers and deservedly so. Next; Women's matchups seem to have become increasingly rare in the MMA realm as of late but NEF fans will be treated to such Saturday night when Jake Pilla's Gorilla Crew sends Undefeated Amanda Ferreira (2-0) who hopes to remain unblemished against MMA newcomer Bry Power (0-0) out of The Academy in Portland, Maine. Another win for Ferreira should put her into title contention in the New England Amateur Women's ranks, unless her team decides she is ready to make the leap into professional waters.

Let's get to the crown jewels atop the NEF 54 Amateur card; three vacant NEF Amateur Titles are up for grabs coming in the Bantamweight, Welterweight and Middleweight divisions. We check in first with the Bantamweights as reigning NEF Amateur Featherweight Champion Teddy Politis (6-1) out of Evolution Athletix in Saco, Maine looks to become the first NEF Champ Champ when he welcomes New York's Marco Berreondo (3-3, Warrior Nation) to the New England ranks with NEF gold on the line. Politis will ultimately be looking to capture his third regional title in his last three bouts within the New England region. If Politis can add to an already impressive five finishes Saturday night at Berreondo's expense, you could say Teddy will become the New England MMA Amateur Public Enemy #1, a position that comes draped with belts.

In effort to stay with the announced bout order we go next to the Middleweight division as Red Hot First Class MMA/ Choi's Institute product Brett Martin (3-0) gets his first shot at NEF gold when he welcomes dangerous New England MMA journeyman Lee McHugh (5-2) to the NEF cage for the first time. Topsham, Maine's Martin has looked nothing short of a savage in his two trips to the NEF cage, leaving two first round knockouts in his wake. Saturday night in the biggest fight of Martin's career, he looks to prove that he is at the top of the New England 185 pound heap, against his toughest adversary to date and take with him his first regional strap. That's going to be much easier said than done against the seven fight veteran McHugh who totes with him three first round finishes of his own as he looks to silence the Maine crowd and leave NEF 54 the promotion's new Middleweight Champion. This is one hell of a matchup on paper and it will be exciting to see how that translates when the cage door locks behind these two Middleweight finishers.

The Amateur card comes to a close with what I have circled as the most intriguing fight of the night between Nostos' David Burke (3-1) and Titan Athletics' Devin Corson (4-1), for the NEF Welterweight belt. Nostos' David Burke (3-1) took the New England MMA Middleweight world by storm since his arrival in May of last year; setting down David McCarty, Ryan Fredette and Jideofor Ojukwu in order by first round Knockout. A trip outside the region, in December, proved to be the first hiccup of Burke's career, as he himself was stopped in the first round in Pennsylvania. Burke will look to right the ship Saturday night when he welcomes longtime NEF Lightweight turned Welterweight Devin Corson (4-1). Corson returned after a three and a half year layoff from competition in February when he took a decision from former NEF Welterweight title contender Curtis Ouelette. With he victory over Ouelette, Corson has positioned himself to keep a promise to his late father and capture NEF Gold for himself. This should be an exciting fight, for however many of the five championship rounds these two 170 pounders need to decide the promotion's baddest Welterweight Amateur.

Amateurs finally give way to the professionals as we come down the stretch at Merrill Auditorium, with two NEF amateur mainstays punching their professional tickets on Saturday's Main Card. Up first, First Class MMA/ Choi's Institute's Felipe Gunter (0-0) makes his professional debut against seven fight Nashua, New Hampshire veteran Chris Caterino (4-3) at a Catchweight of 140 pound. Gunter began his career 4-0, before ending up on the opposite side of three consecutive decisions to conclude his Amateur run. That slate is wiped clean Saturday night when the bell sounds on his professional debut with the veteran Caterino. Let's get this straight right now, Caterino is no easy debut for anyone, and should truly be a test for Gunter. Caterino has shared the cage with some of the best Bantamweights the region has to offer en route to his four pro victories.

Up next former NEF Amateur Welterweight Champion and NEF Fan Favorite "Magic" Mike Murray (0-0) turns in an impressive 4-2 Amateur card, which saw him challenge for the NEF Amateur Lightweight title and ultimately capture the NEF Amateur Welterweight title. Mike turns pro here Saturday night in Portland, Maine against KTA Nashua's Jeff Reynolds (0-1) in Murray's debut inside the 185 pound Middleweight division. Reynolds returns to the NEF cage after defeating David McCarty at NEF 46 in 2022, Reynolds would make his professional debut later in 2022 where he was shocked by a Stephen Stengel knockout just 14 seconds after the opening bell in Massachusetts. Reynolds hopes to prove his loss to Stengel was a fluke by upsetting the pro debut of "Magic" Mike Murray. It will be intriguing to see how these two show up Saturday night after both being away from the cage for close to a year.

In the co-main event Matt "Ken Doll" Denning (8-19) returns to Merrill Auditorium, again looking to capture his 9th professional victory. Denning came up short on that same mission last time out when he was dispatched in the first round by Defensive Edge's Artur Minev (1-0) at NEF 53 in July. Saturday night Denning will look for a different result when he meets Minev's teammate Anthony Vasta (2-4) in the Lightweight division. Vasta looks too to bounce back, after becoming the second to fall victim to Gerry Meuse's patteneded Twister submission at NEF 52 in May. This fight between Vasta and Denning has been somewhat of a forgone conclusion as Denning signed a two fight deal with NEF this spring the oppose the Lightweight teammates from Defensive Edge, Saturday night Denning and Vasta fulfill their contractual obligations inside the NEF Hexagon.

We arrive at the NEF 54 Main Event to a battle between two of the region's top Flyweight prospects as Evolution Athletix' Tyler "Butter Knife" Smythe (3-1) and Ascension Athletics' Casey "The Wonderbread Warrior" Norton (2-1) lock horns. Connecticut's Casey Norton began his MMA career winner of his first six contests overall on his way to a 2-0 professional record before falling victim to a first round Jordan Burkholder (3-0) triangle in March in front of his hometown crowd at Foxwoods Casino. Norton looks to remind the New England Flyweight division why his name keeps coming up in conversation when discussing the region's best 125ers. Norton will have the chance to make a big statement here if he can solve the Saco, Maine stud; Tyler Smythe in the Main Event. Smythe has made himself a comfortable home in the NEF hexagon, in Smythe's four walks to the NEF cage he is a perfect 4-0, including his third professional victory coming last time out against Paul Walters. Smythe looks to "butter the bread" of the "Wonderbread Warrior" in Saturday night's Main Event as he vies for his second professional victory inside the NEF cage and his fourth professional victory overall. We have ourselves a little banger on our hands as the curtain closes on NEF 54: Fight at the Opera.

Opening bell at NEF 54 in Portland, Maine will sound at 5 pm local time, for ticket information visit Porttix and for those unable to attend a pay per view stream can be purchased for viewing at CombatSportsNow. We invite fight fans to follow along with us at tomorrow night as we bring you live updates throughout the duration of the event.

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