The featherweight division is littered with UFC vets, fighters on the verge of breaking into the next level, and rising prospects, making it one of the deeper divisions in the region. Sitting atop the heap is long time New England based fighter, "Shameless" Don Shainis (8-3). The Citadel MMA product has recently been training at Glory MMA in Kansas City, Missouri under the tutelage of current UFC fighter, James Krause.
Shainis has an impressive following here on the regional scene. Shameless Nation shows up in droves whenever he's fighting at Plymouth Memorial Hall under his hometown promotion; Cage Titans. Since fights have commenced here in the region, Shainis holds a 1-1 record, but will be fighting for the Cage Titans featherweight belt in an upcoming bout against a very tough Shane Manley (5-5) from Syracuse, NY. Shainis lost to "Nasty" Nate Williams (13-8), who was a short notice replacement, up a weight class via unanimous decision back in July at Cage Titans 48. It was a fight that I didn't think Shainis should have taken, and may have temporarily derailed his path to the UFC, but he bounced back nicely in a dominating performance over Quinten Wyland (3-4) at Cage Titans 50 back in November.
If "Shameless" can walk away with a victory over Manley in their upcoming 5 round bout, then there is a very good chance that he'll be getting a call from Sean Shelby and company at the UFC to either make an appearance on the next Contender Series, or to make a clean jump to the big leagues. Regardless, the Shainis/Manley fight should be an awesome scrap to watch for the local fanbase here in New England.
Holding down the #2 slot is a fighter who is on a meteoric rise who is coming off of the biggest win of his young career. Massachusetts' Nate Ghareeb (5-1) secured a massive win at CES 65 over 6th ranked Tom Pagliarulo (3-1) in a hotly contested battle that Ghareeb won by a razor close split decision. Prior to the big win over Pags, Ghareeb's combined opponents records in his 4 wins was 2-18 (Ghareeb also lost to a highly-touted Cody Law (5-0) at Bellator 256). The Pagliarulo fight made a huge statement here in the region, and ultimately, elevated Ghareeb to the #2 spot in our pro featherweight rankings. The South Hampton native also had a very impressive performance over Eduardo Rodrigues at CES 64 that can't be overlooked. Being ranked 2nd may surprise a lot of people in the region, but Ghareeb's two most recent performances in the cage make him the rightful owner of that position.
Former UFC vet Kyle Bochniak (10-5) grabs the 3rd position in our pro featherweight rankings, and although he hasn't fought within the region in quite some time, Bochniak does train locally at Broadway Jiu-Jitsu. In his 3.5 year stint with the UFC, Bochniak went 2-5 with all 5 of his fights going to decision. Regardless of his record, Bochniak quickly became one of the most entertaining fighters on the UFC roster due to his come-forward fighting style, and being able to engage in absolute wars with some of the best fighters in the world. Since his departure from the UFC, Bochniak has won 2 decisions with XMMA down south. We'd love to see "Crash" fight locally in the near future, but he seems to have a good thing going with XMMA, but I also wouldn't be surprised if we saw him grace the CES cage as well.
Connor "The Controller" Matthews (4-0) comes in as the 4th ranked fighter in the division, sporting a perfect 4-0 record. Matthews debuted on our rankings in the summer of 2020 as a 1-0 pro, but after rattling off 3 more wins, he is quickly moving up the rankings. Although his level of competition hasn't been ideal (his 4 opponents have a combined record of 19-127), it really has been no fault of Matthews. He's had a very difficult time locking in fights, and having them come to fruition on fight night. Rumor has it that he'll be competing on the CES 66 card in Rhode Island on March 4th, but we haven't heard who his opponent is going to be just yet. The Lauzon MMA product has all of the physical tools to continue to dominate at the regional level, and succeed at the UFC level, but Matthews is still an enigma to many, as we haven't seen him go to battle in deep waters, but hopefully we'll get a glimpse of that on March 4th.
Two youngsters grabbed the 5th and 6th positions in our rankings, as Brandon Marotte (6-1) and Tom Pagliarulo (3-1) have plenty of hype behind them in their young careers. The 24 year old Marotte hasn't fought in 2 years, but based on recent social media posts, it seems as though he's itching to get back in there. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the New Hampshire native fight on the next Combat Zone card in the coming months.
The aforementioned Tom Pagliarulo is also 24 years old, and has a ton of hype behind as well. He had a stellar amateur career and has gone 3-1 in the last 10 months as a pro, with his only loss coming to 2nd ranked Ghareeb. Pags seems to be making all the right moves in his young career, as he's aligned himself with the New England Cartel, and routinely trains with Calvin Kattar and Rob Font - 2 of the best lighter weight fighters in the world who are both pursuing UFC gold. Pags broke his toe in the battle with Ghareeb, but I'd expect to see him back in the cage in the coming months either under the CES or Combat Zone banners.
We'd be remissed if we didn't mention Bruce "Prettyboy" Boyington (17-12) falling from #2 to #7 in our pro featherweight rankings. Bruce had some choice words for us on social media when he initially saw where he was ranked, and essential called us an embarrassment. We had 13 very knowledgable people of the sport in our region vote on these rankings, so his venom is targeted at all of us. In short, Boyington will be 43 years old in a few months, hasn't fought in 2 years (submission loss to Manny Bermudez), and hasn't won a fight in almost 3 years (split decision victory over Dan Dubuque). I believe all of those factors played into where people voted for Boyington within the rankings. 43 is not the prime age of many athletes in this sport, but Boyington can prove us all wrong if he becomes active again and rattles off a win or two. I guess only time will tell, but until then, 7th seems like an accurate spot for Boyington to be ranked.
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