LEWISTON, Maine — It was barely seven months ago when Caleb Hall won his second Class C state wrestling championship as a senior at Dirigo High School.
Now he’s taking his athletic career in a slightly different but equally competitive direction as the 18-year-old Dixfield native made his mixed martial arts debut during Fight Night IV at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee on Saturday night.
And he made sure it was a brief debut, scoring a first-round victory by rear naked choke over John Parker in one of 15 amateur bouts on the 21-fight card.
“It was nerve-wracking at first,” said Hall, the 132-pound Class C state champion last winter who also won the 103-pound title as a freshman at Dirigo in 2009 . “But it felt awesome once I got in the cage.”
Hall used his wrestling strength to take immediate control, picking Parker up and putting him on his back in the first 10 seconds of the match before working his way into position to force his opponent to tap out.
“I just wanted to use my strength and get a takedown and get him to the mat,” said Hall.
Hall, whose 132 victories while at Dirigo ranks third in school history, is one of numerous former Maine high school wrestlers who are making their way to mixed martial arts.
That group includes both participants in Saturday night’s main event, Jesse Peterson (6-2) of Rumford and Cody Lightfoot (6-3) of South Berwick, who were scheduled to battle for the newly created New England Fights Maine state middleweight (185-pound) championship in the final fight of the night.
“I just saw all kinds of wrestlers doing well in the UFC, so I thought I’d give it a shot,” said Hall.
Another former high school wrestling standout, Bucksport native Ray “All Business” Wood, did not fight Saturday night after his second scheduled opponent backed out earlier in the week, but Wood — 4-1 and ranked among the top 145-pound amateurs in the region by NortheastMMA.net — did announce that he would make his pro debut at Fight Night V, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 17, in Lewiston.
Saturday’s 21-bout card, pared from 28 fights in the final days leading up to the event, also featured a battle for the NEF Maine state welterweight (170-pound) title between “The” Ryan Sanders of Brewer (4-1) and Brazilian Gil de Freitas (13-5).
One of the more entertaining amateur bouts featured New Hampshire’s Allan Josselyn being knocked down by a spinning leg kick to his left temple in the opening 10 seconds of his middleweight bout with Buck Pineau of the Choi Institute in Portland, only to recover and earn a three-round decision.
Josselyn used his physical strength to control the action on the ground and win the final two rounds on each of the three judges’ scorecards.
R.J. “The Law” Letendre, fighting out of The Shop in Somersworth, N.H., won one of the more anticipated amateur bouts on the card, scoring a technical knockout via strikes of Auburn’s Jesse Erickson at 2:23 of the first round.
Letendre stunned Erickson with a jab and a follow-up shot to the head in the opening seconds of the fight, then bided his time before scoring the match-ending knockdown with a solid right hand to the jaw.
And John “First Class” Raio, the popular postal worker from Topsham, improved his amateur record to 4-0 with a hard-fought unanimous decision over Damon Owens of Young’s MMA. Raio used his strength to take the match to the mat in the first two rounds, then shook off a game striking effort by Owens over the final three minutes to remain unbeaten.