Smithfield woman, 43, converts nervousness into victory in her first mixed martial arts match

Tara Mitchell (right) and Kim Russell fight in the 135-pound class during their MMA match at the Bangor Waterfront.  Mitchell won the fight.
Tara Mitchell (right) and Kim Russell fight in the 135-pound class during their MMA match at the Bangor Waterfront. Mitchell won the fight. Buy Photo
Posted July 19, 2013, at 1:01 p.m.
Last modified July 20, 2013, at 2:31 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The stage might have seemed a little large for a mixed martial arts combatant making her competitive debut.

But Tara Mitchell didn’t stop long enough to weigh the enormity of performing in front of a big crowd at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion once she stepped into the cage last Friday night to battle Kim Russell of New Gloucester.

“Honestly I was nervous going in, nervous and excited all at the same time,” said the 43-year-old Mitchell, who resides in Smithfield. “But once I got into the ring I was very focused on her and focused on what I needed to do.”

What Mitchell accomplished was to take control of the latter stages of the bout to win a three-round unanimous decision over Russell in front of an estimated 3,300 fight fans.

“This was my first fight, I had never been through anything like this before and it was pretty intense,” said Mitchell. “I tried to listen to my corner, I tried to keep everything I had trained for in mind and I came out on top so I guess I did pretty good.”

Mitchell, who has been training out of Wes Littlefield’s Hardcore Gym in Oakland for the last 2½ years, emerged from a tightly contested first round to gain control of the fight largely thanks to an accurate striking game.

“I think the nerves were still in there at the start, but Wes came in after the first round and told me to calm down, take a few deep breaths and think about it, and I went out and really thought about what I was doing,” said Mitchell. “It’s hard to think a lot when you’re in there banging like that, but I did a better job of keeping my head down and throwing punches. That’s what I had to do.”

Mitchell, who works as a veterinary technician at Lakeside Veterinary Clinic in Oakland, is not a newcomer to combat sports.

She took up boxing nearly two decades ago through Marc Landry, a former five-time Golden Gloves champion from Benton, and trained for several years before taking approximately a decade away from the ring.

Then the urge struck again, so she began taking MMA classes from Littlefield.

“I absolutely love the sport, and when I started taking the classes with Wes I knew I wanted to do something that I’m interested in to stay in shape because if I’m going to exercise it’s got to be something that I love to do.”

Mitchell also knew that if she wanted to take MMA beyond the training stages, she needed to start soon.

“I’m 43 years old, I’m not getting any younger,” Mitchell said. “Wes asked me a few months ago if I’d be interested in fighting and I thought about it and decided to at least try it.”

Mitchell said her first experience in the cage lived up to her expectations.

“She put up a good fight,” said Mitchell of Russell, who works as a middle-school physical education teacher in Lewiston. “She caught me a few times, she really did.

“But I think it was a pretty exciting fight, and I think that’s what we both wanted.”

‘Knuckles’ to headline Biddeford show

Some of the Northeast’s top amateur fighters will headline the NEF IX card to be held at the Biddeford Arena on Saturday, Aug. 3.

The main event announced this week will match the top-ranked amateur middleweight in the region according to NortheastMMA.net, Buck “Knuckles” Pineau (6-2) of Portland against fourth-ranked Isaiah Queen (2-1) of Rollinsford, N.H.

Both Pineau and Queen are both coming off hard-fought victories over Allan Josselyn (3-3), the sixth-ranked amateur middleweight in the Northeast.

The co-main event will be a battle of undefeated women between Maria Rios (3-0) of Portland and New Yorker Valerie Aspaas (4-0) in the flyweight division.

Other scheduled matchups have Nate Charles (1-4) of Balanced Ground MMA vs. Matt Denning (1-2) of Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; Alex Clark (1-0) of CMBJJ vs. Mitch DiCenzo (0-0) of Frosty’s First Class; Fred Lear (0-0) of Young’s MMA vs. independent Joshua Tucker (0-0); Elias Leland (2-1) of AMMA vs. Cody Sargent (1-3) of Balanced Ground; Kevin Smith (1-1) of Young’s MMA vs. independent Josh Parr; John Gardner (0-0) of Frosty’s First Class vs. Jeremy Stevens (0-0) of the Sipayik Boxing Club; Rob Higgins (0-0) of CMBJJ vs. Nash Roy (0-0) of Young’s MMA; Trevor Hebert (1-1) of Frosty’s First Class vs. Austyn Lizotte (0-3) of the Canadian Cobras; Dustin Venoit (0-0) of CMBJJ vs. Norman Fox (0-0) of MMA Athletix; Nick Spencer (3-3) of Choi’s vs. Scott McGregor (3-1) of Victory MMA; and Dominic Cafone (3-1) of Balanced Ground MMA vs. Kris Kramer (2-0) of Alexey Cruz Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Also slated to fight are Mike Vangelist (0-0) of AMMA, Mike Peitersen (0-0) and C.J. Ewer 0-1 of Young’s MMA, but their opponents have not yet been determined.

NEF signs three from N.H. gym

New England Fights has announced the signings of three pro fighters from the Nashua, N.H.-based Triumph Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to multi-fight promotional contracts.

Specific terms of the deals with Team Triumph competitors Cody Anderson (1-2), John Ortolani (7-7) and Mike Zichelle (4-3) were undisclosed.

Among other fighters previously signed by NEF is Bucksport native Ray “All Business” Wood, who last Friday night won the Maine featherweight championship with a first-round stoppage of Canadian Lenny Wheeler during the first MMA card ever held in Bangor.

Anderson went 5-0 as amateur before turning professional late last year, while Ortolani – also a professional lacrosse midfielder currently with the Rochester Rattlers — has been active on the Northeast MMA circuit since 2009.

“John is one of the best-known fighters in Massachusetts,” said NEF co-owner Nick DiSalvo. “John will play a key role in our expansion as we look to broaden NEF’s reach into other New England markets within the next 12 months.”

Zichelle is a recent addition to Team Triumph who made an immediate impression with his first-round victory by guillotine choke over Josh Mellen last month.

“This latest round of signings further represents our commitment to align NEF with the top talent in the region and work with the most reputable schools and teams out there,” said NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford.

Anderson, Ortolani and Zichelle all are expected to compete on the final leg of NEF’s first “Summer Vacationland Fight Tour” of Maine that began in Bangor and continues with NEF IX in Biddeford before concluding Sept. 21 with NEF X at the promotion’s primary base of operations, the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

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