BANGOR, Maine — When New England Fights brings mixed martial arts back to the Cross Insurance Center Sept. 8, the Maine-based promotion also will be hosting a retirement party of sorts.
And Patrick Kelly hopes to be the one celebrating.
Kelly, the 53-year-old school teacher and wrestling coach from Rockport, will take a 4-0 record into his final MMA contest when he defends his NEF amateur lightweight title against Tim Manning (2-0) in a three-round battle as part of “NEF 35: Wicked Season.”
“I started this journey five years ago in Bangor [training] with Young’s MMA,” said Kelly, who will observe his 54th birthday Saturday. “It is only fitting I have my farewell fight in the same great city. I am very grateful to NEF for the opportunity to fight in their cage and ultimately win a title.
“To me, age is simply a number. I have searched for tough and competitive challenges my entire career, and this fight is certainly another big challenge.”
Kelly began competing in mixed martial arts after a successful wrestling career that included winning a high school state championship as a senior at the former Camden-Rockport High School in Rockport, and claiming a New England title and trip to the NCAA championships while competing at the University of Maine.
He has been the longtime wrestling coach at his alma mater, now Camden Hills Regional High School, where he has helped the Windjammers win 15 state team championships. He mentored the likes of Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight fighter Tim Boetsch.
Kelly was inducted into the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame in 2007.
“There are a lot of folks that have helped to shape the story of Maine wrestling, but coach Kelly is in a class all of his own when it comes to the impact he has had on the sport in our state,” said New England Fights co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford.
“In terms of what he has accomplished as both a competitor and as a coach — and now as an ambassador of the sport to a wider audience through his feats in the mixed martial arts cage — he has really done it all.”
Kelly made his mixed martial arts debut in September 2014 with a first-round submission of Frank Dellasala at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.
He followed that with technical-knockout victories over Steve Bang Jr. in November 2015 and Bang’s father, Steve Bang Sr., in June 2015.
After a two-year hiatus, Kelly returned to the cage to win the NEF amateur lightweight championship with a three-round unanimous-decision victory over previously undefeated Rafael Velado — a fighter 14 years his junior — in June 2017.
“I train hard, period,” Kelly said. “I am sure my opponent does the same thing, and that’s what it is all about: The willingness to prepare to win.”
Kelly will spot a full three decades to his final opponent in the cage, with the 24-year-old Manning coming off two first-round submission victories since making his amateur debut late last year.
The Tallahassee, Florida, product required only 37 seconds to stop Andrew Harris with an armbar in his first fight at Jekyll Island, Georgia, last November. His most recent win came by arm triangle over Michael Vizza 1:37 into the opening round on Feb., 10 in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Patrick is widely admired and respected for his impressive body of work,” Peterson said. “As a lifelong fan of amateur wrestling, it has been an extreme personal honor to feature him inside the NEF cage. I’m certain that his last fight will be a memorable one — he doesn’t know how to do it any differently.”
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