Summer often is the toughest training time for combat sports competitors, particularly given the appealing conditions outside the gym.
But with the debut of the New England Fights mixed martial arts promotion at the Collins Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus in Orono looming just six weeks away Sept. 7, several area fighters are in full training-camp mode.
Among the bouts already scheduled by NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson of Rumford is a professional light heavyweight contest between former Brewer High School wrestler Victor Irwin and veteran Buck “Knuckles” Pineau.
Irwin captured the Class A state wrestling crown at 195 pounds as a junior with the Brewer wrestling team, then won gold again at 220 pounds before going on to compete at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, where he earned All-America honors.
The Young’s MMA product then went 3-0 as an amateur in the NEF MMA cage and won the promotion’s amateur light heavyweight belt in his final amateur bout in February 2017. He dropped his first two pro fights by decision before scoring his first win last spring by a third-round stoppage in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“We both bring interesting styles to the table,” Irwin said. “I look forward to the fight.”
Pineau, an Ashland native who now lives in southern Maine, is more of a striker who went 7-4 as an amateur before turning pro in 2015.
He will return to action for the first time in 13 months against Irwin after dropping his last bout to undefeated Fabio Cherant in Lincoln, Rhode Island, in August 2018.
“Victor is a tough kid, but it’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to train fully for a fight, and now I have time,” Pineau said. “I’ll be looking to stuff takedowns, and really let my hands and feet go in this fight so I can start getting my record back on track.”
Popular Fred Lear of Young’s MMA in Bangor will seek his first professional victory in a bantamweight battle against Tommy “The Irish Beast” Kenney.
“I’ve never been a stranger to adversity,” Lear said. “Anyone who grew up wrestling like I did learns to deal with defeat at an early age. Although my pro debut didn’t go my way, I’m far from done. As an amateur MMA fighter, I tasted defeat and came back stronger than ever. As a pro, I will do the same.”
Kenney is a 13-year veteran of combat sports who lives and trains in Vermont.
Zac Richard of Waterboro will move up from featherweight to lightweight to face Bath’s Brandon Sewall in an amateur bout.
Richard, a former Massabesic High School wrestler, was voted NEF’s Rookie of the Year after winning twice as a lightweight in 2018, but he’s lost twice to top competition in the lighter featherweight division since battling Lear to a five-round draw in a battle for Lear’s NEF amateur featherweight crown in February.
Richard (3-2-1) dropped a five-round unanimous decision to 3-1 Tom Pagliarulo for the NEF amateur featherweight belt Lear relinquished to turn professional, then fell to 6-1 Miguel Cuevas in June.
“I’m very excited to get back in there after coming off two losses a month apart,” Richard said. “I’m extremely unhappy with my fight against Tom — I definitely can’t have another off day on fight day again. I’ve made a lot of changes to make myself happier with my life. The grind is different now.”
Sewall will try to score his first victory in the cage after dropping his debut to 4-3 Jimmy Jackson last month.
Jackson, another Young’s MMA fighter, used that victory over Sewall to earn a chance to challenge Pagliarulo for the NEF amateur featherweight title on the Orono card.
Jackson unsuccessfully challenged for the NEF amateur lightweight title against 4-1 Rafael Velado in 2016, then spent nearly three years away from the sport before winning his return match against Sewall by first-round submission.
“I couldn’t be happier for this opportunity to not only fight for NEF again, but to do so in my own backyard for a title,” Jackson said. “Chances like these are few and far between, so I plan to make the most of it.”
Pagliarulo brings a strong wrestling background to his first title defense, compiling a 144-36 record at New England high school power Central Catholic of Lawrence, Massachusetts, before going on to compete at Plymouth (New Hampshire) State University.
Also scheduled is a professional cruiserweight bout between 4-2 Ras Hylton and Ellsworth native Chris Sarro.
Sarro is a newcomer to MMA but no stranger to combat sports, having compiled a 7-1 amateur boxing record. Sarro won the 2019 Northern New England Golden Gloves championship in the super-heavyweight division and now trains with Acadia Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.