FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (April 10, 2018) – We all celebrate certain milestone birthdays in our youth that furnish a new level of freedom.

Perhaps the possibility of getting a driver’s license was the be-all, end-all at one point. Some eagerly await the option to vote or to serve their country through the military. And yes, many count the days to when they can toast responsibly with an adult beverage.

Caleb Hall’s grown-up goal, before he knew there were any restrictions against it, was to enter the mixed martial arts cage. He was 17, a senior wrestler and football player at Dirigo High School, when he learned of an upstart enterprise known as New England Fights.

“Ever since I started wrestling, I started watching MMA and became obsessed with it,” Hall said. “Then when I found out the promoter (Matt Peterson) was from my area and that there were actually fights in Lewiston, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know I had to be 18.”

Eleven fights later, his face a tad more weathered but his spirit emboldened from taking on the top amateur competition in northern New England, Hall is turning professional.

Hall will step into the hexagon against 20-fight veteran John Ortolani at “NEF 33: Riptide.” The card will take place at Aura in Portland on Saturday, April 14.

“He’s a tough opponent. He’s been a pro lacrosse player, so he’s definitely an athlete,” Hall said of Ortolani. “He’s been knocked out nine times to strikes, so I’d say he definitely has a questionable chin. That’s something I can try to capitalize on.”

Teenagers and young adults approached Peterson in droves when he and Nick DiSalvo launched the local organization.

All were enamored with the idea of taking their athletic acumen and fighter’s heart to the cage, so Hall’s interest was nothing new to the matchmaker. Taking the next step to sign a contract was always a different story.

“Caleb is a special athlete,” Peterson said. “He called me when he was 17 years old and asked for a fight. I had to explain to him at that time that he was too young to compete, and to call me when he reached the legal age of 18. To my surprise, he actually called me back when he turned 18, and he’s been an NEF mainstay ever since.”

With family, friends and former teammates packed into the cage side seats, Hall stopped John Parker in 51 seconds that September night.

“That was crazy,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.”

Hall went 8-3 as an amateur, winning his last three fights. His only NEF losses were to Aaron Lacey and Josh Harvey.

A run that started with a few-months-premature phone call ended with championship gold. Hall picked up the vacant NEF amateur featherweight title by submission over Erik Nelson in April 2016 and defended it by split decision against Johnny Crafts in September of that year.

“He never shies away from a challenge,” Peterson said. “Consistently during his time in the cage, he has embraced the opportunity to face the toughest guys. Whether it was Josh Harvey or (Brazilian jiu-jitsu) brown belt Johnny Crafts, he always goes for it. I don’t think he’s ever turned down a fight that I’ve approached him with, and that’s pretty much unheard of in the combat sporting space.”

Hall was set to make his pro debut when NEF made its initial Portland appearance last November, but he suffered a broken hand in training. The injury required surgery to install a plate, followed by months of physical therapy.

It all makes Ortolani (8-12), a Massachusetts native fighting out of Tampa, Florida, an interesting choice for getting those hands dirty once again. While the veteran has lost eight of his past 10 fights, he owns a win over a name synonymous with NEF, Bruce “Pretty” Boy” Boyington. Ortolani also took Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Bellator Fighting Championships veteran Des Green to the cards before dropping a unanimous decision.

“If you want to make it in the pros, you’ve got to beat some guys, man,” Hall said. “I think it’s a perfect situation for my first pro fight. I hope his style plays into my hands. I’m going to be head hunting and going for that knockout.”

The fight will take place at the 155-pound lightweight limit. With the exception of two bouts, Hall’s amateur career was contested in the featherweight (145) class.

Hall chalks up the change to the normal growth pattern of young adulthood, although he added that his strength and conditioning routine also played a role.

“He’s a rare kind of competitor, a champion, and when he digs deep and slides it into the next gear, watch out,” Peterson said. “I’m looking forward to witnessing how he will define himself in the pro ranks. If his amateur career is any indication, he’s destined to make a name for himself and turn out some lights in the process.”

Look no farther than Hall’s recent travel itinerary for evidence of that commitment.

Hall, who relocated to Portland to attend college and train at Choi Institute shortly after his NEF debut, recently was in Florida for a two-week stint with the renowned American Top Team.

The eager 17-year-old has evolved into a man with a plan.

“There’s a Maine connection there with (UFC veteran) Mike Brown, who is one of the head coaches. He originally trained at Choi Institute,” Hall said. “It was two weeks, just to get some training and see where I’m at. There are all kinds of UFC guys there to train and spar with. It’s a step up in the level of competition for sure.”

Opening bell for “NEF 33: Riptide” is set for 7 p.m. this Saturday, April 14. For tickets, call 207.772.8274 or go to www.auramaine.com.