FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (March 18, 2019) – Tom “The Phenom” Pagliarulo might be a man of mystery to many New England Fights enthusiasts, but the newcomer and his opponent at NEF 38: “Stormborn” require no introduction to one another.

Maybe it’s a stretch to say Pagliarulo and Zac “Rocky” Richard lead parallel lives, but the similarities are striking.

Each has a substantial, successful wrestling background. Both have accelerated from the finish line of their respective mixed martial arts careers, with one minor speed bump.

And in a world where prospective combatants usually don’t have to work hard to drum up drama and animosity, Pagliarulo, 21, said that he and Richard are reasonably good, if casual, friends.

“I’ve known Zac for a long time,” Pagliarulo said. “We’ve competed together at some of the same big, regional wrestling meets and kind of become friends through that. We have very similar backgrounds.”

Pagliarulo (2-1) will be forced to put those common denominators on the back burner for one night – Saturday, April 27 – when he confronts Richard for the vacant NEF amateur featherweight title at Aura in Portland, Maine.

The location is significant. Richard is a native of nearby Waterboro, and whether it’s that short 30-minute commute or a drive two-thirds of the way across the state to Bangor, his family and friends are fiercely loyal.

A product of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who now trains across the New Hampshire state line at both Spero’s Martial Arts Academy (Plaistow) and Burgess MMA (Manchester), Pagliarulo is fully aware that he’s walking into the belly of the beast.

“I’m going into his backyard. I know he brings a lot of fans and sells a ton of tickets,” Pagliarulo said, “Hopefully I’ll have quite a few following me, as well. He’s a great opponent. There’s no question it will be a tough fight in a tough spot. I’m just looking for opportunities to build myself and advance my career over the next two to three years.”

Pagliarulo said he accepted the risk and potential reward of his NEF debut for the same reason adventurer George Leigh Mallory once rationalized his attempt to climb Mount Everest: Because it’s there.

After three relatively short fights near his home base, Pagliarulo wasn’t satisfied with the potential competition close to home and had his handlers cast a wider net.

“I was looking for a fight anywhere in New England,” Pagliarulo said. “NEF was the first to give me this opportunity, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”

MMA was a natural progression for Pagliarulo, who made his mark in the realms of both wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

He was captain of the wrestling team as a senior at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Pagliarulo’s transition to Plymouth State University was an immediate success: He was 16-10 and earned the team’s rookie of the year honors as a freshman in 2016-17.

All the while, he began training for the combat cage when his schedule permitted.

“I’ve always had it in the back of my mind,” Pagliarulo said. “From the time I was maybe 10 years old and started watching UFC, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I always loved fighting, loved the sport, so I started training for it as soon as I turned 18.”

After only four forays onto the wrestling mat as a sophomore, Pagliarulo hung up the singlet.

“There were some personal issues, and I got away from it,” Pagliarulo said. “I decided to focus on MMA, and I’ve done that exclusively for about the past year.”

Pagliarulo also stepped up his BJJ training. He is currently a blue belt.

“That’s also been for about a year now,” Pagliarulo said. “Between that and my wrestling, my ground game is definitely the most dangerous I’d say, but my stand-up is not something to be slept on.”

In his September 2017 MMA debut, Pagliarulo exploded onto the scene with a second-round stoppage of Harry Gigliotti via rear naked choke.

Brimming with confidence, he received a wake-up call five months later when Matt Brady locked Pagliarulo in a guillotine choke and dealt his initial loss in under a minute.

“I made a simple mistake, and my opponent took advantage of it,” Pagliarulo said. “But I bounced back with a first-round TKO, and I feel like I learned a lot from it.”

That 67-second knockout of Eddie Linscott put Pagliarulo in position for the first title fight of his career.

He’ll take on a hungry opponent who encountered adversity, of sorts, in his last fight. Richard fought veteran Fred Lear for the same belt in February, with the judges declaring a rare draw.

With Lear making the decision to eschew a rematch and turn pro, Pagliarulo is the beneficiary.

“To win a belt at this point in my career would be cool,” Pagliarulo said, “but I’m really just excited to take a fight of this caliber and find out where I stand.”

Pagliarulo remains in school as a back-up plan. He’s a junior academically. He would gladly put off using that degree, however, if it meant a chance to travel the world and jump with both feet into the sport he loves.

“UFC is definitely the end goal. Of course it is for everybody,” Pagliarulo said.

The guy who shares everybody’s dream … and was looking to fight anybody … hopes a win over an old wrestling buddy will help him get recognized as somebody.

NEF’s next mixed-martial-arts event, “NEF 38: STORMBORN,” will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at Aura in Portland, Maine with a bell time of 7 pm.  Tickets are on sale now at www.AuraMaine.com.

About New England Fights

New England Fights (“NEF”) is a fight events promotions company. NEF’s mission is to create the highest quality events for fighters and fans alike. NEF’s executive team has extensive experience in combat sports management, events production, media relations, marketing, legal and advertising.