FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Lewiston, Maine (December 1, 2016) – The New England Fights (NEF) Professional Lightweight Title has been declared vacant by company executives after most-recent champion Devin Powell (8-1) signed a contract with the world’s largest mixed-martial-arts promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  At the fight promotion’s next event, “NEF 27: RESURGENCE” on February 11, 2017, a four-man tournament will kick off with two bouts.  The winners of those two bouts will compete against each other in the finals at “NEF 28” with the victor crowned the new lightweight champion.

The vacating of the lightweight title has been a regular occurrence since the title’s inception.  Powell is just the latest in a string of NEF 155-pound champions to get the call to the major leagues of the sport.  The promotion’s first lightweight titleholder, Dez Green (18-5), was called up to Bellator just weeks after winning the belt.  Green currently competes for another national promotion in Titan Fighting Championships.  Bruce Boyington (14-9), the next athlete to hold the title, would also vacate it after several successful defenses when he was signed by World Series of Fighting (WSOF).

“The lineage of the NEF Lightweight Championship has the most distinguished history of any championship in New England MMA,” stated Matt Peterson, NEF Matchmaker and co-owner. “When you look at the men that have captured that belt and how that accomplishment helped to springboard them to the highest levels of the sport—it’s a highly coveted title. All four of these contenders have their focus set squarely on winning the championship—and that guarantees that we as fans are in for an unforgettable night on February 11th.”

“Maybe more than any other title in New England, the NEF lightweight championship is recognized as the launching pad to the next level in the sport,” said NEF co-owner and promoter Nick DiSalvo.  “With all three former champions getting signed by the three largest MMA promotions in the world, the winner of this four-man tournament has a great shot at forwarding their career.”

The two lightweight bouts scheduled for “NEF 27” will feature Ryan Sanders (12-8) taking on John Ortolani (8-10), as well as the long-awaited rematch between Jesse Erickson (9-5) and Jon Lemke (5-7).  As noted, the victors of each bout will meet at “NEF 28” to determine a new 155-pound champion.

Sanders is coming off two huge wins in the NEF cage in the second-half of 2016.  In August, he defeated Derrick Kennington (12-8) by decision.  Then, just last month, Sanders was victorious over Lemke via unanimous technical decision when the bout was stopped in the third round due to a deep cut suffered by Lemke.  Sanders will have the opportunity to re-capture the title for his gym, Young’s MMA, following in the footsteps of teammate Boyington.

“I’m very excited at the opportunity to be in this four-man tournament,” said Sanders.  “I look forward to fighting Orto – he’s a high-level grappler and all-around well-rounded. But I know my skills are better, and I know that my coaches and I will come up with a game plan that will lead to me getting my hand raised on February 11.  After that fight, I’ll defeat the next man in front of me and bring the belt back to Young’s where it belongs.”

In February, it will have been three years since John Ortolani stepped into the NEF cage.  (Although, he did compete in the NEF boxing ring last September at “NEF 25.)  A native New Englander, and a veteran of the regional MMA scene, Ortolani relocated to Florida two years ago where he has continued both his professional MMA and professional lacrosse careers.  Of note, Ortolani submitted Boyington in the fall of 2012 in the first round of the original NEF Lightweight Title tournament.

“I am excited to be back in the NEF cage again,” stated Ortolani. “It’s been almost three years. I can’t thank (NEF owners) Matt (Peterson) and Nick (DiSalvo) enough for the opportunity to fight for the lightweight title. Ryan Sanders has been fighting some of the best guys around for years. He’s a talented fighter from a great team and I can’t wait for the cage to close and we throw down. This will be a fight fans do not want to miss. I have a great team down here at RMNU South Tampa and I’m excited to show the Maine fans the improvements I’ve made.”

Erickson and Lemke were scheduled to rematch twice in 2016, but both bouts fell through due to injuries suffered by each athlete during training.  The original fight took place as part of Bellator 93 in the spring of 2013.  Lemke was victorious that night.  Erickson would go on to challenge, unsuccessfully, Boyington for the lightweight strap in 2014, while Lemke would drop a very close split decision to Boyington earlier this year in his sole previous attempt to claim the gold.

“The rematch with Lemke has been a long time coming,” said Erickson. “We both faced injuries stopping us from competing against each other in 2016. I’m very excited to show everyone the complete 180 I’ve done since our first fight for Bellator. The fact that it could lead to a title fight is just extra motivation. Victory or Valhalla.”

“I am incredibly thankful and grateful to fight for NEF once again,” declared Lemke when reached for comment. “NEF puts on the best fights in New England, and once again, I have a great challenge in fighting Jesse Erickson. Jesse is a warrior through and through who is constantly working on his fight game. I expect nothing short of another great battle for the NEF fans to feast on. The winner of this fight gets a title fight against the winner of Ryan Sanders versus John Ortolani and I want that fight against Sanders again. I’m hungry and going to bring my best fight to Jesse first. Then, I’m coming for the most hotly contested belt in the northeast. It’s my time.”

NEF’s next event, “NEF 27: RESURGENCE” takes place on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 7 p.m.  Tickets start at $25 and are on sale now at www.TheColisee.com or by calling the Colisee box office at 207.783.2009, extension 525.

For more information on the event and fight card updates, please visit the promotion’s website at www.NewEnglandFights.com.  In addition, you can watch NEF videos at www.youtube.com/NEFMMA, follow them on Twitter @nefights and join the official Facebook group “New England Fights.”

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 Maine’s fighters and fans alike. NEF’s executive team has extensive experience in combat sports management, events production, media relations, marketing, legal and advertising.