FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (April 6, 2018) – Nate Boucher grew up in the world of amateur wrestling, where the rewards, penalties and path to winning and losing are cut-and-dried.
Takedown, two points. Escape, one point. Reversal, two points. The same clock that tells everyone how much time remains in the fight consistently informs the fighters where they stand.
In his two most recent sojourns as a mixed martial artist with New England Fights, Boucher, a native of Rumford and graduate of Mountain Valley High School, had no such compass. MMA is a more subjective science. That’s one of the many reasons an impressive winning percentage is harder to come by.
“MMA judging is one of the worst things to figure out. There’s not really a solid standard,” Boucher said. “The last two fights didn’t end the way I wanted, obviously. Part of being an amateur is it gives you a chance to learn what the judges want.”
Boucher (2-2) hopes to halt a two-fight losing skid Saturday, April 14, when he takes on Walt Shea at “NEF 33: Riptide.” The card will take place at Aura in Portland.
A solid contender at the flyweight limit of 125 pounds despite those defeats at the hands of Justin Witham and Ryan Burgess, Boucher will meet Shea in the middle at a catch weight of 130.
Staying busy is part of Boucher’s strategy to learn everything he can about the sport, even if the immediate lessons are frustrating and humbling.
The criteria for MMA judging, in order of priority, are effective striking, effective grappling, effective aggressiveness and fighting area control. Boucher learned the hard way that his style may have cost him the ‘W’ in both the title fight against Witham and the hometown showdown versus Burgess.
“Everybody just kind of goes with whoever is throwing more punches. People don’t seem to care if you’re on top the whole time or not,” Boucher said. “But, you know, I can complain, or I can adapt.”
Boucher pointed out that the two judges who saw the fight go Burgess’ way had it two rounds to one, a 29-28 margin, while the 30-27 assessment in his favor indicated that he had won every round.
Best-case scenario, of course, is to end it early, the way Boucher did with a triangle choke in his second amateur outing against former high school wrestling legend Jeremiah Barkac.
“Even though I lost the last two fights, they couldn’t have gone any better for me as far as learning the game goes,” Boucher said. “It’s kind of opened my eyes a lot more, not necessarily to anything about myself, but as far as what the judges are looking for. It’s helping me learn more about the sport.”
Even though the fight is five pounds above Boucher’s natural weight, how he performs will have a heavy impact on whether he is still considered a viable threat in the 125-pound class or takes a huge step backward.
“Nate called me about a week after his fight with Burgess and said, straight up, ‘Get me back in there in April, and I want a tough opponent,’” NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson said. “He has a lot on the line in this one. A loss leaves him with a long climb back.”
The crossroads clash with Shea (2-1) is sure to be a learning experience. Shea, who trains of out of First Class MMA in Topsham, also lost his last fight. Fred Lear won that August battle for the vacant amateur bantamweight title on his home turf in Bangor.
No battle in the hexagon has been as daunting for Shea as his personal journey to get there. He initially followed his cousin, Nicholas, to the MMA gym as part of a fitness regimen after his weight crested at more than 270 pounds.
In other words, when he walks through the door on any given fight night, Shea is literally half the man he used to be.
“I was just going there to train a little bit in jiu-jitsu, and John (Raio) said to me, ‘Before we’re through, I’m going to get you in the cage.’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, right,’” Shea said. “I lost about 80 pounds right off the bat training with those guys. It got me healthy, and then it was kind of, why not take the next step?”
Shea now walks around at 155 to 160 pounds. He is making a slightly deeper weight cut this time, and fighting a natural flyweight, to find out if the title picture in that division is an attainable goal.
Win or lose, if his inspirational story helps a fan or friend make the commitment to a healthier lifestyle, Shea is all for it.
“It’s a lot better than standing on a treadmill,” Shea said of his unique path to fitness. “I tell people if you can just find one aspect of MMA that works for you – the grappling, the striking, whatever – it’s a great workout.”
Boucher said he has nothing but high esteem for Shea’s circuitous route to success in the sport. Admittedly, without a title up for grabs or a so-called grudge match in his sights, motivation could be more elusive.
The former Falcon, who trains out of Central Maine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Lewiston, insisted that won’t be a problem.
“That’s an impressive accomplishment. I’m very respectful of that. Not just anybody can start out where Walt did and get in the cage for a fight at 125, 130 pounds,” Boucher said. “Unfortunately when you’re talking MMA, not every ending is like a fairy tale. I’m going in there to win the fight, to end it early and leave no doubt, not leave it in the hands of the judges this time.”
Doors open for “NEF 33: Riptide” at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 14. For tickets, call 207.772.8274 or go to www.auramaine.com.