FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (July 14, 2022)
With New York becoming the final state to legalize mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2016, practitioners of the art becoming road warriors is nothing new, and it continues in this era.
Jake “The Hitman” Hixenbaugh branched out to Rhode Island for his first professional bout, a win by submission to rear naked choke over Bruce Richards on June 17.
Only six weeks later, the native of Bergen, N.Y., returns to the cage, this time with New England Fights in the picturesque outdoors venue at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Maine, where he will battle Nathaniel Grimard (2-0) in a professional lightweight scrap at NEF 48: “Heatwave.”
Opening bell time on Saturday, July 30 is 7 p.m.
Although Grimard is from Exeter, New Hampshire and fights out of Nostos MMA, he attended nearby University of Southern Maine and figures to have all the advantages in terms of fan support and familiarity with the promotion.
True to form and what you might expect from fighters in his neck of the woods, Hixenbaugh told host Steve Domenico in a recent episode of The Room Podcast that he is enamored with the challenge.
“I’m excited. Obviously, he’s gonna be fighting a lot harder because he’s a Portland boy. I’m expecting some boos coming in,” Hixenbaugh said. “New Englanders, a lot of them, they’re raw. They’re hardcore fans. I love it. That’s what makes me more excited about this. We’re gonna put on a show. I can’t wait for it, man. I’ve never been to Maine before. It’s gonna be my first time to Maine. It’s gonna be my first time fighting outside. These are all cool things.”
As evidenced by the quick work against Richards in his pro debut, Hixenbaugh brings no lack of confidence into unfamiliar environments.
“Whenever it’s my first time doing something, that’s when I do the best. I remember my first amateur fight was my first-ever fistfight in my life. I knocked the guy out in a minute and 15 seconds,” Hixenbaugh said. “If it’s new to me, that means I’m not gonna crack. It means I’m gonna do better than usual. I know he’s gonna bring it, because it’s gonna be in his hometown and his backyard, and I’m gonna bring it too, so I’m expecting a dogfight.”
Short turnarounds between fights aren’t on that list of uncharted territories for the 23-year-old Hixenbaugh. He was a busy amateur with eight bouts in a 27-month span before turning pro.
He’d lost four of his previous five bouts, including two by knockout and another via submission, but applied those lessons in an authoritative maiden voyage to the pay window.
“I was super, super excited. I was super high right after that win. But right now, I’m more in work mode in the mindset of my next fight,” Hixenbaugh said. “I enjoyed the win for the week. It is what it is, but with this game you’ve always gotta be thinking forward. You’ve always gotta be thinking about the next one and almost never be satisfied in a way. It was a good experience for the good pro fight first time. Having a check with my fight, that was cool. I was excited about that.”
The relative lack of punishment in that fight, combined with an easy time hitting the contracted weight limit, convinced him the time was ripe for a quick encore.
“I got hit one time in the leg. The weight cut was tremendously easy. I started the camp at 180. I was around probably 170 in the cage,” Hixenbaugh said. “My diet’s been great. I’ve been killing the cardio with it too. I just felt like right after that, I’m addicted to this shit. If I don’t get hit, if I don’t get cut up, I’m gonna be back in there. I can’t get enough of it. It’s where I feel the most free in the mind. I’m a super fan of MMA. I’m always gonna fight. I’m gonna fight till I’m in my 40s if all goes to plan. I enjoy it all.”
Although NEF 48 will be Hixenbaugh’s first time fighting for the promotion, he has a close connection. His coach, Jacob Bohn, lost by second round doctor stoppage to “The” Ryan Sanders at NEF 36: “Battle for the Gold” in 2018.
That card also was held in Portland, but it was close enough to Sanders’ home base of Bangor that Bohn clearly found himself in enemy territory. Still, he spoke highly of the experience.
“He liked it. He said the cage was nice. It makes me more excited about that,” Hixenbaugh said. “It’s not gonna be some sort of show that’s thrown together. I know these guys know what they’re doing. I’ve seen their production. I’ve seen all that. I like that we’re gonna be fighting in a smaller cage. I’m ready for a close-range battle. I’ve been working a lot on that since my last fight. I’m ready for that in-your-face dogfight with this kid.”
Grimard is a wrestler out of a Nostos stable loaded with such ground gurus, but Hixenbaugh said he trains with just as many fighters of that ilk at Bohn’s MMA and Behring Jiu-Jitsu School. History shows he won’t back down from someone with those accolades on the scouting report.
“I’ve fought a wrestling-based fighter. I was in the hospital a week before that fight. It was my second amateur fight ever. I had pneumonia. They told me to pull out, but I did it, because it was my first time fighting on a card with my best friend and my other buddy that got into the sport with me,” Hixenbaugh recalled. “I was fighting a guy that was a grown-ass man while I was an 18-year-old kid just hitting puberty. I got wrestled around a little bit, but I’ve hit tremendous leaps in my wrestling game the past few years. I go with some of the best guys in my opinion in the northeast at wrestling. Obviously, he’s gonna have something other to say about that, but we’re gonna see. If it’s a wrestling match, I’m ready for that. But I’m also ready for a stand-up fight. I’m ready for anything out here.”
That said, Hixenbaugh has an inkling of how Grimard will try to dictate the action.
“I know exactly what he’s gonna do. He’s gonna try to take the center of the cage right off the bat. That’s what he does every time. I heard in his quote for this fight, ‘an evolved skill set,’ so I’m ready. I’m ready to see where he got better,” Hixenbaugh said. “We’re still young. We’re still very new to the sport in terms of all this. That means we’re gonna be a lot better from fight to fight. I’m ready to see any sort of difference in his game, but I’m also ready for that in-your-face, grind mentality. Almost all the guys in our gym are all wrestlers. My best friends, they’re all collegiate wrestlers and stuff. I work with them all the time, and I get my licks in with them, so I’m ready for that.”
Hixenbaugh’s home is substantially closer to the Great Lakes than the Atlantic Ocean, so he hopes to arrive early and enjoy some of the fruits of his road trip.
“I’ll check the scenery out and stuff. It’s my first time there. I like to kinda see what’s going on there,” he said. “It was my first time to Rhode Island, actually, for my last pro fight. If I go there for the first time, it’s like I’m a kid in a candy store, and I’m like, ‘Wow, this thing’s awesome. This is a new experience. This is crazy.’ I’m obviously gonna go see all that.”
A friend’s wedding will cut down on his travel party for the fight, but Hixenbaugh anticipates there will be a significant pay-per-view party in his neighborhood that same evening.
He predicts the fight will give them their money’s worth.
“I do know this next guy is gonna be a harder fight, It’s no lie there. It’s pretty cut-and-dry. I’m ready for more of a dogfight. It’s a closer game. I’m ready for more action. That’s what y’all should be ready for too,” Hixenbaugh said. “I know he likes to fight kinda non-stop until he gets on top. That’s what a lot of people from that gym like to do. They like to get on top and do their thing. I’m ready for a whole-ass fucking grind of 15 minutes. I got a lot of different strikes in my arsenal. It might be a grind, but I might time something great.”
Hixenbaugh stopped short of a prediction, but he gave a colorful assessment of why he believes he should come out on top.
“I’m not a cocky person like that or anything, but I am gonna be real right now,” he said. “My timing is feeling great. My footwork is feeling awesome. My punches, my kicks are feeling the best they’ve ever felt. My grind mentality is feeling much better. My punch output has gotten a lot better. All the holes that I’m seeing myself, I’m working on every single day. I wake up, I think about this shit. I train multiple times a day. I go to sleep dreaming about this shit. I’m fucking ready, dude.”
NEF 48: “Heatwave” is the second outdoor card in the history of the organization. The featured fight is a pro heavyweight bout between Maine’s Ras Hylton and New Hampshire’s Cody Lightfoot. Tickets are on sale now at NewEnglandFights.com.