FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (October 25, 2022)

For a 23-year-old mixed martial artist with seven amateur fights, Zachary Faulkner is about as well-traveled and well-connected as it gets.

Faulkner’s first mentor in the sport was none other than one of the sport’s pioneers, Marcus Davis, a UFC and Bellator veteran and fellow native of Bangor, Maine.

After being encamped with the New England Cartel, Faulkner flirted with other national opportunities before accepting Davis’s invitation to train and fight in North Carolina.

Now he’s back around his teenage home in the Greater Portland area, rapidly building a fan base and a reputation with New England Fights (NEF) as a tireless gym rat who will fight anyone, anywhere.

“Seeing how hard those guys work, seeing what it takes to get to that level and stay at that level, I guess it kind of helps you realize how much work really needs to be done to get there and stay there,” Faulkner said. “That’s probably what I’ve taken most from those guys. I’m pretty fortunate that at such a young age that I’ve been able to be around those guys and see them get ready for big fights and stuff like that.”

Faulkner (4-3) will continue that approach Saturday, November 12 on home turf at AURA in Portland, Maine. He’ll step through the door into a short-notice lightweight bout against Chase O’Brien, a relative unknown quantity making his MMA debut at NEF 50.

“I know he trains out of a pretty good camp (Wai Kru) down in Boston. That’s about it,” Faulkner said. “I know he’s had a smoker and done some grappling competitions. Basically, just going in and try to figure him out when I get in there, I guess.”

Faulkner’s first scheduled opponent fell through due to an injury, but the prospect out of Recon Fitness made it clear he would entertain other options to fight on his fourth NEF card in the space of 15 months.

The lack of a scouting report or video to analyze doesn’t worry Faulkner. It keeps his attention zeroed in where he believes it needs to be, on the man in the mirror.

“I was kind of focused on myself anyway,” Faulkner said. “I try not to worry too much about what my opponent is gonna do or try to do, because I feel like if you’re worried so much about that, you’re just not gonna be able to do your own shit. I just have to go out and train to be me and not to train to worry so much about my opponent.”

Faulkner has kept a foot in the door of combat sports training facilities for roughly half his young life.

His first love was the sweet science, passed down through the family tree. And like many pre-teen boys, he was ushered into a martial arts dojo to learn a measure of self-discipline while burning off some of that boundless energy.

“I started with Tae Kwon Do 11 years ago. I got into it through watching a lot of boxing and stuff with my grandpa when I was younger,” Faulkner recalled. “Then I watched the undercard of an Anderson Silva fight. I think it was when he fought Stephan Bonnar. I was like, ‘This MMA stuff looks a hell of a lot cooler than just throwing hands with somebody.’”

As luck would have it, one of Faulkner’s training partners had a world-class connection to the sport that caught his eye.

“One of the guys that I was doing Tae Kwon Do with actuallywent to high school with Marcus Davis. He took me over to Marcus’s gym, and we watched the fighters spar over there,” Faulkner said. “I said, ‘I need to stop doing this karate stuff, ‘cause that’s not gonna get me ready to step into the cage with somebody.’ So I stopped doing TaeKwon Do and started going over to Marcus’s, and from then on just was hooked.”

Faulkner didn’t know what to expect from a teacher who seemed so untouchable. Instead, he found someone generous as any good neighbor in a part of the world where everyone seems to know everyone else.

“Meeting him I was super nervous. I was like, ‘Holy shit, this guy’s been in the UFC and stuff, fought Nate Diaz,’ but he was super cool,” Faulkner said. “Not like you expect to meet those guys and they’re like meatheads I guess. He wasn’t that way. He was super welcoming.

“The first time I went there to train, he remembered my name, and I’m like, ‘Holy shit, this guy remembers me from the one time I met him.’He was a super nice guy. Being able to learn from somebody like that who’s from the same town as me and similar kind of upbringing and made it all the way to the UFC made it seem like an achievable goal to come from Bangor and be able to make it to the top.”

Faulkner’s family moved to the southern corridor of the state when he was in high school. He continued to train with Team Irish in Westbrook.

When he came of age, Faulkner relocated to Boston, where he met and trained with the New England Cartel. That led to a debut at NEF 30, in which Faulkner made a triumphant return to Bangor against David Hart by second-round rear naked choke.

“I had my first fight and tried to move to American Top Team (ATT) down in Florida. It didn’t work out there. I talked to Marcus, and he told me to move to North Carolina to train with him again,” Faulkner said.

He stayed for two years, extending his career-opening winning streak to three with a pair of first-round stoppages in less than a minute.

A second-round loss via rear naked choke at the hands of Josh Baker derailed Faulkner’s first bid for an amateur title belt, and family concerns back home ended his stay in the south. At the time, he fancied himself one win away from turning professional.

“After that one I was like maybe wait a couple years, get a little better with my skill set, have a couple more fights and see where I’m at,” Faulkner said. “Maybe my record’s not the best right now, but I still think with another win or two I could be ready to move to that next level just because of making my skills a little bit better.”

Reconnecting with NEF hasn’t improved that won-lost ledger, but Faulkner is quick to acknowledge that it has expanded his repertoire and his readiness for whatever is next.

Since defeating Curtis Ouellette by unanimous decision, Faulkner has dropped back-to-back bouts by split decision to Mike Murray and tap to kimura courtesy of Bobby Kelley. He speaks highly of all three opponents as well as NEF co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson for the rugged pairings.

“Not one of the guys I’ve fight has been a scrub or anything like that. They’ve all been tough. Curtis was a super tough guy. Kicked him in the head about as hard as I could, and he stuck his tongue out at me,” Faulkner said. “Mike Murray, I couldn’t finish that guy. Bobby Kelley, that was the first time I’ve ever hit somebody that I could tell they were rocked, and he kept coming forward and ended up finishing me.

“I’ve never taken an easy fight whether it was here at home or in North Carolina. I think a lot of that has to do with Matt matchmaking pretty well and finding good competition for up-and-coming guys like me to fight. Not pad my record but have me fighting guys that are actually gonna be able to beat me.”

Once again, Faulkner feels that he is just about ready for the transition to longer rounds and prize money.

Wins, losses and style points become magnified in the pros, however, and he is cognizant of that as well. Faulkner isn’t afraid to be one of his own toughest critics in that regard.

“I’d like to make that shift. It’s more up to my coaches. They want to see me put things together a little bit better when I’m in there. I think sometimes I focus too much on maybe getting in there and striking a lot,” Faulkner admitted. “My Mike Murray fight, I got a little too focused on proving a point and trying to go in there and out-grapple him. What I need to do before I go pro is just go in there and make sure I can just do everything and not let my ego get in the way and go in and be one-dimensional. Just go in and mix everything up and show that I’m a level above everyone.”

Faulkner’s coaches at Recon include head coach Jon Deupree (wrestling), Darren Elder (boxing) and Henry Clark (striking and jiu-jitsu). He also hits the road to Titan Athletics in Brewer and Jarod Lawton’s gym in Farmingdale.

“I feel like now since training at Recon that all my skills are pretty caught up,” Faulkner said. “I think for a while my striking was pretty far ahead of my other skills, but I’ve taken some time to focus on everything. I think I’m becoming pretty well-rounded, and I feel like with the level I’m at for the region, I’m one of the more well-rounded guys around.”

Not a trash-talker by nature, Faulkner still flashed signs of healthy self-assurance when asked for a prediction.

“Same thing as always,” he said. “I’m gonna go in there and try to finish this guy, and if I don’t finish him, it’s gonna be three rounds of me just putting on a show and showing that I’m more well-rounded than everybody everywhere.”

Opening bell time for NEF 50 at Aura is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 12. Tickets are available now at www.ticketmaster.com.