FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (April 18, 2023)
After a distinguished and tireless launch to his mixed martial arts career that has encompassed nine of his 10 professional and amateur bouts in the past 26 months, Nathaniel Grimard doesn’t see himself as a role model or even a savvy veteran within the highly decorated walls of Nostos MMA.
That’s rare modesty in a competitive realm known for its bluster and bravado. Therefore, it was no surprise to hear him approach his upcoming New England Fights featherweight scrap with Robert Wusstig, who has roamed the pro cage since Grimard was 10 years old, with that same respect for the game on a recent episode of “The Room Podcast” with host Steve Domenico.
“It’s a tough match-up,” Grimard said. “He’s got some experience. He’s got seven wins. That’s more than I even have fights as a pro. It’s a step up in competition, and I’m ready for it.”
Grimard (3-2) will take on Wusstig (7-12) in one of the primary pro attractions at “NEF 52: Zero Hour,” slated for Saturday, May 13 at Aura in Portland, Maine. Bell time is 7 p.m.
The 25-year-old out of Exeter, New Hampshire, is coming off a first-round stoppage of NEF mainstay Carl Langston in February. Aside from a canceled bout this past September, Grimard has battled on every card with the promotion since “NEF 44: Back in Black” on August 21, 2021.
Wusstig’s resume is reminiscent of Darren Gibbs, a veteran of a dozen pro fights but only two prior wins who knocked Grimard from the unbeaten ranks with a first-round kneebar in November.
That followed a loss to relative newcomer Jake Hixenbaugh in July. The victory over Langston represented a return to the featherweight ranks after Grimard absorbed those two defeats as a lightweight.
“I’m just trying to keep evolving. With the move up to lightweight previously it was just to challenge myself,” Grimard explained. “I wasn’t any bigger or any lighter for those fights than I am right now. I have to cut a few more pounds. But I fought featherweight all my amateur career and my first couple pro fights, so it’s nothing.
“Honestly I’m not even a big featherweight,” he added. “I’m kinda small for the weight class. You feel better. Your diet has to be more strict. You’re not eating a cheat meal or two like when I was moving up to lightweight and had those pounds to fluctuate. I feel good. I’m in great shape. I came into this camp in shape. He’s gonna get the best version of me on May 13.”
Wusstig, who shares the nickname “Real Deal” with heavyweight boxing legend Evander Holyfield, is a native of Guam now based in the Northeast after spending much of his career in Japan.
NEF fans are familiar with the most recent entry in his ledger. Wusstig returned from a lengthy hiatus with a unanimous decision loss to Mohammad Al Kinani in February. Al Kinani lost by TKO in a memorable slugfest with Grimard’s stablemate, Ross Dannar, last May.
“I think that’s his first fight back in five or six years, so there’s not much to base it off. I haven’t even been training five or six years, so I’m not really watching anything past (the Al Kinani) fight,” Grimard said. “He looks like he’s got some decent grappling. He’s gonna be, I think, way more aggressive in my fight and try to move forward, so we’ve just got to fight our fight and keep him guessing.”
The combatants couldn’t be at more opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their recent activity level.
Grimard presumes that Wusstig, whose most recent wins were back-to-back by rear naked choke and split decision in 2016 and 2017, will take another giant leap forward after the Al Kinani clash.
“I’m excited, man. I cannot wait for this fight. I think it’s gonna be a great fight. We’re only like a month out, so it’s gonna come quick,” Grimard said. “I’m 100 percent expecting a better fighter. I think he’s gonna be hungry, especially after the last performance. I think he’s gonna be aggressive, blitzing forward. We’re prepared for everything. He wants this win, but I need it and I’m coming for him.”
Langston was another obstacle in Grimard’s career path whose level of competition and willingness to stand in against anyone exceeded his won-lost bottom line.
“I think I went out there and did what I was supposed to do in that fight. Didn’t take any damage, got him out of there quick, and now we’re just on to the next one, training hard for this,” Grimard said, “It was awesome getting that win. Needed to get back into the win column. Bumped up previously just to challenge myself. It didn’t really work out, but that’s all right.
“Carl’s taken some tough fights. I wasn’t sleeping on him at all and got the job done. I didn’t stand on my feet too much. I was happy about the win. I didn’t really care how I did it. I needed to get that one out of there.”
Grimard will make the 40-minute jaunt from the gym owned by Devin and Carol Linn Powell in Somersworth, New Hampshire, for NEF’s return to the intimate Aura setting.
“Aura is close to home. It’s a small venue, but I’m excited for it, because we’ve got three or four other fighters on the card,” Grimard said. “Hopefully we’ll get a big crew up there for Nostos and it’ll get loud.”
Nostos had a similarly busy fight camp last summer when Grimard took on Hixenbaugh. He said the increased energy and sense of urgency are palpable.
“It’s awesome. It brings up the intensity in the whole room,” Grimard said. “Everybody’s laser-focused, especially as it gets closer. It’s a grind, but we’re all ready for it.”
More than one of Grimard’s training partners will make their amateur or pro debut on May 13.
He doesn’t expect any special treatment for being a frequent flyer.
“I don’t think of myself that way, because there’s guys in there that don’t have as many fights maybe as me, but I look up to them as the coach, or maybe they have a better mind for the game because they’ve been around it much longer than I have,” Grimard said. “They’re very well-rounded and might have been training for seven or eight years where I’ve only been training for three or four. Possibly the newer guys look up to me just because I’m a pro, but I’ll never think of myself as a veteran. I’ll stay humble and hope they look up to me, but I’ll never walk in the gym and think they do.”
Staying busy is a great way for a fighter to build his reputation and fan base while chasing that elusive opportunity to touch the upper echelon of the sport.
Body, mind and soul occasionally need a rest, however. Grimard expects that time to come after what he hopes is another victory under his belt.
“I think after this one I’m gonna take a break. I fight a lot. I fought five times last year and took one card off,” Grimard said. “If I take one card off here, I’ll still fight maybe four times, which is more than a majority of the fighters in New England. I’ll take off next card and then hopefully toward the end of the summer get a good matchup.”
An NEF championship or perhaps a crowd-pleasing showdown with another rising star are on his short-range radar.
“If I have a perfect year and I’m winning these fights kinda how I started off and end the year 5-2 or 6-2, I think that’s where I get that title shot,” Grimard said. “I know that NEF belt is up for grabs right now. I’ve got my eye on Jake Deppmeyer. He’s 3-0 with three knockouts, so I think he and I would make a killer fight. Title fight or non-title fight, that’s the fight we’ve been looking at for about a year now. Hopefully we can get that by the end of the year, end on a high note and have that solid record going into next year.”
Grimard knows perception can be as important as the reality of a fighter’s record.
Rather than being typecast for his ground-and-pound approach, he aims for the type of triumph over Wusstig that will emphasize his developing diversity as a pro.
“A lot of people just think I’m a grappler and I only wrestle these guys. If I can get in there and get out of there and not get hit, sometimes I will. But I think this fight we’re gonna see who shoots first,” Grimard said. “I want an exciting fight. You talk about looking up to guys in the gym. Ross Dannar, that kid’s a beast, and he puts on exciting fights. I want an exciting fight. I will have an exciting fight in this one.”
Only a few breaths after saying style points didn’t matter against Langston, Grimard acknowledged that he looks to accumulate them on a night when he’s sure to have the home mat advantage.
“I want to turn a lot of heads and impress people. I’m expecting a great fight and an even better performance,” he said. “I want a lot of energy for this one. I think this is gonna be the toughest fight I’ve had in the pros, so I’m expecting a great fight. I want it back and forth. I want to put a pace on him and just get people to think, ‘Wow, that kid’s good. He’s on our radar now.’ I’m expecting a fight of the night with this kid.”
“NEF 52: Zero Hour” will take place Saturday, May 13, 2023, at Aura in Portland, Maine. Doors will open at 6 p.m., with the first fight at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at www.TicketMaster.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.