From the pandemic to the perils of matchmaking at the amateur level, Nathaniel Grimard has made it clear he won’t let anything stand in the way of his aspirations to move up the mixed martial arts ladder.
In a historical chapter where it has been challenging to stay busy in an up-close-and-personal sport and tempting to pad your record with a spoon-fed opponent or two if the opportunities arise, Grimard is a newly crowned champion about to enter a cage for the fourth time in 2021.
Grimard (4-0) will defend his New England Fights 145-pound amateur belt against Billy “The Kid” Wilson (6-1) at “NEF 45: Uprising” on Friday, November 5 at Aura in Portland, Maine. Opening bell time is 7 p.m.
“I’m pretty excited. It’s a tough guy from a good gym,” Grimard said. “It’s going to be my toughest fight yet. I got offered a few opponents, and I took the toughest one I could get. He’s a good wrestler just like me, so I think it’s going to be a pretty back-and-forth fight.”
On a night that coincides with the 416th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in jolly, old England, the 23-year-old Grimard constitutes anything but a surprise attack.
An accomplished wrestler at Exeter High School and the University of Southern Maine – he graduated from the latter with a degree in criminal justice – Grimard’s co-conspirator in his climb through the ranks is none other than UFC veteran and noted New England warrior Devin Powell.
“I went to Nostos, his gym, a few times to wrestle with a teammate from high school. I met Devin from there,” Grimard said. “We got a couple of training sessions in, and I fell love with the sport and have been in love with the sport ever since. It’s awesome training with a guy like him. He pushes all his students. He’s still a very hands-on coach. He’s a good guy to look up to, a good fighter, a great athlete, so it’s good to have in the gym and get to work with him every day.”
Grimard followed his teacher’s path into NEF with a submission victory over Justin Kangas in his November 2019 debut. After waiting in the wings through the sport’s COVID stoppage, he traveled to Florida and continued his winning ways in February and June of this year.
He was happy to return home for NEF’s comeback card in August.
“They’re very professional. Matt (Peterson, NEF co-owner and matchmaker) does a great job with putting on the shows, staying in contact with all the fighters,” Grimard said. “He’ll check in with me even when I’m outside of camp to make sure everything’s going well. I’m really excited to work with them this year.”
Grimard captured the organization’s featherweight strap with a second-round technical knockout of Brandon Maillet-Fevens.
“Nathaniel grabbed my attention from the first moment I met him,” Peterson said. “He’s a classy young man and a dedicated athlete. I’ve had several of his combat sports contemporaries tell me that he is the hardest-working fighter on the regional circuit right now. His confidence in the cage is really starting to flourish. You could see it in his last performance especially.”
Grimard fielded a few prospective matchups for his first title defense before settling on Wilson.
So much for easing into life as a champion: Wilson recently affiliated himself with Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a storied gym that has been a cradle of such champions as Jon Jones and Holly Holm.
“It’s still at the amateur level,” Grimard explained. “I want to be a pro. I want to do this for a career, so I feel like right now it’s all about experience and fighting the toughest guys possible so that I am at the level of professional fighters. I want to fight the toughest guys the next few fights and move up into the pro ranks from there.”
“He’s asking for only the toughest opponents I can find for him, which is a rare attitude to witness nowadays,” Peterson added. “I look forward to watching what he accomplishes with his life, both in and out of the cage. With what I’ve witnessed out of him so far, I think an amateur championship is just the beginning of all the big challenges he is going to conquer during his days.”
Grimard’s mental strength is a key component of his acumen in the NEF hexagon. He said it isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally.
“The first couple fights I was very nervous, a little bit too worked up,” Grimard said. “Fighting three times this year and being as active as I am, that mental game has become easier. It’s just a matter of being more relaxed, more calm while stepping into the cage and trusting all my training and preparation for the fight.
“It definitely is a lot easier said than done. It’s not a pickup basketball game. You’re getting locked in a cage to fight with somebody that wants to hurt you pretty bad. It’s just training every day and trusting what you do every day in the gym. If you trust your training, you’re not going to second-guess yourself as you’re getting in there. You know what you’re getting yourself into, and you remember what you’re there to do and what you want to accomplish in this sport.”
Grimard is one of the centerpieces of a November card that also includes his former college teammate at USM, Caleb Austin (5-0), who will clash with Tyler Smythe for the vacant NEF amateur flyweight title.
“He was a stud wrestler all through Maine, too, so I knew him even before college,” Grimard said of Austin. “After that we just became closer friends through MMA. He’s fighting for a title as well. That last fight he did very well. He dominated the guy. I think he’s going to go very far in the sport, and I’m looking forward to his title win as well.”
The two share a blue-collar approach that has served them well in the cage.
In Grimard’s case, he said it ties in with his goals of maintaining that spotless record, giving the fans an entertaining style that inspires them to follow his career, and to continue moving up the MMA ladder.
“I do work hard. I guess other people might notice it more than I do, because to me it’s just putting your head down and training every day and working hard,” Grimard said. “You don’t want to get tired in a fistfight. You want to stay ready to go, so I don’t ever want to have to worry about my cardio or my work ethic going into a fight.”
That’s especially true against Wilson, who won his first six fights before a unanimous decision loss to Chad Decker in March.
“I think I just have to be ready for everything,” Grimard said. “He’s very technical. He likes to grind out tough decisions, so I think it’s going to be kind of a dogfight. I think he’s going to wrestle and try to take me into his deep waters, but I’m prepared for it. I’m confident going into this fight. I’m expecting a high-level amateur fight with a lot of striking and great wrestling, and I’m excited to showcase all my improvements.”
And if a win is not the big break that immediately nudges Grimard into the professional ranks, it’ll be a mighty steppingstone in that direction.
“After this fight, I’m going to take a couple steps back and evaluate where I’m at right now in my amateur career,” Grimard said. “If anything, I’d like to go pro around this time next year if not sooner.”
Doors open for the card on Friday, November 5 at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at www.Ticketmaster.com.