FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (July 25, 2022)
When New England Fights hits the seacoast that is home to both Ras Hylton and Cody Lightfoot, there is no question that their feature professional heavyweight bout at NEF 48: “Heatwave” will be a clash of styles. For his part, Hylton also hopes it illuminates a stark contrast in recent activity levels and diversity of training partners.
While Lightfoot stepped away from mixed martial arts for nine years before reuniting with Devin Powell at Nostos MMA for what he has billed as his farewell fight, Hylton has performed under one of the most ballyhooed banners in the world while ascending into the ranks of the top 100 mixed martial artists on the planet in his weight class.
Since the pandemic sent all of us to a neutral corner nearly 29 months ago, Hylton has entered the cage five times, including twice with Bellator MMA. He has trained in Florida with American Top Team, one of the most respected stables in the sport. With the Lightfoot bout looming, “The Jamaican Shamrock” has enlisted former opponents Chris Sarro, Yorgan De Castro and Domingos Barros as training partners.
“I’m not trying to sound braggadocious or whatever, but it’s a proven fact, the more you practice and the more recent your practice is, the less time you’ve had to lose it,” Hylton said. “April 30 was my last fight, and here I am playing again. I feel sharp. I just have really, really good coaches and training partners. I don’t even think it would have particularly mattered who my opponent is for this fight. I feel good.
“I’ve been able to mix it up with some really tough guys. Win or lose, I’ve basically always had a good fight. There’s been a real improvement in my coaching, in changing up my regimen. I feel like I was getting stale there for a year or two, then just having some radical shifts happen.”
Hylton (7-6) and Lightfoot (6-5) meet on a rare outdoor card Saturday, July 30 at scenic Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine, mere minutes from Hylton’s home. Opening bell time is 7 p.m.
Those remarks are the closest thing to smack talk you’ll hear from Hylton, who admires Lightfoot’s coach, his full-time career as a police officer and the pluck he showed in choosing a sharp, distinguished opponent for the apparent one-and-done endeavor.
Having tested his mettle against such other distinguished ground-and-pounders as Terrance Jean-Jacques and Davion Franklin, Hylton believes he is amply prepared for anything Lightfoot’s wrestling acumen will throw at him.
“Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fight, and my entire gameplan is to go out there and knock him out, and his gameplan is to drag me down to the floor and grind me,” Hylton said. “It’s a classic battle. It’s one of those iconic MMA matchups. Honestly, I’m kind of impressed with his need to come out and finish his career like this. You meet some really cool people in the local fighting community, coaches, fighters and the like. He seems like a good guy. I’ve got no animosity. I’ve just got to put him out.”
Rather than take offense to Lightfoot’s story in which Powell seemingly hand-picked the swan song opponent during a chance reunion in a supermarket parking lot, Hylton said he respects the courage.
“I don’t know what the exact process was, but yeah, coming out of semi-retirement to go into full retirement against me is really, I don’t want to sound arrogant, but it’s kind of a gutsy move,” Hylton said. “It’s a way to put the stamp on your career. Take out the local mythic creature. It’s a good move. I like him for it.”
As the time-honored children’s song goes, it’s a small world, after all. Hylton recalled that despite fighting on different ends of NEF’s decade-plus of dominance in the region, he and Lightfoot ever-so-briefly crossed paths before Hylton jumped into the sport with both feet.
“Side note, we actually rolled together like a decade ago,” Hylton said. “This mutual friend that we knew was training with Devin before he was famous. One of their open gym days, Cody and I just had a very mild interaction, did some rolling, helped each other work out. I just found it hilarious and weird how small a town Maine is that here we are. I didn’t put two and two together, but he must have been active, training and fighting at the time when I was considering whether or not to jump into the mix, so it’s just wild how we’ve reconnected after all this time.”
Hylton’s familiarity with Powell, the UFC and Bellator veteran who will holler instructions at his fighters in a staggering seven of the 16 scheduled fights on the card, compels him to take Lightfoot’s challenge seriously.
Yes, his internationally aired wars with Rudy Schaffroth (unanimous decision victory) and Franklin (loss via cards after referee stoppage) elevated Hylton’s status in a summer of 2020 when almost everyone else was on hold. He cautions that training with someone else who has experienced that level makes Lightfoot dangerous, no matter the circumstances of his comeback.
“I was able to squeak out a couple of paychecks in the middle of that,” Hylton said. “Obviously, it’s a disadvantage in his pro win column to have been out of competition for this long, but I mean, you know who Devin Powell is. You know what he’s done. For anybody coming from a ring rust situation, Devin’s one of the best people who I personally know who would be able to get you ready regardless.
“(Lightfoot has) been in and out of Nostos all these years. He’s been an active-duty police officer. I’m not underestimating this guy. There’s a reason that you hear that statement over and over and over again: ‘Ninety percent of this game is mental.’ The stresses that you’re under as a police officer, plus having him regularly in training with somebody of Devin Powell’s caliber, this guy’s not coming out like a regular ring rust guy.”
Once upon a time, the heavy-hitting Hylton acknowledged that Lightfoot’s chops as a wrestler and the lack of a current scouting report would have caused consternation.
Now based out of Dragon Fire Martial Arts in South Portland, Hylton leaves the film breakdown to his accomplished array of coaches and counts on the wisdom from his own extensive experience in the cage to carry him through.
“I’d say most of it’s just me getting better. I don’t obsess over footage the way that I used to. There’s kind of a mental trap for me when it comes to footage. I’ll get too dialed in on one thing or another,” Hylton said. “Over the past few years, I’ve been able to shift my focus and really listen to all the good people who have been pointing me in the right direction. When I’m able to operate at my best, no matter who you throw me in there with, it’s gonna be a good night for me.I honestly don’t care where it goes anymore. I feel like no matter what happens, we both start in opposite corners, and closing that distance, utilizing my distance has become a real big focus for me. I’ve really been dialing that down, so I feel really happy going from striking to wrestling to rolling around on the floor to wherever it ends.”
While his opponent has drawn this bout as the finish line win or lose, Hylton’s aspirations as a combat athlete maintain an upward trajectory.
He has teamed with Sarro and Bobo O’Bannon to make inroads as a bare-knuckle MMA practitioner and hopes to pursue an autumn grudge match with Tyler King in that genre. When stand-up guru Jon Pinette of Choi Institute partnered with Dragon Fire after the COVID-19 reset, Hylton said it provided a “missing link” in his game.
“I want it, man. I’m one of the top 100 heavyweights in the country, and I want to see how high I can get before I’m done. I want to teach this. I want to get to whoever I can and get as many fights as I can,” Hylton said. “I really want to get into a bare-knuckle MMA match. I want a few of those in before the end of my run, and I want to grow my ranking as far as I can. Honestly, I’d like to get back into Bellator, but whatever’s next is whatever happens next. I’m ready. I didn’t see (my career) going exactly this way, but I’m not mad at it. I can utilize the knowledge that I’ve got a hell of a lot better than I used to, and I’m really starting to connect some things for myself. I’m excited as I was on day one.”
That excitement boils over when Hylton is asked about fighting in front of a raucous home crowd. He hasn’t anchored an NEF show since knocking out Brad Lee at NEF 42: “Symphony of Destruction” in February 2020.
“It has been almost three years since I’ve had a fight at home. I didn’t know how much I missed it since this opportunity dropped into my lap, and I was like, ‘Yup, I’m not gonna wait around for any jockeying of position or see who I can get a fight with here or there.’ When this fight dropped in, my wife Janice and Matt (Peterson, NEF co-owner and matchmaker), they’ve been around each other since my first amateur fight. She’s been able to have those conversations quickly, turn around and get me on schedule to go track down sponsors and get T-shirts ready. My T-shirts are hand tie-dyed by her and my kids.”
Being able to peek through the bars and see and hear all those colorful supporters should provide an immeasurable boost as Hylton aims for a triumphant homecoming.
“Nothing compares to being in that cage and hearing voices that you know, screaming. I haven’t had that in a long time, man. I’m grateful. I’m glad that I was able to start here,” Hylton said. “Matt Peterson and Nick DiSalvo have been great. The commission’s always been great. There’s a lot of people who work out back there who wear the badges and as inspectors try to keep us comfortable, a lot of friends I know. You can’t just go walking around some random town’s crowd when you’re fighting the hometown hero. But when you’re at home, it’s, ‘Hey my sister’s over there. Hey, my buddy’s over there. Hey, my training’s over here.’ It’s a different energy. I love walking into enemy territory, but there’s nothing like going home.”
NEF 48: “Heatwave” is the second outdoor card in the history of the organization. Hylton-Lightfoot is one of four pro bouts on the docket along with a dozen amateur scraps. Tickets are on sale now at NewEnglandFights.com.