FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (July 1, 2022)
Nine years, two sons and a full-time job as a patrol officer in the village of New Castle, New Hampshire later, Cody Lightfoot never fully got the lifelong passion for combat sports out of his system.
A veteran of 11 professional fights as a mixed martial artist, Lightfoot quietly resolved to himself and a few close confidants that he would make that lonely walk from the dressing room one more time, and only once.
Time admittedly was a-wasting when he had a chance meeting with one of those friends and training partners – Devin Powell, UFC, Bellator and New England Fights veteran and proprietor of Nostos MMA – in the parking lot at their local Walmart.
“This was probably two or three months ago. He’d just got out of knee surgery. I had no idea. He was in the passenger seat of the car, and he had his knee up,” Lightfoot recalled. “He calls me over and says, ‘You need to fight Ras Hylton, NEF,’ and it was originally supposed to be for the May card. I was like, ‘Aw, I dunno man, that’s way too soon. You gotta give me like six months.’ He said, ‘Listen, man, you didn’t go out the way you wanted to go. You need to mess him up and walk off like a G in the sunset.’”
The rest is soon to be history. An original gangster of the northeast prize cage, Lightfoot (6-5) will take on “The Jamaican Shamrock” Hylton (7-6) in a featured heavyweight bout at NEF 48: “Heatwave,” to be held Saturday, July 30 at a picturesque outdoor venue, Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine.
So why now, and why choose the skyscraping, heavy-hitting Bellator veteran known as Rasquatch without a tune-up? Hylton made waves nationally for his unanimous decision victory over Rudy Schaffroth (6-2) at Bellator 242 in July 2020.
It’s because this is a one-night-only deal, folks.
“It was always kind of in the mix. I always said I wanted to do one more when I stopped. I didn’t even tell (Powell) yes. I slept it on it. It was like two days later I wrote him in the middle of the night. I woke up at 3 a.m. for some reason. I said, ‘Screw it, set it up.’ But he didn’t remember the conversation because he was fresh out of surgery,” Lightfoot said. “He was so high he had no idea of our conversation. I told him, ‘You lit a fire under my ass, and I do, I wanna go out good, and I think Ras is a great opponent for me.’ He’s talking to his wife, CarolLinn. He’s like, ‘Hey, when did I talk to Cody?’
“I wanted somebody with honor. My big thing was I didn’t want an easy fight. Ras is a tough dude. He KO’d a dude (Eric Bedard) in my exact same situation, trying to come out of retirement. He had that big win in Bellator. He’s not an easy opponent. He’s just not good at what I’m good at. There’s no secrets to my gameplan. I’m gonna take him down, and I’m gonna grind him until he’s exhausted.”
It’s not as if Lightfoot has been completely absent from the scene. He has stayed active as a wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach, in part because he hopes to shepherd his sons, ages seven and four, into combat sports down the road.
As it did for much of the populace, COVID-19 left Lightfoot feeling alone with his “if not now, when?” thoughts while many vocations went idle and almost all avocations were shut down.
“It was kind of a difficult time. I was more of the person to continue to do what I wanted as long as I was safe as I could be, and my wife was kind of the opposite: Hunker down, do nothing, everybody’s going to kill you,” Lightfoot said. “I was just like, ‘Eh.’ But even all the gyms closed down, and as soon as the gyms closed down, I was like, ‘Aw, this is just madness.’ They opened up and I just started going back. It’s always been on the back burner. I always said I was gonna do it, I’ve been saying this for years. I was still coaching. I was coaching the kids wrestling at Nostos.
“Honestly, I blame it on COVID. Everything just came to a standstill, and it was very hard for me. My job wants to keep this completely separate. I actually had to get this approved through my chief to be able to do this, because it’s supplemental income because I’m professional. He’s like, ‘I’m for it for just this one time.’ I’m like, ‘I promise you. This is it. You have to give me the OK.’”
A veteran of the profession for about a decade, Lightfoot is not the only law enforcement officer to find a second home on the NEF roster. While embarking upon that career, however, he received a surprising amount of push-back about his chosen spare-time activity.
“You know what’s funny is MMA made it very tough for me to get a job as a cop at the very beginning of this because I was a professional fighter. They thought I was gonna be itching for a fight and stuff like that, so I wasn’t getting hired. At least they told me it was based off that reason,” Lightfoot said. “And it’s the exact opposite. It’s like, ‘Guys, I don’t want to fight. I don’t even really like fighting. It’s just I get paid to do it, and it’s fun.’
“It turns the volume down on everything else,” he added. “You see these young officers, and I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now. They get worried about small, miniscule stuff, like if a person gets out of a car. I’m like, ‘Guys, this isn’t a big deal. Just talk. Be calm.’ It’s so much easier than getting punched in the face.”
Many in the MMA realm trace their start to the wrestling mat, but Lightfoot’s background is more extensive and decorated than most.
He was a state champion under legendary coach Matt Rix at Marshwood High School in South Berwick, Maine, and went on to an All-New England NCAA Division III career (“All-New England sounds better than fifth place, doesn’t it?,” Lightfoot joked) at Norwich University in Vermont.
In its infancy at the time, MMA was a natural next step for Lightfoot after graduation. Now on the cusp of 40, he is amazed by the sport’s growth and evolution.
“I started wrestling when I was in sixth grade, and jeez, I graduated high school in 2002. It was different then. These kids, it’s funny to see, man, because back in the day sparring was my thing, I always hated training. I’m like, ‘Yes! I love to spar!’ Now it’s like these kids are good at everything, and it’s insane,” Lightfoot said. “I get hit hard. There’s a kid named David Burke. He’s been my toughest competitor so far. He’s a New Hampshire state champ. He’s a tough kid. He’s gonna do really well. He’s gonna go far. But me and him, I hate him and I love him, because he reminds me of myself when I was 24.”
Lightfoot made his MMA debut at that age, a 78-second knockout of Artie Mullen in September 2008. He won six of first seven fights without ever having dipped his toe in the amateur pool.
“I wish I was younger, man. I wish I could have made a good run for it. I was a good wrestler, so I was taking everybody down,” Lightfoot said. “My very first fight… Three months of training, they were like, ‘Hey, do you wanna get paid or not? I was like, ‘Yeah, I wanna get paid!’And then I’m a professional fighter. I made $200.”
A loss due to cuts against Greg Rebello started a four-fight skid that followed Lightfoot into what is now a nine-year layoff.
His only prior NEF appearance was the first title bout in the promotion’s history, a loss to Jesse Peterson by rear naked choke in September 2012 at what was then called NEF 4. It was another installment in a friendly rivalry that Lightfoot only recently came to fully appreciate since reminiscing over old social media exchanges after Peterson died unexpectedly in March.
“I don’t even know how to explain Jesse, because me and Jesse have always got along, and we were always super friendly, but I always had a competitive vendetta against him. Jesse was a senior when I was a freshman, and I forget what tournament, but he beat my ass. He was a few years older than me. I got him in that MMA fight, and the worst thing for me was doing it at 185 (pounds). But I made the choice. I wanted it that bad,” Lightfoot reflected. “It’s so weird to think, because I was looking back at our messages not too long ago, and I always considered myself the Batman and he was like the Joker in this whole situation. And then I read our messages, and I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I was the asshole.’ I’ve been calling him out for the last seven years, and he was like, ‘Listen, I have so much respect for you. I’m not sure when I’m gonna do this again.’ It’s terrible, because he really was a good dude, but he beat me. He beat me in everything that I love.”
“Cody choosing to have his final fight with us here at NEF, it’s a great honor,” stated NEF Matchmaker and co-owner Matt Peterson. “Cody is a lifelong wrestler. I remember watching him way back when he was in high school. He’s a college wrestler and college wrestlers are different. Cody brought the best out of my brother when they fought. Jesse prepared more for that bout than any fight he ever competed in because he knew how dangerous Cody is. Years after their fight, Jesse was still telling me that Cody delivered the hardest hits he’d ever felt. There was a mutual respect there between two men that love the sport of wrestling and bonded through their rivalry.”
Despite the inherent risks of the sport, Lightfoot will never shy away from helping his children get involved. They’ll attend their first fight when their dad locks up with Hylton.
“This is kinda my main reason for doing this. They think it’s pretty cool. My whole thing was I wanted a picture in the cage with them. They will not do that, so I’m gonnahave to figure something else out,” Lightfoot said. “I’ve taken a lot of damage in my, I don’t wanna say it’s a career, but it’s what got me to where I’m at now. But I think everybody needs to do at least one, because there’s too much ego out there, and there’s too many people that think they’re made out of glass, you know?”
Fans should expect Lightfoot to be in the best shape of his life as he takes his cue from Powell and other training partners at Nostos.
“I’m doing it right this time. I’ve always been a hobbyist. I’ve never been like Devin. Devin trained like a madman. He was ready for a fight all the time. I only started training when I got a fight lined up. He’s an amazing guy. He’s been through every friggin’ promotion there is, and this is coming from a guy who, he lost his first fight, and think about how many 0-1 guys there are who never fought again. He came back and fought for UFC, Bellator. It’s just insane,” Lightfoot said. “He kept going. It’s just in his heart, and it’s crazy to see what he’s doing with this gym. There’s like six guys that grew up together. They’re there every day, and they’re gonna be fucking monsters. It’s so cool, and I’m almost jealous of them what Devin is doing there.”
Lightfoot added that he is embarking on this one-and-done revival to satisfy his need to compete, not for the purpose of impressing anyone else.
“It’s so weird to think I used to work a crappy job, and my whole social ploy was, ‘Oh, but I’m also a professional fighter.’ And now it’s weird, because I’ve got a really good job. I’m probably gonna be a lifer there. I work for an awesome department. I get along with everybody. And now I’m still going back to MMA. And I’m like why?” Lightfoot said. “But it’s always been there. I always wanted to do one more. For literally the last seven years I’ve been saying, ‘I need to do another one. I need to do another one.’
“I’m an old man, now. I didn’t think people would care about this fight. I just wanted to be hidden away somewhere on the undercard, and all of a sudden I’m getting all these main event-type offers. I’m like, ‘C’mon, it’s been nine years.’”
NEF 48: “Heatwave” is scheduled for Saturday, July 30 with an opening bell time of 7 p.m. For ticket information, go to www.NewEnglandFights.com.