FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (March 10, 2019) – Tom ‘The Phenom’ Pagliarulo (2-1) has been chasing championships on the wrestling mat his entire life. On April 27th at “New England Fights 38: Stormborn,” he will be chasing his first title in his newly chosen sport—mixed martial arts (MMA)—when he faces Zac ‘Rocky’ Richard for the NEF Featherweight Championship. Pagliarulo recently discussed his upcoming fight, his history in combat sports, and the balance of trying to survive as a working student-athlete with Bryan Stackpole and Ryan Jarrell on the Between Rounds Radio podcast.
Pagliarulo grew-up in Haverhill, Massachusetts where he started wrestling at the age of six. As a teenager, he attended Central Catholic High School in nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts where he earned an impressive 144-36 career record and placed third at the state wrestling championships his senior year.
“I’ve been around traditional martial arts since I was three,” Pagliarulo explained to Stackpole and Jarrell. “I got my black belt in kenpo. And after wrestling in high school, after my senior season, I had known I wanted to fight, I just didn’t really know where to go or who to talk to about it.”
After completing high school, Pagliarulo enrolled at Plymouth State University (PSU) in Plymouth, New Hampshire where he started wrestling under former PSU head coach Ryan Schieding. Schieding, himself a former MMA competitor with a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), introduced Pagliarulo to Burgess MMA, a longstanding New England MMA school. Pagliarulo, who has since earned his blue belt in BJJ, now splits his training time between Burgess MMA and Spero’s Martial Arts Academy in Plaistow, New Hampshire.
“I’m not taking Zac lightly, and I’m bringing in the right people for it,” Pagliarulo stated to Stackpole and Jarrell.
After he started training in BJJ and MMA, Pagliarulo quickly decided that he wanted to test himself in the competitive side of the sport. He finally made his MMA debut in September 2017 at an event in New Hampshire after experiencing the initial frustration of having multiple opponents pull out on him.
“I know I don’t have like this crazy, undefeated, record,” Pagliarulo admitted. “I’m 2-1. Not a lot of fights, but a lot of that is due to the guys backing out. Realistically, I should have already had six, seven fights if guys actually showed up.”
Pagliarulo put his long-engineered grappling skills to work in his first fight by submitting his opponent with a rear naked choke in the second round.
Within a year of making his debut, Pagliarulo went 2-1, including a recent first-round drubbing of Eddie Linscott that lasted barely over a minute. Now, Pagliarulo finds himself set to fight for his first MMA championship when he makes his NEF debut against the wildly popular state wrestling champion from Waterboro, Maine, Zac ‘Rocky’ Richard (3-0-1), who enters the bout fresh off of his early contender for ‘Fight of the Year’ against Fred Lear (6-2-1) back at “NEF 37: Subzero” in February.
Pagliarulo and Richard are no strangers to one another. The two rolled together regularly throughout the years at New England’s elite wrestling school, Smitty’s Wrestling Barn.
“I respect Zac a lot,” Pagliarulo stated. “I know him on a personal level. We’ve wrestled together growing up. He’s a great person, great kid, grateful to be competing against him. You’ve got to be confident, man. It’s not the sport to not have confidence in. If you go in there, and you’re not confident in your abilities, you’re going to get yourself hurt. I’m very confident in my skillset and confident I’m going to get the win.”
“He’s [Zac] definitely tough,” Pagliarulo continued. “I don’t really see anything out of the ordinary that I haven’t seen before that I wouldn’t say he presents any problems. I just think he’s tough, man. I’ve got to be on my game. I’m going to have to go in there … I can’t let him dictate the pace and be that. I can’t let him be the fight he wants this to be. So, I’m going to go in there, I’m going to push the pace, and I’m going to do my thing. I’m not preparing specifically for one thing in particular he’s going to do. I’m just doing what I always do, staying well rounded. I don’t think there’s going to be any surprises when I step in there.”
When asked if he was intimidated by the prospect of potentially going five-rounds for the first time in his career, Pagliarulo revealed little concern.
“I mean I have great cardio,” Pagliarulo stated. “I’m prepared to go the five rounds if need be… I’m very well rounded. I think I’m very good at reading a fighter when I’m in there, for an amateur. I think I could make it a long five rounds for him if need be to go the distance. I’m looking forward to it, man. I really want that war, that hard fight, and I think Zac’s going to bring it.”
At six-feet tall, Pagliarulo possesses a reach of over 74”, which is unusually long for a featherweight. “I have the reach, and I have the height,” he said.
“I’m very competition-driven person, and I always kind-of fell short in my wrestling with my goals,” he continued. “I wanted to be a state champ; I took third. I placed at state for three years but didn’t reach that end goal. So I guess I’m chasing that goal in fighting to accomplish my goals that I’ve set for myself.”
“I think a lot of people could say I don’t deserve the opportunity [to fight for a title], and I acknowledge that,” Pagliarulo admitted. “My record is 2-1. Maybe I shouldn’t be fighting for a belt ’cause of my record. But I think the experience—people are going to be pretty blown away with where I’m at… I know my opponent’s not taking me lightly, but it would be a mistake just to take someone lightly because they’re 2-1. I’m a blue belt in jujitsu. Like I said, I’m 15 years of wrestling in my life. So, I’m grateful for the opportunity that [NEF] gave to me, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
In addition to his evergreen training schedule— “I don’t really have fight camps; I’m always training”—Pagliarulo also continues to attend school at PSU and works nights as a bouncer at a bar, a position where his wrestling and MMA background have paid dividends on the job.
“I have had to use my training once,” Pagliarulo recalled. “We had a fight break out, and one accidentally hit a girl in the face, one thing led to another, but I ended up taking this kid’s back, mat returned him, and took his back on the ground, had him in a little seatbelt position, just restrained him until he chilled out, and then walked him out of the bar.”
“I’m not the most intimidating looking guy. I’m not this big, jacked bouncer, you know. I’m a featherweight fighter, but most of the time they see the ear, the cauliflower ear, and they get the point.”
When asked how he manages to fit sleep in within his busy schedule, Pagliarulo pulled-no-punches on his secret formula.
“It’s just a lot of discipline,” he revealed. “I like it, ’cause it keeps me on a tight schedule. There’s no time for me to slack or to miss training or miss school. It’s definitely difficult, but I love what I do, and it keeps me on-track.”
Pagliarulo’s title opponent has become a fan-favorite for his exciting performances inside the NEF cage. Pagliarulo noted that he’s aware of Richard’s popularity, but has no problem traveling into enemy territory on April 27th.
“I’ve traveled the country to wrestle,” Pagliarulo stated. “I’m used to the traveling, staying in the hotels, and then competing. So it’s nothing really new to me. That’s the great thing about the sport of wrestling is you kind-of get exposed to a lot of the similar competition aspects that come with MMA. So, nothing too out of the ordinary.”
“[NEF] does a great job promoting themselves,” he said. “The venue seems like a pretty great place to have a fight. So, I’m really excited to get out of my comfort zone and be the outsider going into the enemy’s territory and really looking forward to that experience.”
“I want to be a world champ, man,” Pagliarulo continued. “That’s what keeps me going every day. I’m not just doing this to have fun. It’s not a fun thing to go in a cage and get punched in the face. I could find other things I want to do for hobbies and for fun.”
“In this sport, I think everyone has an equal playing field. It’s about how much time and work you’re going to put into it. And I’m willing to do what it takes to reach my goal and have a fight in the UFC someday and be a world champ.”
NEF’s next mixed-martial-arts event, “NEF 38: STORMBORN,” will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2019 at Aura in Portland, Maine with a bell time of 7 pm. Tickets are on sale now at www.AuraMaine.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.