FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Portland, Maine (July 16, 2022)

No matter how many states in which a fighter has livedor different gyms in which he has exchanged sweat and blood, the first time in a mixed martial arts (MMA) cage brings a different and unprecedented level of apprehension.

‘Skelton’ Key Baltazar experienced those realities in February when the New Hampshire fighter by way of Florida lost all track of time in the opening round of his New England Fights (NEF) debut against Quinn Poirier.

“First round was just so quick,” Baltazar said. “I feel like I heard the bell, and next thing I know I was sitting on the stool.”

It took him all of 93 seconds in the second stanza to earn a submission to rear naked choke and set up an encore against Hannon Sanford at NEF 48: “Heatwave.”

The card is scheduled for the oceanside, outdoor venue at Thompson’s Point in Portland, Maine on Saturday, July 30 with an opening bell time of 7 p.m.

Despite the unique venue coming so early in Baltazar’s amateur career, it brings him two-thirds of the way to completing a triple crown he has set for himself.

“I’m very excited about it being outside,” Baltazar said. “I’ve always said I want to fight at a club, I want to fight at an arena, and I want to fight outside. At Aura, I got the club one done. It’ll be nice to get this one done outside, ’cause there’s not a lot of MMA fights that are outside.”

This past winter’s intimate surrounding gave the 25-year-old Baltazar a chance to get the lead out in what was a mutual debut for the two combatants.

Baltazar says it wasn’t explicitly butterflies, rather the newness of the situation that may have briefly thrown him off his game.

“I feel like that fight went well. I wasn’t nervous at all, which was kinda weird. I always envisioned my first fight being super nervous, and I wasn’t nervous at all,” Baltazar said. “I feel like I didn’t perform to the best of my abilities. I still won. I was still happy about the win, but I feel like I should have got that win in the first round. In the opening of the first round, I feel like there was a lot of opportunities for me to get the finish and win, so I’m looking to do a lot better in the next one.”

Training out of Nostos MMA in Somersworth, Baltazar is one of no fewer than seven fighters from within the walls of Devin and Carol Linn Powell’s camp who will take it outside at NEF 48.

He said the focus has been on keeping his wind intact, if and when the fight goes into deep waters.

“A lot of improvement on the striking and the cardio,” Baltazar said. “My last fight, I trained hard, but I definitely was a lot (more) tired than I planned on being, so I’ve been working a lot this camp with pushing the pace and making sure my stamina and everything is good so I can perform to the way I should perform.”

Fights falling through the cracks have posed a problem for Baltazar early in his career both as a mixed martial artist and as a grappler.

He was happy to sign a contract for the scrap against Sanford (0-2) with ample time to spare.

“My first fight wasn’t confirmed until like three weeks out. I was training the whole time. I feel like I just thought that I wasn’t gonna get that tired,” Baltazar said. “I think that’s a normal thing for amateur fighters their first debut, no matter how much they train.”

Powell, Nick Miles and Jamie Sprague provided the inspiration in Baltazar’s corner that evening.

“Devin confirmed with me that I won that first round and that I did a good job, and that just gave me confidence. I feel like second round, everything slowed down,” Baltazar said. “In between rounds, they were able to calm me down, and I got centered and was able to come out and finish it.”

Baltazar expects an action-packed fight against Sanford, who has been out of the cage for nearly a year since a 19-second knockout at the hands of Richard Martel. Sanford’s debut was a unanimous decision loss to former NEF Bantamweight Champion Felipe Gunter.

“They kinda just put him in my lap, especially at 135. The last fight was at 130 catchweight, originally planned for 125,” Baltazar said. “As far as Hannon, he seems like a fighter that comes forward with his hands up, ready to swing. I move around a lot, and I’m very fast. When I’m at my best, I’m very technical. I’m very excited for the matchup. I think it’ll be a quick night for one of us at least.”

In addition to Baltazar, Nostos MMA stablemates Cody Lightfoot, David Burke, Nathaniel Grimard, Kyle Hill and Alex Morris all are scheduled to share the cage with him that night.

“Nate and Alex have been my main partners for this training camp,” Baltazar said. “I know they’re ready, and I’m ready to put on a show.”

He added that Hill is a role model when it comes to another box on his checklist: Earning an early opportunity at an NEF strap.

“With this fight, I’m trying to make a statement,” Baltazar said. “I will get a title shot after this fight. Kyle Hill, he’s 2-0 and fighting for the NEF title, so I’m trying to basically follow behind him and do the same.”

Born in Tampa, Baltazar, a United States Army veteran, relocated from one hotbed of the sport and found another … at least in one sense of the word.

“I’d say (the weather is) very cold. Other than that, I have to say I love my gym,” Baltazar said. “I’ve trained at three or four gyms in the past, and what I consider different about Nostos is they’re very technical on everything. Everything is very thought out. Nothing’s done without a purpose, so, very confident with the team I’m with now.”

Baltazar said he still draws plenty of support from the home front and hopes to thank them personally after his impending bout.

“I try to visit in between camps. Actually, I haven’t been to Florida since January, so I’m gonna go after this fight, take a little vacation,” Baltazar said. “I get a lot of support, a lot of old teammates, coaches, friends, former people I worked with in the Army. They all showed support and purchased the fight. I made a pretty good amount on streams, more than I thought I would make, so I’m excited to see how this one goes with that.”

He expects to head south without any major battle scars to show off.

“I plan on coming out very, very sharp and technical. I know it’s kinda like a stigma. People think amateurs just come out and swing. I don’t plan on doing that,” Baltazar said. “I plan on coming in and making it look easy. Definitely gonna make a statement with this one. I’m hoping I’m either the first or second fight. I want to get in there and set the tone for the rest of the night.”

NEF 48: “Heatwave” is the second outdoor card in the history of the organization. The feature fight is a pro heavyweight bout featuring Cody Lightfoot and Ras Hylton. Tickets are on sale now at NewEnglandFights.com.